There are plenty of SUVs that are both faster and more powerful than the 2020 Mercedes-AMG GLC 43. Yet this AMG lite offering manages to hit a mark that few others can, balancing just the right amount of performance prowess against everyday practicality.
The engine under the hood of the GLC 43 lacks the built-by-hand bragging rights of its V8-powered sibling, the GLC 63 S, but this V6 is certainly no slouch. The 3.0L utilizes a pair of turbochargers to squeeze out 385 hp and 384 lb-ft of torque. Compared to similar offerings from the likes of Audi and BMW – the former builds an SQ5, the latter an X3 M40i – output is competitive enough to provide the kind of kick in the pants that’s reasonable to expect from one of these slightly-scaled-back performance SUVs.
It relies on a nine-speed automatic transmission to get the tires moving via a rear-biased all-wheel drive system, with shifts that are lightning fast and roar like thunder with the optional performance exhaust. The transmission isn’t without its flaws, however, with normal acceleration occasionally resulting in clunky behaviour before grabbing gears. It’s something of an unsettling feeling, particularly when taking off from a stop – the sensation is similar to rolling onto the throttle and not going anywhere because the vehicle’s been left in neutral – but the nine-speed manages to perform smoothly most of the time.
Jamming on the accelerator pedal is another way to dispel the transmission’s misbehaviour. Doing so with the drive mode set to its most aggressive programming results in a serious turn of speed, too. Running on a steady diet of 91-octane fuel, the GLC 43 will sprint to 100 km/h in right around five seconds – plenty fast for a daily driver.
Driving Feel: 9/10
Not limited to some sort of stoplight-to-stoplight sensation, it’s possible to toss the GLC 43 headlong into a corner and come out the other side unscathed. With a wonderful electromechanical steering setup and adaptive air suspension at all four corners, it’s surprising just how agile this SUV really is. It’s not quite a C-Class, but it doesn’t feel far from it.
It looks every bit as sporty inside as an AMG-tuned sedan, too, playing the role of a proper performance vehicle to perfection. Leather and microfibre upholstery are complemented by red accent stitching, while the same fabric combo can be added to the steering wheel through an AMG options pack to complete the look and feel. The performance motif can be taken a step further with a pair of sport seats that look like they were borrowed from the AMG GT, though they might be a little much for everyday use.
Outside, staggered wheels give the GLC 43 an aggressive stance. The standard setup features 20-inch alloys wrapped in tires that measure 255 mm wide up front and 285 mm around back, though optional 21-inch rims can be added instead. It doesn’t look quite as menacing as the GLC 63 S that sits slightly lower and features a wider, more aggressive front bumper, but the same cascading slats fill in the grille to give even this version something of an angry grin.
The package that includes the upsized wheels is but the tip of the options iceberg. While the AMG-tuned GLC-Class comes reasonably well equipped – heated front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, and a whole host of performance goodies – plenty of stuff that should probably come standard in a $65,000 SUV must be added via the options list.
Looking for ventilated front seats? That’ll be another $1,200. How about heated rear seats and steering wheel? Those add $550 and $250 to the price tag, respectively. While they’re not especially expensive, it’s the very fact they have to be added in the first place that stands apart as puzzling. (For the record, it’s not only Mercedes that withholds such features, though the Audi SQ5, which has an identical starting price, at least includes a heated steering wheel.)
Not even Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard fare in the GLC 43, with the smartphone interfaces offered only with the upgraded 10.25-inch touchscreen infotainment system, itself part of a pricey $6,200 package. What’s worse, Apple CarPlay doesn’t even occupy the entirety of the widescreen display. Considering CarPlay stretches from corner to corner in a Kia Soul with a screen of the same size, it’s reasonable to expect the same from a premium brand like Mercedes.
User Friendliness: 8/10
The infotainment interface itself is fairly straightforward, with big and bright graphics that are easy to comprehend with little more than a passing glance. There are, however, some head-scratching nuances to the system. For starters, there’s no physical tune/scroll switchgear to be found – not even on the steering wheel. Instead, using a button on the console-mounted touchpad (a holdover from Mercedes’ days before touchscreens) calls up a corresponding display on the infotainment screen, while simultaneously allowing one of the two touch controls on the wheel to be used to skip songs or stations.
Navigating the various functions housed within the head unit can also be a bit of a chore, though the hard touch buttons for the climate control system and other frequently used features like navigation and audio certainly helps. The navigation system also uses a front-mounted camera to provide turn-by-turn directions in augmented reality, with guidance superimposed on a live display of the road ahead.
There’s also a simple set of switchgear on the centre console to operate the various performance-related equipment. There’s a toggle to cycle through the different drive modes – Slippery, Comfort, Sport, Sport+, and Individual – and buttons to manipulate the suspension, transmission, traction control, and exhaust. Opting for the $3,000 AMG upgrade pack adds an extra set of controls to the steering wheel for quicker access to those go-fast goodies. There’s a scroll wheel for the drive modes, and a pair of buttons that can be assigned to different functions. Want to quiet the exhaust at the touch of a thumb or adjust the different damper settings? Simply program the buttons to manage those tasks.
