Best Of 2020 – Curbside Review: 2020 Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 – “It Is So Choice. If You Have The Means, I Highly Recommend Picking One Up” – F. Bueller

Ferris was referencing a 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California with his line but after spending a week with this Mercedes-AMG I find it applies just as well here.  And mine was red too, so there.  I figured it’d be a waste to just drive it around town for this review so I corralled my youngest son and we decided to spend a day in the foothills west of Denver and tackle what is known as “The Lariat Loop”, a scenic byway with loads of potential attractions.  We picked out a bunch from the list of many and mapped a route the evening before.  I’ll review the vehicle in regular text but also our stops along the route in italics.  Try to follow along, as we move fast!

Our first stop, or the start if you will, is the town of Golden, Colorado.  We decided to start there and have a leisurely breakfast at the Golden Diner, a down-home little place popular with the locals and tourists alike serving traditional breakfast fare with generous portions, reasonable prices, and plenty of hot coffee. 

Golden is of course also the home of Coors with an excellent brewery tour, a picturesque downtown area, plenty of shops, great hikes nearby, as well as an excellent train museum.  More importantly for us, it’s also where my mom lives, so my son got some Grandma time at breakfast and Grandma got some AMG time in the car which was spent cautioning me about the local constabulary.

Looking at the car (while the GLC is ostensibly a CUV, I really thought of it more as a car as it exhibited no typical CUV/SUV traits while driving it), it’s obviously a pumped up version of Mercedes’ small CUV, the GLC.  Slotting below the GLS and GLE, the GLC is generally about the size of a BMW X3 or Toyota RAV4 and seats up to five in two rows.  In this case, the GLC63 is the top of the line, the AMG version with hand-crafted engine and numerous performance accoutrements.  While a completely ferocious performance machine (0-60 in a claimed 3.8 seconds which is completely believable as well as being bettered by Car&Driver), it is also as docile as you’d like it to be around town and has the ability to change numerous settings on the way from mild to wild.

While the exhaust for example even at idle lets out a very deep bass rumble, there is a performance setting that opens a set of baffles in the exhaust, by which the note lowers even more and on overrun it crackles and pops through the four tips (two pictured above).  That setting is a little much for around town but on the open road or the canyons it’s the way to go.  At idle or around town the noise is subdued inside the cabin but when the right foot twitches down on the accelerator the note changes from a rumble to a ferocious snarl and small animals (and children) run off.

After breakfast we decided to already break from our pre-planned route (best laid plans and all that…) by making a slight detour to the Mother Cabrini Shrine.  Located only a few miles up in the mountains west of Golden, it is on a piece of land that Saint Sister Frances Xavier Cabrini negotiated the purchase of in 1909 for use as a summer camp for her charges at the Queen of Heaven Orphanage in Denver. 

Consisting of multiple buildings, a chapel, gardens, a spring, and a “Stairway Of Prayer” there is much to see and take in here.  We undertook the challenge of the Stairway, burning off our breakfast by climbing 373 steps to the top of the mountain and finding upon it a 22-foot statue of Jesus mounted on an 11-foot base overlooking a Heart of Stones sculpture/feature with many picturesque way stations along the climb up. 

I may have said a small (and looking back, apparently successful) prayer asking for divine intervention should an officer of the peace find my explorations of the vehicle’s capabilities in any way objectionable.

I will say that the road climbing up to the shrine’s property (and back down) is an absolute delight, consisting of a steep and narrow two-lane road with small berms, tight switchbacks, magnificent views, and basically imitating a tiny version of the Alps.  Even better, the road was deserted, allowing me to fully experience the way the car put its power down exiting curves using the all-wheel drive (fully variable in this application as needed from 100% Front to 100% Rear and anything in between with what I understand to be a “normal” 31:69 Front/Rear bias), catapulting us forward and then just as rapidly slowing down for the next corner.

The transmission is a 9-speed of Mercedes-AMG’s own design; shifts are extremely rapid, downshifts can be done either sequentially or it can skip gears as needed.  There are shifter paddles that work fine, but the computer seemed to do a fabulous job as far as I was concerned, downshifting as needed and up as well.  In town it would be in fifth gear by 30mph and 1500rpm in normal traffic but if the need arose to get into a gap it would instantaneously downshift multiple gears and gobble up the distance.

