The Mercedes-Benz GLC is one of our favourite mid-size SUVs of the moment. In diesel guise, it's refined, comfortable, spacious and of exceedingly high quality. Being critical (that's our job, remember?), it's no more dynamic or interesting to drive than its premium rivals, but we realise that most SUV buyers don't really care about that side of things. For those that do, however, there's the new Mercedes-AMG GLC 43 4Matic. Here's our test drive.
In the metal
These pictures show a menacing looking SUV thanks to the black-on-black theme, but having seen the GLC 43 in silver and white, it doesn't always look as attention grabbing as this. In fact, it could almost pass for an AMG-Line version of the GLC, powered by a diesel engine. That is until you spot the diamond radiator grille with its chrome-plated pins, a louvre in high-gloss black with inserts in high-gloss chrome and the AMG lettering up front. There are other detail changes to the front bumper, including a chromed lower section to help the AMG model stand out. Unique 19-inch alloy wheels also assist with that and the GLC 43 is unmistakeable from behind because of its quad exhaust outlet design and below-bumper diffuser.
No surprises inside, where the spacious and well-appointed cabin of the GLC we already admire has been enhanced with plenty of black and red detailing. The seat belts are red, for a start, while the sports seats are upholstered in a mix of Artico and Dinamica (man-made leather and microfibre material) that extends to the door panels. The flat-bottomed steering wheel has a red marking at the top and behind that are chunky gearchange paddles and AMG-specific instruments with a subtle chequered flag motif.
At the heart of all the '43' AMGs is a cracking 3.0-litre V6 petrol engine that employs two turbochargers. Here it produces 367hp and 520Nm of torque, which makes light work of the big SUV body, flinging it down any road you point it at with abandon. It sounds good too, though the V6 is more muted in the GLC than it is in, for example, the Mercedes-AMG SLC 43, even if the exhaust does crackle and pop a little on the overrun if you've chosen the Sport Plus setting from the driving modes. That also speeds up the shifts of the excellent nine-speed automatic transmission, and for full enjoyment on a twisty road you can press a button to have full manual control (it will still change down if you forget to when coming to a stop, but it won't change up at the rev limiter, which is exactly how it should be).
As power goes to all four wheels, in the dry it's all but impossible to break traction without severe provocation. Still, with 69 per cent of the engine output going to the rear axle by default, it never feels like it's going to plough on in understeer when you try too hard. 'Neutral' is the best way to describe the chassis. There is an ESP Sport mode for the stability control, which delays interference of the electronic nanny when you're pushing on through tight corners, but in reality there's so much grip available that few will need the assistance. It may be a different case in the wet of course, where we'd expect the GLC to be a hoot.
The AMG sports suspension is based on the company's Air Body Control system, which uses air chambers instead of steel springs, and it features adaptive damping with three disparate settings. The most extreme (Sport Plus) mode is certainly firm, but not quite as bone-jarring as you might think, and there's still some useful movement in the body to indicate where the limits of the car's ability are. It's a shame then that in Comfort mode it isn't quite as supple or as quiet (in terms of road noise) as you might expect. That's partly to do with the low profile tyres, but also considerable upgrading of the suspension front and rear to withstand higher speed running. Those changes do mean an SUV that is more capable in the corners than most will ever need, of course.
What you get for your money
As you'd hope from the range-topper, the GLC 43 is very well-equipped. Along with the visual makeover inside and out, there are plenty of toys, such as Bluetooth, satnav, etc. Mercedes Ireland won't quote us a price though, so for buyers it's 'Price on Application', which, in our experience, usually can be translated as 'a lot of cash'. No doubt it's worth it, but there's not much demand in Ireland for high-performance petrol-powered SUVs.
The AMG '43' line-up is expanding and every one of them is likeable. The new GLC 43 4Matic is no different, so long as you realise it's a relatively subtle AMG model. We like how restrained the styling is, and though comfort and refinement are compromised in the name of sharper dynamics, it's still spacious, well-made and comfortable enough for buyers that would even consider a car from the AMG stable. It certainly makes an interesting alternative to the leagues of diesel SUVs on the market.