Quick Drive: The Mercedes-AMG GLC43 Tries A Balancing Act

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It is no longer possible to be shocked when another performance variant of a typically pragmatic SUV is released.

Mercedes-Benz has long been in the business of throwing some AMG-ness on their boxy models, beginning with the ML55 AMG nearly two decades ago. But with the Mercedes-AMG GLC43 AMG (which rolls right off the tongue), there has been an attempt to restore some balance to make an everyday performance car, crossover, SUV, whatever.

If you’re a fan of the standard GLC’s good looks, then the AMG 43 version is off to a good start. It’s an attractively sharp vehicle riding on these 21-inch wheels and summer tires. While perhaps not as rakish as a Porsche Macan or Jaguar F-Pace, the slightly more upright shape of the GLC obviously pays dividends inside when you’re actually trying to fit things into your SUV. Again, it’s a balance thing.

And even as far as AMGs go, $55,825 GLC43 is tastefully modified without being garish. Subtle black trim and that special grille that all of the tweener AMG models all works well on this guy. It’s like buying one better than the GLC300 that’s on every street corner without showing off too much.

Same goes for the interior, where tasteful mods are the name of the game. It still carries the GLC’s merits of a spacious back seat, decent cargo area with the seats up or down and a stylish dashboard, even if using the COMAND system requires an adult education course. Front seats are ever-so-slightly sporting, although I can’t say they held me in place much better than the standard ones would’ve in aggressive-ish cornering that my co-driver did in the hills above Los Angeles.

Some of that comes down to the GLC43’s underpinnings. Air suspension – sorry, Air Body Control, in Mercedes-speak – acts differently in every one of the four driving modes, but pretty much keeps the GLC from rolling around too much in corners. The tradeoff, however, is a ride that’s pretty much always bouncy. I must have pressed every button to control the drive mode and the suspension a hundred times and never found a totally ideal setting.

A photo posted by Zac Estrada (@zacestrada) on

The 362 horsepower from the 3.0-liter bi-turbo V6 also trot out in a rather lumpen way at low speeds. Some of that is down to how the 9-speed automatic has a different personality in every driving mode – and none of them is flexible enough for every driving situation, which prompted me to constantly flick between all of them. Owners are unlikely to do that, however, which means it will be left in Comfort and the two or three gear kickdown when entering the highway will be a common occurrence.

Unfortunately, the GLC 43 never settles down enough. Flick through the various preset modes and even Eco mode still allows for abrupt throttle responses at traffic speeds. It seems happy only between 50 and 70 mph, which is perfect for open highways. But enter traffic-ridden LA streets, as we did, and even a light breath on the accelerator makes it jumpy and erratic. Hit a bump and it responds with a thud into your spleen.

The GLC43 wants to be let loose. Given a clear Autobahn or even a good track and it could very well show you a good time. What it doesn’t appear to be so good at, however, is picking up the kids from school or making sure the free range organic eggs get home intact. While it may look grown up, the GLC43 is really the rambunctious uncle who’s going to play with the kids up and knocking over Grandma’s lamp.

And if you really love it, you’ll learn to let it rough you up in front of the family.

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