It might sound strange, but compact high performance SUVs are now so common on dealer lots and in driveways across the country that a natural pecking order has begun to emerge. Gone are the days when a small crossover with big power was an anomaly—we've now reached the point where every major Euro player has folded its sport-utility offerings into their mainstream tuning tier. Just like with sedans and coupes, buyers have multiple flavors of fast to choose from when seeking out their next hatchback-on-stilts for daily duty.
The 2019 Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S is the perfect example of a brand fully embracing the lift. The GLC has been given very nearly the same drivetrain treatment as its stupendously-quick C 63 S sedan cousin, with the added incentive of four-wheel drive. The larger heft of the GLC-Class, however, has added an extra dimension of brute to what the twin-turbo V8 under its hood already brings to the table. It's a unique take from the Silver Star on what drivers might be looking for in an $80,000 commuter, and one that stands at odds with its primary competition.
(One quick note: the 63 S model I drove won't be making it to America this year, where the hottest AMG version of the GLC one can currently buy is the standard 63. The same engine can be found State-side in the GLC 63 S Coupe, however, which offers an identical drivetrain with slightly less cargo room.)
Mercedes-AMG is currently the only compact crossover player to offer eight-cylinders of turbocharged fury. To say that this is the most defining characteristic of the GLC 63 S would be an understatement: although the 503 horsepower on tap from its 4.0-liter, twin-turbo engine is par for the course at this price point (with the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio and the BMW X3 M Competition posting near-identical figures), the truck's cliff-collapsing, big-splash torque delivery cuts a distinct profile.
As does its exhaust note. Even the somewhat more modest 469 horsepower GLC 63 model threatens to tear a hole in your eardrums should you lean in too close to the tailpipes during a full throttle launch. No other quickened crossover boasts a similar sound, and the lack of overly-affected burbles and blats from the V8 quickens the pulse without resorting to supra-normal theatrics.
PERSONALITY GOES A LONG WAY
That dash of personality is an important distinction in a slice of the showroom that's become increasingly homogenous. Virtually all of the GLC 63 S' compatriots can match its low-3-second sprint to 60-mph, reach the most terrifying numbers at the far right of the speedometer, and feature a trick all-wheel drive system of some description or another.
It's the details, then, that start to matter. Alfa Romeo relies on its peaky, rev-happy V6TT setup, while BMW trots out its near-infinite level of drive mode customization for the X3 M Competition. Jaguar flaunts the 50 paper pony advantage from its supercharged V8 to pull a crowd (although in a street race it's a half second behind the rest of its compatriots), while Audi counts on the tech quotient stuffed into its SQ5 to do the job.
It's also important to note that each of these hyper-utes are, in some way, compromised by their promise of performance. The thicker the muscle, the harder it is to tame, and this is doubly true if said drivetrain is being asked to tout around a thousand extra pounds of big, buff truck. When set to their stiffest, there are few performance SUVs that don't bounce or buck their way outside the sphere of smoothness most luxury vehicle owners are expecting.
Such is the case for Mercedes-AMG, although for the most part the disturbance is limited to a single, specific mode of operation. Unfortunately, it's one drivers will encounter every time they operate the vehicle: hesitation from the GLC 63 S' 9-speed automatic transmission when riding in the vehicle's standard Comfort drive mode (smoothed out by a swap to Sport mode most of the time). Most noticeable after a cold start, it's a confounding stumble that you won't notice in the similarly-mighty C 63 S sedan or coupe.
A WORTHY ENTRY
Aside from that particular stitch in the AMG's side, the rest of the GLC 63 S package certainly delivers on its promise of practicality plus performance and presence. Decked out in all black, the crossover is a vision of menace, but from within its swank confines riders will be far from unsettled by its reasonably compliant chassis, well-appointed cabin, and quite useful amount of interior storage for gear, luggage, or in my case, boxes of car parts.
And yet, should one wish to summon it, that lurking demon of excess is easily awakened by the right foot, which reminds everyone within a 500-foot radius something wicked this way comes. It would be a stretch to call the Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S 'fun to drive,' given its ponderous weight and long-legged stance, but it's certainly sticky, quite quick, and bellows with the kind of raucous roar that will excommunicate you from your homeowner's association. For some, that's well worth the price tag.