No one in his right mind would refuse the keys to a Benz. But I admit I’m pretty jaded when it comes to cars these days. All the really good stuff is priced way out of my league, and at the end of the day it’s not like I get to keep the car. It’s still a reality check as I walk back to my own, dead-reliable but oh-so-average daily driver.
Perhaps sensing they needed to do something special to light a fire under my pants, the good people of Mercedes-Benz turned over the one, single AMG unit to yours truly at the recent Mercedes-Benz Endurance Road Trip. It’s their annual media drive for Southeast Asia, and they let us loose on the roads of Kota Kinabalu.
The company has gotten accolades the world over for its classy GLC, but the AMG model turns the heat up to 11. It’s not a mere appearance package, too, as a peek under the hood reveals the red “AMG” engine cover that conceals the 3.0-liter, twin turbocharged six-cylinder with its 362 horses and 521Nm of torque. AMG aficionados will note that the engine is an off-the-shelf unit and not a handbuilt motor fresh from the skunkworks, but that’s okay. All you need to know is that it works very well, and transforms an otherwise competent crossover into something that blurs the line between a sports wagon and an SUV.
This AMG is one of those special models that specifically require YOU the customer and not your chauffeur to take the wheel. Slipping into the cockpit is a bit of a ceremony as you fiddle with the seat controls, tilt/telescopic steering column, and customize your cockpit displays. You can adjust the level of thigh support, in order to get that “fits like a glove” sensation. It takes a few minutes to acclimatize, but once you’re set, it’s all very good.
The driver sightlines are perfect, the seat is supportive and comfortable without being restrictive. Shuffling through the stereo, navigation, and climate control is handled via the COMAND panel that perfectly fits in the palm of your hand. Just gazing at the dashboard is a treat what with the perfect symmetry of lines and curves and retro-ish circular vents.
Firing up the twin turbo effects a low, smooth rumble that will tempt you to prod the throttle just for the fun of it. It’s rather quiet inside the car, but outside the car will already be producing an intimidating hum that will have onlookers confirm that the dual exhausts and big ass wheels aren’t just for show.
Once you’re underway, the first inclination is to find a nice, smooth (or not-so-smooth) stretch of road to stretch its legs. The GLC43 uses Mercedes’s well-regarded, nine-speed automatic transmission and benefits from 4MATIC all-wheel drive to harness the power of the twin turbo. The powertrain is supremely docile and tractable in low-speed traffic. You never get a hint of jumpiness from the throttle or the sensation of a big engine struggling to deal with so much torque, ultimately tiring you out in gridlock.
To be fair, three liters isn’t that big a displacement anyway, which makes this particular AMG the ideal model for the Southeast Asia market (there’s an even bigger twin turbo AMG GL63 for those who just like everything bigger). Throttle travel is on the long side, but at around the half-way point the computer takes this as a cue that you’re in a hurry. The transmission steps down one or two gears, the engine soundtrack turns into a delicious howl of forced induction fury and raspy, full-bore exhaust (gotta love butterfly valves, boys), and the view out the windshield will have you imagine you’re about to go into Star Wars hyperspace.
We didn’t have any testing instruments onboard, but the GLC43 has been tested to hit 0-100kph in under five seconds. Playing with the paddle shifters is intuitive and encouraging. You can jump down two or three gears so long as your gear choice won’t overstress the drivetrain.
The GLC43 benefits from a full suite of chassis and drivetrain customizability, too, such that you can spend a whole day experimenting with the combinations to find that perfect sweet spot. The three driving modes of Comfort, Sport, and Sport Plus have factory settings for the throttle, steering, suspension, and transmission, or you can set each one up individually. We didn’t have the luxury of time to try each and every possible combination, so we stuck to Sport.
On Kota Kinabalu’s narrow, twisting roads, it had just the right balance of steering sharpness, suspension firmness, and drivetrain response to help us set a brisk pace. We could really get used to this kind of driving, you know. Alas, our day-long tryst with the AMG eventually had to end.
Locally, the GLC250 is the immediately available model with its 211hp, inline-4 engine. You get nearly all of the luxury and safety goodies as the GLC43 for a lower tag price, but if you crave high performance to go with your style and the rarity of the AMG badge, then you already know what to ask for.