In the automotive world, there is the Mercedes-Benz, and there is the “baby benz.” Mercedes-Benz refers to the big, possibly armored sedans ferrying third-world dictators, the lust-evoking sports cars with carbon fiber body panels, the shiny convertibles showing off dentists’ second spouses, and the huge SUVs carrying well-to-do families.
A “baby benz,” and with respect to poet e e cummings, you must refrain from using caps or hyphens, refers to the smaller vehicles the company produces, the ones that perform utilitarian duty around European capitals and are repurposed as entry-luxury models for Americans seeking validation via association. While a baby benz wears a three-pointed star, which is usually enough to impress your latest Tinder obsession, those in the know realize that one of these models isn’t a serious, world-class vehicle as conferred by the glow of the Mercedes-Benz brand image.
Thus the company’s compact crossover SUV, the GLC-Class, which replaced the GLK-Class for the 2016 model year, rises above baby benz status, a slot now held by the GLA-Class crossover. Sharing its stout platform and powertrains with the latest iteration of the C-Class car lineup, and endowed with better interior fittings, the GLC is a significant step up from both the GLA and the old GLK.
Confused yet? It gets more convoluted. For 2017, Mercedes literally turns up the GLC’s volume by giving it the performance treatment from the AMG skunkworks, including a rather loud exhaust system. I spent a week with the resulting 2017 Mercedes-AMG GLC43 to see if the typical magic practiced by AMG’s warlocks successfully transform the company’s fancy little mall trawler into something deserving of the venerable AMG nameplate.
Think of the Mercedes-AMG 43 series as AMG-lite
It used to be that AMG models were rare, bristling beasts, equipped with snarling V8 engines roaring to life from beneath the hoods of otherwise sedate and stately sedans, ready to blow the doors off of the Mustang GT next to you at the stoplight. Cars wearing the AMG nameplate were mysterious and esoteric. You belonged in a special club if you had an AMG.
Now, Mercedes-Benz gives just about everything in its lineup an AMG massage. And lately, the company is taking a populist approach with the designation, slapping the AMG 43 badge on a gaggle of V6-motivated vehicles. The approach helps to bring the AMG treatment to the masses, but in my opinion it also dilutes what makes that “AMG” badge special and worthy of reverence.
Think of these AMG 43 models as AMG-lite, a gluten-free cupcake rather than a cream-cheese frosted Bundt cake, a mere hint of the performance that AMG is otherwise capable of producing.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. By equipping the vehicles with just enough muscle to keep from scaring off customers who might be intimidated by the balls-out nature and hand-crafted savagery common to old-school AMG models, this AMG-lite approach proves relatively satisfying at the same time that it is likely better for your physical and financial health.
What you get for the money
You can buy a basic 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLC300 for a starting price of $40,075 (including $925 for the destination charge). Opt for the AMG designation and it automatically slaps on a $13,750 surcharge over the GLC300 4Matic, which brings the sticker price to a shade under $56,000. With every option selected, the GLC tops out at about $80,000, double the base price.
My test vehicle was equipped with a healthy load of extras, pushing the price tag up to $68,305. Upgrades included extra-cost paint, interior trim panels and leather, as well as gigantic 21-inch wheels, a Burmeister audio system, a cabin fragrance system, and the Premium 3 Package. Needless to say, this was a nice SUV.
The AMG GLC43 looked the part, too. Thanks to its sparkling grille, sport-styled body kit, dual split exhaust outlets, and enormous wheels shod with summer performance tires, it possessed far more visual gravitas than a typical GLC300.
A whoosh and a rush
True to what your parents have always told you, it’s what’s on the inside that counts.
At the heart of the AMG GLC43, a twin-turbo 3.0-liter V6 makes 362 horsepower and even more torque. An AMG-tuned 9-speed automatic delivers the power to the performance-tweaked 4Matic all-wheel drive system, and Mercedes says this 4,145-pound SUV launches from a standstill to 60 mph in about 4.8 seconds.
That’s fast, but from the driver’s seat, and under hard acceleration, the power delivery is actually subtle, presented as a smooth and steady rush instead of a building crescendo. Before you realize it, you’re flying down the road at well over the speed limit, and this is one of two environments in which the AMG GLC43 proves the most capable.
Unfortunately, vehicles supplying plenty of power and built for triple-digit velocities often behave in unbecoming fashion at lower suburban speeds and when stuck driving in traffic, and that’s true of the GLC43. No matter which driving mode I selected, power delivery proved relatively unsatisfying in urban environments, either too sluggish or too frenetic.
Despite my delight in regularly delving into the power reserves, the AMG GLC43 returned an impressive 19.4-mpg average in mixed driving, coming in just below the EPA-stated prediction of 20 mpg (18 city/24 highway). That’s a terrific result considering how much fun I had driving this thing.
It’s got the speed, it’s got the moves, but when dancing around town, the AMG GLC43 stumbles
While a powerful engine easily supplies speed on straightaways, a capable suspension, faithful brakes, and communicative steering are necessary to conserve velocity when cornering. Naturally, the AMG GLC43 is massaged on that front too, equipped with a re-tuned adaptive air suspension backed up by performance brakes and sport-calibrated variable ratio steering.
Drivers will be nothing short of stunned when flinging this crossover into a corner, the suspension miraculously managing its two-ton weight and taller center of gravity. Lateral movements are practically eliminated, wallow is minimized and the GLC43 always demonstrates an eagerness for more. Direct, quick, and precise steering proves a willing partner in crime, and the big brakes supply perfect modulation and tried-and-true effectiveness.
Around town, however, thanks to the oversized wheels and sticky tires, you might find the ride to be rough and loud. Choose the Comfort mode from the Dynamic Select settings, and the suspension softens but introduces excessive body motions. Also, the indefatigable brakes prove aggressive and difficult to modulate in busy, high-traffic situations.
Combine these traits with the powertrain’s lack of grace at slower speeds, and you might want to rethink using this as a daily commuter.
Consider the 2017 Mercedes-AMG GLC43 to be a gateway drug
As is true of all crossover SUVs, the AMG GLC43 provides practicality in addition to panache. Comfort levels are high for four people, there is a decent amount of storage space up front, and it supplies more room for cargo than a sedan. In fact, the trunk holds 19.4 cubic-feet of luggage behind the second-row seat and as much as 56.5 cubic-feet with the rear seat folded down.
Once loaded up, stomp your foot and let the engine roar. Don’t worry. It won’t startle you unless you’re standing outside of the vehicle, witnessing firsthand its tuned exhaust bellow.
The beauty of the AMG GLC43, aside from its more muscular styling, is that it provides quicker acceleration and livelier handling than a plebian GLC300. That, and the fact that for a comparative bargain price you get to join the still relatively exclusive AMG club, enjoying all of the street cred and authenticity the performance brand has built over decades of focus on a singular purpose. With the AMG 43 series, that membership is a little easier to swallow, both in terms of moderated savagery and improved affordability.
Who knows? Maybe you’ll be so intoxicated by the AMG GLC43 that when the lease is up you’ll determine the rumored AMG GLC63, a 500+ horsepower monster set to be unleashed in 2018, is the perfect way to strengthen the gene pool.
Gallery: 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class Photos
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