If we weren’t already fans of the new Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class, we certainly would be now. Our reigning SUV of the Year, which won on the strength of the entry-level model before any other trim existed, is putting even more pressure on the compact luxury SUV class with its hotted-up AMG 43 variant.
Far from a slouch, the standard GLC300 overachieved with its little 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, which hustles its 4,083-pound body to 60 mph in 6.3 seconds. Not bad for just 241 hp and 273 lb-ft. If you’re the type to stoplight drag your luxury SUV, though, you’ll want more. The AMG GLC43 delivers.
A new 3.0-liter twin-turbo V-6 pumps up the jam with 362 hp and 384 lb-ft, more than enough to offset a nearly 200-pound gain in curb weight. It drives the same nine-speed automatic, but from there power goes to an AMG-tuned 4Matic all-wheel-drive system with a fixed 33/67 front/rear power split. Slap on a set of Michelin Latitude Sport 3 summer tires, and you’ve got a mall crawler that’ll hit 60 mph from a stop in just 4.7 seconds and run a 13.4-second quarter mile at 104.3 mph.
For a bit of context, the Jaguar F-Pace S and its 380-hp, 332-lb-ft 3.0-liter supercharged V-6 needs an additional 0.5 second to hit 60 mph (5.2 seconds) and 0.4 second to finish the quarter mile (13.8 seconds at 100.6 mph). The F-Pace does weigh nearly 200 pounds more, for what that’s worth.
The same story plays out across our performance data. Where the GLC300 needs 112 feet to stop from 60 mph and the sexy Jag needs 115, the GLC43 needs just 109 feet. On the skidpad, the GLC43’s 0.91 average lateral g easily tops the Jag’s 0.85 and the GLC300’s 0.82. Naturally, that applies to our figure-eight test, too. The quicker, grippier GLC43 put down a 25.2-second lap at 0.75 average g compared to the Jag’s 26.1-second lap at 0.69 average g and the GLC300’s 26.6-second lap at 0.66 average g.
The Jag does put up a much closer fight in the real-world, real-driver metric of EPA-estimated fuel economy. Its rating of 18/23/20 mpg city/highway/combined just barely misses the GLC43’s 18/24/20 rating. Of course if fuel economy is your major concern, you should be looking at the GLC300 (21/28/24) or the extra-thrifty F-Pace diesel (26/33/29).
On the matter of actual driving experience, the GLC43 harnesses and deploys its new power wisely. We loved the GLC300’s chassis, and the GLC43’s power hasn’t ruined it. AMG’s done a fantastic job of integrating the more powerful engine into this car, and it doesn’t just put up better numbers. The GLC43 remains highly composed in corners and puts its power down well. The body rolls a little as you first turn the wheel, but rather than floppy, it feels controlled and calculated. In fact, it gives the vehicle a little personality as it leans onto its outside wheels, plants them, and rockets off.
That same personality shows itself in a straight line, as well. Lay into the throttle, and the nose rears up a little as the GLC43 sits down on its rear tires and launches forward. Sure, the whole car could just squat down evenly, but it’s more exciting to have it rear back just a little. Meanwhile, baffles in the exhaust open up and give it a perturbed growl. It’s not the prettiest exhaust note, but it means business. Altogether, it brings a sense of occasion to an otherwise quiet, comfortable luxury SUV.
When you’re not driving it like an angry teenager, the GLC43 is nearly as quiet and comfortable as the GLC300. It rides a bit more stiffly, thanks to its sport suspension, and its reactions are sharper. But it’s not high-strung or punishing. Left in Comfort mode, it’s a wonderful road-trip companion. It’s smooth, quiet, and comfortable but with plenty of passing power when you need it.
We did find one rather disappointing drawback. AMG was apparently so consumed with making it fast that it forgot about the weather. The GLC43 has no rain, snow, or off-road mode to speak of, putting it at a disadvantage to the competition. Driving through a Rocky Mountain storm in mid-January, the GLC43 was generally sure-footed on snow tires, but when the snow started to pile up, it struggled a bit.
The fixed torque split couldn’t adapt to the ultra-slick conditions, leaving it all up to the stability and traction control systems. It seems these weren’t developed with winter driving as a top priority, either. Their only solution to wheel slip is to clamp down the brakes on the offending wheel and cut engine power. Neither maximized traction at all four wheels like a dynamic torque vectoring system and dedicated winter driving mode could. The fixed amount of power going to the front wheels also had a tendency to introduce understeer if one is too aggressive with the throttle for the conditions.
It should be said, though, that when equipped with snow tires, the GLC43 handled rough winter conditions perfectly fine for hundreds of miles. Our gripes are limited to the absolute worst of conditions and times when we tried to drive aggressively for evaluation purposes.
It should also be said the GLC43 doesn’t come cheap. The $55,825 starting price puts it well into the territory of larger SUVs, and the as-tested price of $63,505 only pushes it further. In fairness, that Jag mentioned earlier starts just over $57,000, so it’s not uncompetitive, but performance does cost money. Then again, we’ve also tested a $60,000 GLC300 (starting price: $41,875), so if you want to play fast and loose with your wallet, Mercedes-Benz will happily let you.
Still, if you’re the type who wants your luxury SUV to haul ass, the 2017 Mercedes-AMG GLC43 delivers. Best of all, it does it without giving up any of the qualities that made the GLC-Class our SUV of the Year.