Mercedes-AMG GLC 43 Coupe review: First Made in India AMG is here!
We shake down the first AMG to be assembled in India; one that proves a performance SUV can also be a daily driver
AMGs are now assembled in India! This is A very big deal! For long we enthusiasts have been on the margins, a fringe band of nutters that manufacturers considered too tiny a demographic to bother with. A sticker job and that used to be that for us enthusiasts, while resources were poured into eking out an extra kilometre from the last drop of fuel or, as has been recent trends, cutting more of the roof to throw in a sun roof. No longer.
Mercedes-Benz has committed to us enthusiasts in the most emphatic manner by assembling these high-performance cars in India. Sure, these are high-end enthusiasts, as befits Merc’s clientele, but what a statement of intent! The AMG business case in India is now strong enough to begin local assembly and thus take advantage of the lower duties to grow volumes. And it all starts with the Mercedes-AMG GLC 43. Well,India is SUV country, we’ve established that time and again. Fast SUVs work really well with the ride comfort, ride height and suspension robustness to deal with our roads and enable more of the power to be used more of the time. And the GLC 43 sits in that lovely sweet spot — in terms of size, price and performance. No, it isn’t the best selling AMG in India, that was the outgoing GLE 43 AMG Coupe, but with that getting upgraded to the 53, we have no doubt this will be the new best-seller, that is until the A35 AMG comes along.
The GLC Coupe is the fastback version of the conventional, square-roofed GLC, Mercedes’ best-selling SUV in India. While this body style was exclusive to the AMG, early this year the GLC Coupe was also introduced with the 300 petrol and diesel and with the updated 43 AMG that makes for 5 variants of the GLC on sale in India. The update gives it a nip and tuck to make it look more muscular and athletic, new headlights and tail lamps, new exhaust design and of course the in-your-face Panamerica grille that is the face of all AMGs. The gently sloping coupe-roofline, as before, provides extra pizzazz, adding visual drama and still turning heads. It is still a novelty!
Also new is the Matt Grey paint finish our test car wore while the interiors too have received all the latest gizmos and gadgets including Mercedes’ new MBUX and a new AMG flat-bottomed steering wheel. It get the 12.3-inch digital cockpit that complements the 10.3-inch infotainment touchscreen that has the new MBUX operating system. Together they provide a vast and reconfigurable array of information, though not as vast as the GLE 53 AMG that we drove last month. AMG-specific readouts include real-time engine output and a G-force meter while the AMG Drive unit on the steering wheel toggles through the various drive modes via a Ferrari Manettino-style knob as well as tiny colour touchscreens.
The GLC Coupe's infotainment unit is highly responsive and easy enough to use, offering a lot of functionality. It took me a bit of playing around to get comfortable with it, but you do figure your way around it soon enough
Comfort in the GLC43 AMG Coupe is generally good. The front seats are firm and supportive, holding you nicely in place and reminding you that this car means business once on the go. The back seat is less hospitable, especially while getting in and the low roofline means you need to duck your head. Things are a bit better when you get in. While there is enough legroom, headroom does fall short and may result in most people’s head touching the roof. The backrest too is pretty upright and may not be very comfortable, especially on longer journeys.
That said, despite its rakish profile, the GLC 43 AMG has a spacious boot. The loading angle is a bit high, but it has more cargo capacity than you’d expect from something with a slopping roofline. In fact, on this front it’s more or less on par with the standard GLC. Where it does majorly differ though, is the way it drives...
23 more horses!
The GLC 43 AMG sticks with the familiar 3-litre twin-turbo V6, but now thanks to larger turbos and some software tweaks, it puts out an extra 23 horses. To reduce turbo lag, the turbos are now mounted closer to the exhaust ports. The 385bhp motor is mated to a responsive nine-speed torque converter automatic, instead of the multi-plate wet clutch offered on other high-performance AMG models. This is a reminder that the 43-series is the entry level in the AMG line up. Assisted by Merc’s 4-Matic all-wheel-drive system, the GLC 43 AMG can hit 100 from a standstill in a claimed time of 4.9 seconds and power its way to a limited top speed of 250 kmph, which is properly quick.
