Car Reviews First Drives

2018 Mercedes-AMG GLC63 First Drive Review: Extreme Muscle

Behold the Yenko SC427 Nova of CUVs

Behold the Yenko SC427 Nova of CUVs

The muscle car concept started out pretty simply: shoehorn the optional big engine from a mainstream full-size sedan into a lighter, smaller intermediate and let the tire-burning hoonanigans begin. Not muscly enough? Try souping up said big-block or figure out a way to jam it into an even smaller car. In the muscle heyday, that’s exactly what dealers such as Yenko Chevrolet of Canonsburg, Pennsylvania or Baldwin-Motion Performance of Baldwin, New York made their reputation doing, by ordering or upfitting little Nova coupes with stonking 427-cubic-inch solid-lifter drag-racing big-block V-8s. Mercedes-AMG’s latest “63” CUV offering, at least in S trim, feels vaguely reminiscent of this rare Chevy beast.

Like all AMG 63s, it’s stuffed full of a hot-vee twin-turbo V-8 that churns out 469 hp and 479 lb-ft in its, ahem, “base” trim and 503 hp and 516 lb-ft in its drink-all-the-dinosaurs S specification. Mercedes pegs the curb weight at 4,500 pounds (2,041 kg), meaning each horse in a GLC63 S 4Matic+ totes 8.9 pounds (4 kg). Yenko Novas probably weighed about 3,350 pounds (1,520 kg), burdening each of its 450 (204 kg) (much smaller “Gross”) horses with just 7.4 pounds (3.3 kg). But you’ll want to bet on the GLC63 S to win all the 0-60 trophies—against old Novas, lighter AMG C63 S coupes and sedans, and any other performance ute in its size/price class, thanks to the efficiency with which the standard 4Matic+ all-wheel-drive system puts the overly abundant torque to the ground.

Where this modern ute really does its best Yenko impression is when you drop the hammer to pass someone. The rush of low-end torque and the acceleration instantly delivered through the most optimal of nine transmission ratios feels a lot like what a big-inch V-8 used to deliver in a light car (at speeds where the tires stayed hooked up) when all the carburetor throats opened up to deliver 750-850 cubic feet per minute of air and fuel to pistons pumping through short 4.11:1 axle gearing. Backing vocals from the optional AMG Performance exhaust reinforce the sensation of speed with a rebellious yell at full throttle that’ll rival any set of Thrush Glasspacks and a chorus of carefully metered and calibrated crackles and pops on overrun that can match any sound a carburetor used to accidentally create when unburned fuel backfired in a ’60s muscle car. (These aural pleasures mostly happen in the Dynamic Select Sport+ or Race modes, and this option costs $1,250 USD on C63s).

Upgrading from an AMG GLC 43 buys way more than two more cylinders worth of 107 hp and 95 lb-ft. The 4Matic system gets plussed, trading its fixed 31/69 percent front/rear torque bias for a multiplate clutch front power take-off capable of routing 0 to 50 percent of available torque to the front axle as conditions demand. In place of a torque converter, the nine-speed automatic gets AMG’s Speedshift MCT multiplate clutch launch device, complete with race start programming. This setup is also able to completely declutch the engine for economical “sailing” at speeds between 37 and 99 mph (60 and 160 km/h) when driving in the default Comfort mode. The air suspension is further enhanced with new geometry that increases the negative camber and a wider front and rear track achieved by fitting new steering knuckles that position the wheel bearings farther outboard and rear suspension links borrowed from the E63 S sedan. The bushings are stiffer, the variable steering ratio and effort levels are custom programmed, and the continuously variable damping rates and tuning of the three-chamber air spring rates are tuned for more extreme performance. A mechanical limited-slip differential is fitted to regular GLC 63s, but the S Coupe gets an electronically locking one.

Naturally there are also several visual differentiators, including the AMG GT-inspired Panamericana vertical-slat grille, more aggressive fascias with front splitter and rear diffuser, and special side sills. The normal SUV gets a more aggressive spoiler above the rear window, and coupe versions get a large, aggressive rear lip spoiler on the hatch. Appearance-enhancing options include various 20- and 21-inch cast or forged wheels, carbon-fiber spoiler and mirror caps, and an AMG Night package of black fascia accents, side sills, mirror caps, window frames, and luggage rails. The interior also receives some modest trim upgrades with microfiber upholstery and contrast stitching.

We were offered a brief drive in a GLC 63 S Coupe shod in Pirelli Scorpion Winter tires (automotive galoshes are mandatory in Germany from November 1 to April 15) on the outskirts of Stuttgart on a rainy November day. The conditions couldn’t faze the 4Matic+ and tire technology in terms of delivering muscle-reminiscent straight-line acceleration. They also made it easier to sense the electronic rear differential doing its thing. When briskly accelerating from a stop into a tight right-hand turn, a combination of slight inside wheelspin plus extra outside-wheel torque seemed to tighten the turn radius. Any more thorough assessment of the limit-handling dynamics will have to wait for a day when higher limits can be probed.

Final pricing is not yet established, but we’re told to expect the normal-roof variant (pictured below) to start in the high $60s USD, with the Coupe S variant in the mid-$70s USD. That’s roughly equivalent to the pricing of the C63 sedan to C63 S coupe, meaning you get the extra cargo space, high seating position, and 4Matic+ all-wheel-drive thrown in for free. Viewed another way, upgrading an AMG GLC from a 43 V-6 to a 63 V-8 costs less than a third what it does on a GLE. And yikes, have you priced Yenko Novas lately?

2018 Mercedes-AMG GLC63
BASE PRICE $68,000
PRICE AS TESTED $82,000 (est)
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 4.0L/469-503-hp/479-516-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8
TRANSMISSION 9-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 4,500 lb (mfr)
WHEELBASE 113.1 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 186.8 x 76.0 x 62.1-62.4 in
0-60 MPH 3.7-3.9 sec (mfr est)
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON Not yet rated
ON SALE IN U.S. Mid-2018