Fuel Economy: 7/10
The temptation to turn the drive dial to its most stout setting and unleash the full fury of the GLC 43 comes at the cost of frequent fuel stops. A week of testing saw nearly 700 km added to the odometer, much of which was racked up on the highway, yet it sucked back premium-grade gasoline to the tune of 12.2 L/100 km.
Despite being able to tone down the exhaust for a quieter ride, the optional performance system drones rather loudly at highway speeds – a problem most noticeable when listening to podcasts rather than punk rock. Otherwise, it’s a peaceful ride that’s interrupted only by the occasional bump and crack in the road, a byproduct of the low-profile tires.
The duality of the GLC 43 is such that it provides sporting capability worthy of the AMG badge, yes, but it doubles as a serene family hauler, too. Dial it all back and this once-mighty Mercedes behaves like any other premium SUV out there. It’s quiet and comfortable, while the steering that’s ideally suited for a winding country road is relaxed and controllable while slogging through the daily commute. Likewise, the adjustable air suspension provides outstanding ride quality that’s neither too firm nor too soft no matter the setting, while also allowing the ride height to be dropped via a button in the cargo area for a lower load floor when tossing heavier items in the back.
Not all automakers use the same methodology for measuring cargo volume, resulting in specs that vary wildly from one vehicle to the next. In the case of the GLC-Class, what’s listed on paper comes close to the tiny Toyota Corolla hatchback when in reality it’s much more like the RAV4. In fact, the similarly sized GLC is listed as having less volume – with a difference of over 500 L behind the back seats and almost 400 L with them folded – yet the space is nearly identical to Toyota’s popular SUV.
There’s also ample room for four people to fit inside, with comfortable and supportive seating front and back, and plenty of storage for everyday items. The door pockets are monstrous, while the console cubby hides the wireless phone charger that comes with the $6,200 upgrade package (Mercedes has also stashed a handful of USB-C ports throughout the cabin).
The GLC 43 may start at $64,400 before freight, fees, and taxes, but Mercedes might as well make it $70,600, such is the importance of that upgrade package. It’s the only way to add the larger touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and augmented navigation, as well as a whole host of other features that make it easier to live with.
At that price, it’s competitive with its aforementioned adversaries, while still undercutting the more powerful GLC 63 S by nearly $23,000. That’s a lot to pay for the extra performance of the V8-powered version.
While the version tested featured a further $12,290 in options and upgrades, pushing the selling price $82,890 before dealer fees and taxes, there’s still plenty of value – especially considering its prowess as both a family hauler and a performance vehicle.
Skipping options like the $890 paint job, $1,500 interior trim, or even the $3,000 AMG add-on pack help bring the cost down further into reasonable territory, but most of the rest of them mean skimping on safety items. That $6,200 package includes items like a self-parking system and a whole host of cameras for peace of mind when pulling into tight spaces – though much like Apple CarPlay, they don’t fill up the entire touchscreen – as well as traffic sign recognition and augmented reality navigation.
Then there’s the $1,900 package that includes steering-responsive headlights, automatic high-beams, and a digital gauge cluster (this package can only be added if the more expensive one has been too), as well as a $2,700 suite of active safety and driver-assist systems like adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assist.
While most of the systems work fine – there’s everything from blind-spot monitoring to lane-centring – the lane-keep assist doesn’t just keep the vehicle inside lane markings but applies the brakes should it cross them. While such a function is handy on the highway, it can wreak havoc on nerves in the city or in construction zones where lane shifts are common.
As far as performance SUVs go, the Mercedes-AMG GLC 43 gets just about everything right. It’s not the top of the heap when it comes to power or speed, but that’s what makes it such a great option – especially if it’s something that’s going to be driven every day. It’s got more than enough performance chops to provide a surprising bit of fun, but it balances that against a family-friendly space inside and a casual driving demeanour when called upon.
It’s not without its deficiencies – the transmission could use some work, and the infotainment system isn’t quite perfect – but none of them are serious enough to take away from how well-sorted the rest of this right-sized family hauler is.
|Engine Cylinders||Twin-turbo V6|
|Peak Horsepower||385 hp @ 5,500–6,000 rpm|
|Peak Torque||384 lb-ft @ 2,500–4,500 rpm|
|Fuel Economy||13.1 / 9.8 / 11.2 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb (US EPA)|
|Cargo Space||550 / 1,600 L seats down|
|Model Tested||2020 Mercedes-AMG GLC 43|
|Price as Tested||$82,990|
$18,490 – Premium Package, $6,200; AMG Driver’s Package, $3,000; Intelligent Drive Package, $2,700; Technology Package, $1,900; Head-Up Display, $1,500; AMG Carbon Fibre Trim, $1,500; Graphite Grey Metallic Paint, $890; Trailer Hitch, $800