There are five main drive settings to choose from – Slippery (for snow), Comfort, Sport, Sport Plus, and Individual – Individual is one that a user can program to make a custom “map” that chooses different characteristics from the other choices which alter the air suspension, exhaust, throttle and gearing characteristics etc.  The settings can be toggled by turning an appendage on one of the steering wheel spokes (lower right in above picture) or in the center console or in the touch screen, a nice level of redundancy for an operator to choose his or her preferred input method.  The same goes for individual settings, toggling through another wheel appendage button (lower left in above picture) lets one change the exhaust, or suspension damping or even the stop/start feature.

This car was equipped with Pirelli Scorpion winter tires (thankfully as it did snow while in my care) in the staggered sizes 265/40 front and 295/35 rear wrapped around the optional 21″ AMG wheels.  While presumably leaving a bit of ultimate dry performance on the table, they were marvelously sticky, and while one could feel the tires scrabbling a bit at times due to large applications of power in narrow bends, with the electronically controlled limited slip rear differential it was very reassuring with plenty of feedback through the wheel.

Later that week when the weather changed drastically they clung to the snow and masked slippery conditions in slush extremely well.  While when entering an icy corner there was no denying physics, even then with the stability control engaging to assist the chassis there was very little drama, more a subtle reminder that yes, it’s not dry out there.  But let’s get back to the better weather…

Coming back down from the shrine, the massive brakes with six-piston front calipers in front mounted over the 14.2″ discs (12.6″ rear) slowed us over and over again before diving into corners without a hint of fade.  A religious experience?  Perhaps, at least the heavens were shining down on us as it was a glorious day.

The air suspension is on the stiff side which should not be a surprise but goes basically fully rigid when the toggle is pushed down twice.  At that point it’s almost uncomfortable on some sections of broken road but corners flatter than a glass of soda that’s been left on the counter for a week.  In fact even in the Comfort mode with the suspension at its softest there is really no discernible roll from inside the cabin, you turn the wheel and it turns and you continue, sort of like a roller coaster.  Transitioning back and forth just turns it back and forth, it’s not pitching, rolling, or remotely feeling like it’s going to tip or even slide.  It goes around corners better than any remotely normal sedan and many actual low sports cars.

Our next stop was the Lookout Mountain Nature Center.  The Mother Cabrini Shrine is located on the front part of Lookout Mountain and just a few miles beyond is the Nature Area consisting of a base station with multiple hiking paths starting here. 

Also located on the same area and sharing a parking lot is Boettcher Mansion. The “Mansion” was built in 1917 by Charles Boettcher as a summer home and hunting retreat after more or less retiring from building a fortune in hardware, cement, sugar beets, and cattle.  Boettcher is a very prominent name in the Denver area and in 1972 the family donated the property to Jefferson County for public use and enjoyment.  These days it is open to the public and also used for events such as weddings and conferences.  While neither the Nature Center nor the Mansion were open at the hour that we were there, we walked all around them and then decided against taking a hike as it was cold and the car was comfortable so we moved on to our next stop just around the corner.

The inside of the cabin of our tester was trimmed in Black Nappa Leather (an option amongst several color choices, standard is black MB-Tex with “Dynamica” (their version of Suede/Alcantara) centers, with heated seats (but curiously without the ventilated seat function in ours).

The seats were obviously electric with three memory settings for both driver and passenger.  As has usually and preferably (but not always) been the case with modern Mercedes’, the seat controls are mounted on the door panel and every part of it is powered including the headrest as well as the extending thigh bolster.  Note the button blank for the ventilated seat option which this car did not have, that’s something that thirty years ago would not have occurred, there would simply have been two different switches and trim pieces in the catalog instead of the reminder that the option was not selected.  As with all things, little money savings are needed for manufacturers these days and this car is based on a car that starts at a relatively low price point compared to this edition.  That speaker grille though is just sublime.

It was a very simple matter to find a comfortable position for myself which I left it in all week, but my son decided he needed to try every possible variation including the lowest and furthest from the dash which basically put him in the rear seat to the most upright and aloft position all the way forward, at which point I was stopped and refused to move as I felt he was just too close to the dashboard.  In any case he convinced me that the range of motion was more than adequate.

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