2018 Mercedes-AMG GLC63 S 4MATIC+ First Drive: SUV royalty

When money is no object, and you feel the need for attention on the school run, the 2018 Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 SUV with its handcrafted 4.0-liter V8 biturbo engine is the ultimate midsize SUV for the family. If you can't make it first in the line for school pick-up with a 0-60 mph time of 3.9 seconds – thanks to 469 HP and 479 lb.-ft of torque – then there's something wrong. All that power starts right at 1,750 rpm, too, so hold on tight the moment your lead foot hits the gas pedal, because that's some serious grunt for a family hauler.

I like Mercedes-AMG's mentality of, "we've got it, so let's use it!" In this case "it" is the exact same engine as you'll find in the AMG GT family of sport cars, here combined with some high tech features to keep you and your most precious cargo safe on the road. For starters, it gets the same 4MATIC+ all-wheel-drive system which was first introduced in the E 63 S, air spring suspension, a limited-slip rear differential, and adjustable dampers for when you're in the mood for some spirited driving.

Trust me when I tell you that this bazooka of an engine is definitely something to write home about, putting the GLC 63 SUV and Coupe in a class of their own, especially when mated with AMG's Speedshift MCT 9-speed transmission. During our driving, I didn't bother much with the paddle shifters, instead leaving the shifts to handle themselves – which they do lag-free and with little hesitancy to drop a few cogs when necessary – and simply enjoyed the driving experience.

That was the idea, anyway. As the day went on, it proved hard to resist the manual shift as the paddles called to me. Like other modern transmissions, it's fast and allows for multiple downshifts in one fell swoop. The double-clutching feature is something Mercedes-AMG says is a "highly emotive gearshift experience" and I'm inclined to agree. A start-off wet clutch replaces the torque converter, saving on weight and optimizes the response to your throttle input, especially during quick acceleration and load changes.

Mercedes-AMG may offer two body styles, SUV and Coupe, but I had the choice of one or the other. My drive partner and I picked the SUV, which in our opinion is the more useful of the two designs if you actually want to transport people and their accumulated luggage.

One of the major differences between the two, other than the styling, is the trim level. Stateside, S trim is only available on the Coupe, with its upgraded 510 HP and 516 lb.-ft of torque. Additionally, it also gets a 20-inch alloy wheels on 265/45 front and 295/40 rear performance tires instead of 19-inch; if you're feeling even more extreme, 21-inch forged alloys with 265/40 tires upfront and 295/35 at the rear are available as an option. Given the wet and cold conditions in Germany, mind, our test car was outfitted with 21-inch Pirelli winter tires. While they're not as fun, we managed to make due and still had a blast. Some credit there goes to the high performance brakes, with AMG sensibly opting for 390-millimeter drilled and internally-ventilated discs for both the front and rear.

While Mercedes' 4Matic all-wheel-drive system is good enough, the AMG badge demands more. In this case, that means 4Matic+ for better performance handling and a limited-slip differential. Even though the road conditions in Stuttgart were on the slippery side of wet, rarely did it seem that power wasn't being sent to the intended wheel. That was true whether it was on the highway or speeding through a sweeping wide turn, but don't get the impression that the GLC63 is a spoilsport. A little side action is absolutely permissable, and by that I mean drifting, not something you get to do often in a midsize SUV.

Custom drive modes are commonplace in modern cars these days but, in my experience, it's really the hardcore performers that truly differentiate with the driving characteristics of each. We experimented with some drifting exercises on the wet and twisties around some of the region's more entertainingly-tight switchbacks, but no, drift mode isn't one of the official options available. Instead, in the SUV we settled on Sport+; had we picked the GLC 63 S Coupe we'd have had Race mode, too, should the urge to hit the track come upon you. It's hard to picture this turtle-looking vehicle on the track, though I'm sure people do it.

Comfort mode is most suitable for hauling the family around, while Sport and Sport+ preps the car for quicker throttle response, stiffer suspension, and tighter steering. My drive partner modified the Individual settings to Sport+ except for the steering, which he kept at Comfort. It keeps the steering nicely relaxed, and would certainly be my primary configuration for everyday driving. All the same, we were agreed during the twistier sections of the drive that, even in Sport+ mode, the steering could be a little bit more direct. I found that there's still too much "steering wheel" action, despite what the mode is called.

On the outsider, Mercedes-AMG gave the GLC 63 the new AMG Panamericana front grille, once reserved for the AMG GT C Roadster and GT R sports coupe alone. It goes hand in hand with what's under the hood, which also sets it apart from the regular GLC. I once referred to the GT C Roadster as a silver bullet, which probably makes the GLC63 Thor's hammer: fast and powerful. "The front is the fascia of the car, and the face is the first expression, this is where you get the eye contact," explains Vitalis Enns, head of Mercedes-AMG interior and exterior design. You won't get to see it yourself on the road, but it's pretty much guaranteed to make an impression as the jet wing-inspired grille, topping its large front splitter, rapidly fills the rear-view mirror of whatever is unfortunate enough to get in front of you.

The world of motor sport donates the car's wider wheel-arch cladding front and rear, lending the SUV a more muscular appearance. Your eyes aren't deceiving you if you think it looks lower, too; that's thanks to the new side-sill panels, which visually elongate the overall lines. Other distinctive elements exclusive to the S-trim are the matte iridium silver inserts, while the rear end gets a muscular rear apron and diffuser in grained black, while the S-model variant finishes it in matte iridium silver. Our GLC 63 SUV sported a new spoiler lip on the roof, too, which is a first for this vehicle. It reminds me of the great looking spoiler on the Porsche Panamera Sport Turismo, minus the adaptive feature of course.

Add the AMG Performance exhaust system with flap control option and, at the push of a button, the car really cranks up the soundtrack by opening two more exhaust flaps. The biturbo V8 already has a euphoric grunt, frankly, so checking this box should let everyone within a block know you mean business. When you manage to ditch the family, S+ and RACE drive modes are absolutely distinctive; conversely, should you want keep the peace with your neighbors, you can mute the sound with a button on the center console.

The interior is everything you'd expect from a pricey, luxurious Mercedes-AMG: very much like being wrapped in a first class cabin. Driver and front passenger enjoy a sporty ARTICO man-made leather, mixed with DINAMICA microfiber. It didn't matter whether I was behind the wheel or a passenger, there was little body roll, even during our more spirited driving stints, and the seats hug you nicely. The contrasting topstitching for the dashboard is a nice touch, while opting for the S-trim gets you a performance steering wheel in black nappa leather and microfiber, AMG badges in the front head restraints combined with leather trimming, and finally an AMG instrument cluster with red highlights.

At the end of the day, if you're looking for raw power that's nicely dressed in a finely-tailored suit, then either the GLC 63 SUV or Coupe fits the bill. Their closest competitor is Porsche's Macan Turbo, with 400 HP and 406 lb.-ft of torque, while the Audi SQ5 comes in at 354 HP with 369 lb.-ft of torque. Mercedes-AMG is yet to confirm pricing for the 2018 GLC 63, which may well filter out all but the most enthusiastic of performance SUV buyers, but there's no denying that we're looking at two of the most powerful – and appealing – cars in the segment