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2017 Mercedes-AMG GLC43 Coupe First Drive

Mercedes-AMG’s GLC43 coupe will raise your pulse, even at a standstill

The GLC43 nearly succeeds at being all things to all drivers, but the style, tech and performance come at a cost.

If the concept of a high performance SUV seems like a contradiction in terms to you, a crossover coupe takes this mash up of disparate concepts a step further in an attempt to make what is, in a fundamental sense, a vehicle in a segment normally focused on utility and off-road capability into something more closely resembling a sporty two-door.

As with most things in life, you can rarely have it both ways. Performance and utility are typically at odds with one another, forcing a sacrifice one of in order to achieve the other. But advances in the adaptability of various technologies has made this combination less of an outlandish objective in recent years, and while the GLC43 Coupe isn’t without flaw, it does offer some evidence that these design goals can coexist in relative harmony.

Applying the AMG 43 treatment to the GLC Coupe visually sets it apart from its garden-variety counterpart

The GLC Coupe is among the latest models in the Mercedes lineup to be emblazoned with an AMG badge as part of the new mid-level performance lineup that comprises the AMG 43 range. Like the other vehicles to receive the AMG 43 makeover, the performance outfit’s enhancements to the GLC Coupe go well beyond skin deep, affecting everything from the visual aesthetic and power train to the suspension, brakes and rolling stock.

To see if this AMG 43 treatment proves effective when applied to Mercedes’ sculpted crossover, we took to the back roads of Malibu, California to find out if the GLC43 Coupe can defy traditional conventions while retaining the usefulness that has helped make the crossover segment such a juggernaut as of late.

Balancing style and substance

It might be easy to dismiss the GLC43 Coupe as simply an excuse to slap an AMG badge in order to provide performance cachet parity with BMW’s X4M40i, but there’s a sense of earnestness in Mercedes’ approach here. Like other AMG 43 models, installed in the engine bay of the GLC43 is 3.0-liter bi-turbocharged V6 developing 362 horsepower and 384 pound-feet of torque, which is routed through a nine-speed, AMG-tuned automatic gearbox. Power is sent to all four corners by way of the 4matic all-wheel drive system, which is also tweaked by AMG and splits the torque 31/69 in favor of the rear wheels.

Along with the substantial step up in power, another crucial component in the GLC43 equation is the suspension setup, an AMG-enhanced air spring and three-way adaptive damper setup that’s tuned to reduce body roll with minimal impact to ride quality in softer settings. Beyond the shocks and springs, the front end gets improved rigidity from special steering knuckles and load-bearing joints, while negative camber has been increased in both the front and rear suspension systems for more agile road manners.

AMG’s Dynamic Select feature provides five drive modes that can cycled through by a toggle switch on the center console. Comprised of Eco, Comfort, Sport, Sport+ and Individual modes, they provide adjustment for steering weight, suspension stiffness, transmission behavior, and exhaust sound.

Interestingly, applying the AMG 43 treatment to the GLC Coupe visually sets it apart from its garden-variety counterpart more substantively than in some other Mercedes’ models – the hunkered down stance, 20-inch wheels, lack of running boards along the sides and unique trim give the GLC43 a distinctively athletic look versus the GLC300. Inside the changes are less obvious, though the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters coupled with the sportier interior trim and red stitching throughout the cabin do provide a sense of occasion to the proceedings.

Behind the wheel

The tight, twisting back roads of Malibu aren’t the typical stomping grounds for an SUV. But perhaps that’s the point here, because the GLC43 rarely feels out of sorts being hustled down demanding stretches of tarmac. The combination of all-wheel drive and the boosted V6 gets this crossover up to speed in a hurry, dispatching the sprint to 60 mph in an admirable 4.8 seconds.

The AMG-tuned GLC Coupe delivers a driving experience that the standard GLC Coupe simply cannot provide

But it’s perhaps the nine-speed automatic that deserves the most praise here. Despite the potential over-abundance of cogs to choose from, the transmission never seems out of sorts or unsure of which gear is best suited to the task at hand, provided the appropriate driving mode is selected. In Sport+ mode, the gearbox fires off shifts in quick succession with responsiveness befitting the AMG badge, while the more sedate driving modes focus on efficiency without causing a significant detriment to the crossover’s overall driving behavior.

While the ride is indeed stiffer than the standard GLC due not only to the AMG-tuned suspension but the high performance wheels and tires as well, it’s by no means objectionable. Comfort mode absorbs road imperfections with ease, though enthusiastic drivers will likely prefer using the Sport and Sport+ suspension settings as they tie down body motions enough to allow for some spirited driving.

Turning our attention to tech, buyers may be disappointed to discover that most of it is an optional extra, including the 8.4-inch Comand infotainment system. The system’s hardware and input methods work well enough in practice once you’ve had a chance to acclimate to Mercedes’ way of doing things, but the somewhat dated visuals and limited feature set in comparison to best systems available today make the added cost of its inclusion less forgivable.

That said, along with the Comand system there are a handful of tech features available for the GLC43, which include a suite of active safety elements as well as a sizable head-up display.

In terms of utility, giving the GLC43 Coupe its sleek profile does come at the cost of some practicality, offering 17.3 cubic feet of cargo space versus the regular GLC’s 19.4 with the rear seats up, while lowering them provides 49.4 cubic feet of space in the Coupe rather than the 56.5 of the square-backed GLC.

However, it’s important to note that despite the fastback roofline, rear passenger headroom is still ample even for taller folks, which means opting for the Coupe versus the standard GLC won’t require most families to strategize seating in order to provide a comfortable space for everyone.

Our take

Expected in US showrooms by the end of the first quarter of 2017, the GLC43 Coupe will start at $59,650 before destination and delivery, or nearly $14,000 more than a base GLC300 Coupe with 4matic all-wheel drive. While that’s a sizable chunk of coin, the AMG-tuned GLC Coupe delivers a driving experience that the standard GLC Coupe simply cannot provide, with bolstered visual presence to boot.

While it is ultimately a high-riding crossover and will never match its car-based counterparts for sheer performance capability, AMG’s enhancements applied to the GLC are comprehensive enough to deliver an engaging drive that will be appreciated by folks who’re hoping to retain the luxury and convenience of the standard five-door but still long for the occasional thrill behind the wheel.

The fastback roofline and AMG treatment aren’t enough to turn the GLC into something wholly different from its original purpose, but they do elevate the crossover into something that has the potential to get one’s blood moving, both on the road and at rest.

Highs

  • Handsome silhouette
  • Quick off the line and composed at speed
  • Ample rear-seat passenger room despite coupe roofline

Lows

  • Limited cargo area space for an SUV
  • Comand infotainment system isn’t standard equipment