The engine is not all about performance either. It’s perfectly civil for daily use and has the typically creamy mid range acceleration you’d expect from a V6 accompanied by a lovely burble when you hit the sport exhaust button. AMG has also calibrated the nine-speed automatic’s ratios in a way that you can potter around in town, without ever feeling that the response is jerky on inconsistent. Its tightly spaced lower ratios lets the engine flex its muscle, while the higher gears ensure revs are relaxed and calm at highway speeds. Stick it into Sport or, better still, Sport Plus and it turns into a different animal. You can put the gearbox into full manual mode and use the satisfyingly-hefty steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters to cycle up and down the ’box. Responses from the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters aren't instantaneous, though. This is where the conventional automatic transmission lacks the immediacy of a dual-clutch. There will be the odd time when you will feel it stumbling through gears which is the only drawback in an otherwise great driving experience.
Like all AMGs, this GLC 43 too has a potent soundtrack. Breathing through the selectable (via a button on the centre console) AMG performance exhaust system, the engine makes all kinds of snorty noises when pushed hard announcing full-bore upshifts with a loud crack and downshifting with a series of pops.
An everyday AMG?
It offers a compliant ride for the most part, absorbing smaller bumps and ruts without rattling your bones. Yes, there’s a firmness associated with a performance car, but it is never unusable. The height-adjustable air suspension offers three damper settings and Comfort is a little more forgiving than Sport and Sport Plus, being the best compromise for most situations except when you are attacking a very smooth road. There’s also an Individual mode where you can set the suspension in Comfort and everything else in Sport Plus for max hoonery — our preferred mode.
In any setting, the body stays impressively level through corners, even under hard braking, before you chuck it into a corner. The tall body and stance does mean that you can feel the higher center of gravity, this is an SUV after all, but there’s always plenty of grip and bite. Overall GLC 43 AMG, like other performance coupes from Mercedes-AMG we’ve tested recently, does an excellent job of damping out the road imperfections, giving you the confidence to get closer and closer to the limits of the excellent chassis. And when you do get close to that limit, it does stop authoritatively thanks to beefy brakes and body control that is far better than other, tall, SUVs.
Correspondingly, the well-weighted steering is tight and accurate, though it can be a little on the lazier side. Engaging the sportier handling modes does sharpen the response, and makes spirited driving that much more fun. The engine output is sent to the AMG-tuned 4-Matic all-wheel-drive system that has a fixed rear-biased ratio. Switching to the sportier handling modes and switching off the traction control lets you unlock a bit of playfulness, getting the tail out ever so slightly as you put down the power getting out of a tight corner.
The GLE 43's brakes deserve special mention, as it has a strong initial bite preceded by a steady decrease in speed, allowing you to approach the corner at the right speed without upsetting the balance of the car. It was even very easy to modulate in stop-go city traffic, never feeling overly aggressive. And that’s what I admired the most about this AMG coupe, the ability to transform from grocery getter to a driver's delight. This is a fast car that can be your daily driver. One with the sporty looks to turn heads, one that sounds sporty and one that should grow the volumes of sporty cars in India. With local assembly comes less draconian duties and thus a little more affordability — approximately Rs 80 lakh for the GLC AMG Coupe (more or less unchanged from the earlier GLC 43 AMG) and not the Rs 1 crore that Mercedes-Benz hinted that this update would have been priced at if fully imported.
And this is only the start. While we don’t expect any 63 or even 53 to be locally assembled, the cars and SUVs with greater volume potential — like the A35 AMG shown at the Auto Expo — should follow soon. And if AMG can make a business case for local assembly, that should spur BMW and even Audi to take a closer look at their plans for M and RS cars/SUVs. Good times, then, to be an enthusiast!