International launch drive: Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 SE Performance
When Mercedes-Benz announced that the much-loved V8 in some of their AMG performance vehicles would be no more and in its place a four cylinder petrol engine combined with an electric motor would be doing duty, as you would expect, there were howls of derision and outrage the world over.
From amusing memes to downright rude comments, AMG aficionados and performance petrol heads were none too pleased. Whether it is because of legislation, emission controls or a genuine belief that this is the future we’ll never know, but it’s here to stay and we had the opportunity to see for ourselves what the fuss was about in Barcelona, Spain behind the wheel of the GLC 63 SE Performance.
When Mercedes puts a “G” in its naming convention you know immediately that it’s an SUV (originally derived from the legendary Gelandewagen) and while performance and SUV is still a bit of an anomaly, like New Energy Vehicles, they’re here for the long haul.
So, what’s this AMG GLC 63 mild hybrid like then?
First up as we now know there aren’t eight pistons and instead the world’s most powerful four cylinder electric exhaust-gas turbocharged (a world first) engine that provides an impressive 350kW and 545Nm of torque which is sent to all four wheels via an AMG Speedshift MCT 9G transmission.
It’s combined with a 150kW electric motor on the rear axle integrated with an electrically shifted two speed gearbox and an electronically controlled rear axle limited slip differential providing a combined output of 500kW and 1,020Nm.
The battery is a 6.1kWh unit with 80kW continuous power and 150kW peak power and can be charged via recuperation or the installed 3.7kW onboard charger with an AC current charger, wall box or from your wall plug at home.
The Lithium-ion energy storage system was designed in association with Merc’s Formula 1 engine shop High Performance Powertrains in Brixworth using proven F1 technologies that combine high power that can be called up frequently in succession with low weight to increase the overall performance of the vehicle. Added to this are the fast energy draw and high power density.
Essentially it’s designed for fast power delivery and draw and not so much for range although you do get an electric range of 12 kilometres, enough to potter around in town.
Weighing in at over 2.2 tons it will get to 100km/h in a speedy 3.5 seconds and even out at a limited top speed of 285km/h.
Outside it’s pleasantly understated with AMG grille, vertical fins, AMG front apron with flics, air intakes and some chrome plated elements and a rear apron with an additional diffuser panel and two trapezoidal twin tailpipes while the large wheel arches are filled with 22-inch alloys and low profile rubber.
The interior as you would expect is a mixture of quality Mercedes and AMG fittings including body hugging seats, soft touch leather and nappa leather surfaces and the AMG Performance steering wheel with the two buttons that quickly and easily change the dynamic driving settings and the AMG Dynamic Select programs.
Leaving Barcelona I switched between Electric and Comfort mode to get used to driving in a left hand drive car on the right hand side of the road again and the GLC felt like any other Mercedes SUV.
It’s comfortable, quiet, well behaved and fits the home, work, home and school run moniker perfectly with the satnav on the MBUX system that also has a number of AMG specific functions guiding us out of the city.
Once the cobwebs had been swept away and we headed into the mountains things became a bit different.
The roads in Spain are something else, the surfaces are unbelievably smooth and well maintained and a far cry from anything locally not to mention that in almost 300 kilometres of driving there wasn’t one pothole or scarred piece of tar.
That made switching to Sport, Sport+ and later Race mode mandatory.
It instantly changes the characteristics of the car from slick city cruiser to well… an AMG.
You can feel that the steering firms up with proper feedback, and the suspension too firms up significantly.
The tailpipes emit a wonderful snap, crackle and pop as you accelerate and change through the gears allowing the auto box to manage things on your behalf or using the paddles if you really want to play at being George Russel.
It's very quick off the line using the launch control and before you can say “speed camera” will fly way past 200km/h on a straight piece of road.
The GLC 63 SE Performance is truly fast.
The large brakes felt a bit spongy as a result of using them for regenerative braking but stomping hard on them pushes through the initial resistance and they do a good job of bringing things back to normal.
I know I’ve said that performance and SUV are an anomaly but what the engineers at AMG have done with suspension and damping, an electric anti roll bar (AMG Active Ride Control), distributing weight with a 51:49 ratio rear bias and active rear axle steering is remarkable.
On narrow mountain roads with switchbacks and hairpins its ability to stay low considering its weight and three adults with luggage belies what it’s perceived to be.
We even had an impromptu good old South African dice down the mountain pushing it almost, we think, close to its limit, braking hard, accelerating flat out and using as much of the road as we dared and while it’s a wild ride, the car felt on point all the time, even when braking late into corners.
When we stopped outside another beautiful mountain village to take obligatory pictures we all agreed that it's a proper performance car even for a midsize SUV with comparisons to the Porsche Cayenne Turbo-GT being bandied about. High praise indeed.
There will always be a special place for a V8 and while we may lament the demise of the beautiful-sounding AMG V8 roar with its brutish power, if this is a New Energy Vehicle then not everything is lost.