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Review: Is the new Mercedes-AMG crossover the new hot hatch?

The 'performance compact crossover' segment is arguably the most mind-boggling in the automotive business.

The ride height is raised slightly. The buyer's perception of increased utility because of slightly increased interior space makes sense and likewise, the availability of all-wheel drive. And the coupe-like shape of certain models strikes a chord from the standpoint of aesthetics. Still, some consumers want their compact crossovers to blitz traffic lights with the after-burn of a 100-metre sprinter and attack corners like the most adept winger in hockey. Perhaps it's this: If the compact crossover is the new hatchback, the performance compact crossover must be the new hot hatch. Assuming this principle, what should we make of the egregiously named 2017 Mercedes-AMG GLC 43 4MATIC Coupe? First things first: In testing the then-new and more pedestrian GLC 300 4MATIC in 2015, it was clear that the rock-solid platform was capable of accommodating a more powerful engine. That engine is now here – the twin-turbo V-6 of the GLC 43 (362 horsepower) easily out-muscles the mono-turbo four-cylinder of the GLC 300 (241 hp).

The 'AMG-ified' crossover boasts a zero-to-100 km/h sprint time of 4.8 seconds, quicker in a straight line than, for example, the fastest version of the Lamborghini Countach ever produced. Mercedes-AMG chairman Tobias Moers says the vehicle will find a new buyer with a combination of its agility, sporty driving dynamics, expressive design and day-to-day practicality. The challenge may be in convincing consumers to ante up $13,210 more than the GLC 300. Mercedes-Benz was expected to sell near 5,000 GLC 300s in 2016.

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The gulf in price doesn't come down to the engine alone. The nine-speed automatic transmission in the GLC 43 is re-programmed to deliver quicker shift times. The air suspension system, with three different settings, is calibrated to reduce body roll and provide a more planted driving experience. And the 4MATIC all-wheel drive is sport-minded as well; even under normal driving conditions, 69 per cent of the torque is diverted to the rear wheels. Touring hilly terrain of the Algarve, the Mercedes-AMG proved to be a formidable piece of engineering. Without question, the AWD system generates a 'sports-car feel,' both coming into and powering out of the most daunting turns. The steering and brakes, though, are less confidence-inspiring; the former feels inconsistent, the latter comes across as vague.

After about an hour spent blasting along deserted country roads, the GLC 43 proved to be an entertaining vehicle. It's not really a sports car, not even really a hot hatch. But it is quick, corners well, and is stylish.

TECH SPECS

  • Base price: $63,200
  • Engine: Twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre V6
  • Transmission/drive: Nine-speed automatic/All-wheel
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 13.0 city, 9.8 highway
  • Alternatives: Audi SQ5, BMW X4 M40i, Lexus NX 200t, Mercedes-Benz GLC 300 4MATIC, Porsche Macan GTS

RATINGS

  • Looks: Stylish from nearly every angle, this crossover is particularly appealing from the back, far more aggressive than most competitors in this sub-segment. The brash three-pointed star logo, mesh-front grille, large air intakes and standard 20-inch wheels seal the deal.
  • Interior: Even the base GLC has a sweet interior with many features, such as the touchpad and centre console screen, carried over from more expensive models.The standard AMG sport steering wheel and optional performance seats made a strong first impression.
  • Performance: On balance, the GLC 43 is an entertaining ride: fast in a straight line, composed in the corners and rewarding on the most challenging of roads. Any weaknesses have been engineered-in, to leave room in the fleet for a more powerful version on the top of the range.
  • Technology: As customary with Mercedes-Benz, this offering comes standard with some advanced safety systems – but certainly fewer than some other competitors. Everything needed for near-autonomous operation is in the order guide, provided you pony up for the Intelligent Drive Package.
  • Cargo: According to the tale of the tape, the GLC Coupe body style has some 200 litres less interior storage space than the traditional GLC crossover version. The mavens at Mercedes-Benz refer to the GLC as a “mid-size” crossover, but it’s for sure on the compact side.

THE VERDICT

8

A solid score for a solid, yet curious crossover. The question for consumers: Is the AMG version worth the $13,000 (MSRP) premium over the formidable GLC 300 4MATIC?

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The writer was a guest of the auto maker. Content was not subject to approval.

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