2017 Mercedes-AMG GLC 43: It’s a performance hatch! It’s a performance coupe! It’s neither!
By Dan Heyman
December 28th 2017
I was quite curious as I was handed the keys to my GLC43 tester and proceeded to the back of Mercedes-Benz HQ in Vancouver to pick it up. I was curious for one simple reason: I didn’t really know what I was about to set off in. While I had been at the launch of the non-coupe GLC a year prior, I had never actually seen the coupe version in pictures, and I had missed the Mercedes stand at the most recent auto show I’d attended. I was going in completely fresh, ready to put Mercedes’ latest segment-busting offering to the test.
Pros & Cons
- + Acceleration
- + Sharp handling
- + Attention-getting styling
- - Ride comfort
- - Visibility
- - Price of options
When I finally laid eyes on it, I was still confused, because I thought I was looking at the GLC’s bigger GLE sibling. Everything I remembered after testing that vehicle came flooding back: super-aggressive rear window rake, slightly upturned rear bumper, long hood. Upon closer inspection, though, you can see how the body style is actually a better fit for the smaller platform.
Much like the BMW X4 and X6 siblings, the more compact dimensions actually make better sense for a car that’s supposed to walk the line between a sporty five-door hatch and a more rugged crossover. Where both the GLE and X6 just seem gargantuan and as far away from anything “sporty” as you can get, on the GLC the body style actually works. It’s an interesting take on what a compact crossover can be, especially considering how ambiguous the term “crossover” is in the first place.
As an AMG model, my tester gets an extra boost in the styling department provided by a chromed grille, more aggressive front splitter, special multi-spoke wheels, and subtle rear spoiler, which does well to move it that much further into “hatchback” territory and away from “crossover” land by helping to provide a lower stance. The slightly awkward, stubby rear hatch does take a little getting used to, but the spoiler helps in that regard too. Under the hood, the engine cover gets an AMG-specific red insert.
Inside, the AMG treatment makes its statement with a healthy dose of carbon fibre as part of an option package: it’s draped on the centre stack, over the transmission tunnel, around the centralized infotainment control wheel/touchpad; even the gauges get a carbon-look finish. It’s actually surprising when you swing open the door and take it all in, as it’s a more hard-core transformation than the exterior.
Another AMG add-on are the black seats with optional contrasting red piping, pretty much the standard for compact performance vehicles these days: we see it on everything from the Subaru STI to Honda Civic Si. My car didn’t have the red seatbelts, which I think was a good choice, as that’s a feature better suited for the more youth-oriented (and somewhat more bonkers-looking) GLA 45. AMG conversion also adds illuminated door sills and aluminum pedals.
The seats themselves are nicely bolstered and supportive up front, and come heated as standard. They’re a little flatter in the back and can be heated, but it will cost you $550.
While the front seating position is right on the money, the same can’t be said for the visibility. The b-pillars are the biggest offenders; they’re quite wide and even the simplest act of checking for traffic as you enter an intersection had me feeling like a bobblehead, as I tried in vain to see around the pillars. The view over your shoulders isn’t spectacular either, which often happens in super-slanty cars like this. The other problem with that slanted hatch (other than reduced rear headroom, of course) is how it doesn’t allow for much load height in the trunk. Luckily, the rear seats split 40/20/40 and fold almost entirely flat.
Oh, there’s lots of tech here, especially considering my tester had the optional Intelligent Drive package, which adds adaptive cruise control, active lane-keep assist, active steer assist (which helps keep you centred in the lane), emergency brake assist and active blind-spot assist. It’s not quite as all-encompassing as the Drive Pilot feature on vehicles such as the latest E-Class, but it remains a pretty robust set of active driver aids. Thankfully, the active systems aren’t so active that you find yourself fighting the wheel.
It’s a great suite of tech, but it does cost $2,700 to get and isn’t quite as good a fit in a performance-minded car like this as it would be in the softer GLC300 version. For the AMG, I’d probably leave this out unless you just have to have the most loaded car possible.
The other side of the tech question comes in the form of the available infotainment features, which were also plentiful thanks to my tester’s Premium Package. It adds navigation, Burmester surround sound (complete with some of the most gorgeous-looking and sounding speakers you’ve ever seen in a car), satellite radio, active park assist, and 360-degree camera. Those last two items may be more suited to the Intelligent Drive package, but considering the package costs almost $6,000, the more features you get, the better. It’s all displayed on a screen atop the centre stack which, I must admit, looks a little tacked-on. The way you navigate it, however, is well-implemented, thanks to the two-pronged attack of a scroll wheel and touchpad, both easy to use.
While the GLC43 does get an AMG designation, it is not of the “one man, one engine” variety seen on the brand’s various V8 and V12 models. Instead, it’s been given a comprehensive once-over by Mercedes’ performance division, resulting in less internal friction (with help from tech similar to that used by Mercedes’ Formula 1 car), more boost pressure, and higher fuel pressure. The result? 362 hp and 385 lb-ft of turbocharged torque from a 3.0L V6, fed to all four wheels via permanent 4Matic AWD that can split torque all the way to 39:61 front/rear.
You’ll feel it as soon as you set off. You’ll really feel it, actually, as this is a vehicle that feels faster than its power figures suggest, especially in Sport or Sport+ modes, which sharpen the throttle and shift times of the 9-speed automatic transmission. Whether you’re at speed or just getting started, you’ll feel a wonderful surge of power that’s almost bereft of turbo lag.
When driven aggressively at speed, the GLC43 doesn’t just have a similar footprint to a hatch, but handles like one, too. Body roll is almost nonexistent as the standard adaptive dampers keep everything in check; these will change depending on which drive mode you select, but they can also be set independently with the press of a button. Fantastic.
But there’s a catch.
As good as the chassis is when it comes to its performance creds, the same can’t be said for the ride quality, which is extremely firm. No matter how I set those dampers, I always knew I was in a performance model, even when tottering around town or dealing with speed bumps and the like. If you’re looking for ride comfort, I’m not sure the 43 model is right for you.
This depends, of course, on what you’re looking for. If you’re after performance but wouldn’t mind the safety of AWD and some added luxury that most hatchbacks can’t provide, then the GLC43 Coupe might work, though the standard five-door model provides more practicality. You could also save yourself a few thousand bucks and go without the carbon fibre and red seat accents. However, if you’re just trying to make a statement by driving something that can’t really be categorized – or you just want to be able to say you’re driving a coupe when you’re not, really – than perhaps the GLC300 would do.
Whatever your preference, it’s hard to deny that Mercedes has pulled quite the performance trick with the GLC43, especially in terms of the powertrain. I never got bored with just how fast this thing feels in every situation, which is mighty impressive for what is essentially one up from the bottom (two up if we’re talking price, as the non-coupe GLC is less expensive) of the ever-growing AMG CUV/SUV range. You pay the price in terms of ride, but the fact that you’ll be out-performing many performance hatches and sports cars alike will be worth the price of admission for many.