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.

As far as the dashboard is concerned, ours was outfitted with the Natural Grain Black Ash Wood with Aluminum Trim, both of which are genuine and of excellent quality, both visually and from a tactile standpoint.  Perched atop the dash is a 10.25″ screen that is touch sensitive but can also be controlled by a controller on the center console.

Additionally many functions are duplicated by buttons or knobs, and many are even in multiple places, the dash as well as the steering wheel as well as “virtually” on the screen as well as verbally controllable.  In short, there is no shortage of ways to control most functions manually to say nothing of doing so by voice as well.  The display screen’s main menu can scroll if swiped across, and the screen in Navigation Mode responds to pinch and zoom gestures as well.

Speaking of voice commands I tried it and found it to be very responsive and actually possessing greater logic than I was using – for example I asked it to change the temperature setting to 81 degrees, it responded by telling me it was changing the temperature to 81 degrees for the driver and did so.  I chuckled and then asked it to change the temperature for the passenger to 82 degrees, which it did and confirmed correctly that it was doing so for the passenger.  For everyone that purports to hate touch screens, it appears that at least one manufacturer has figured out voice commands, and for the record this has certainly improved since I had used them in my previous own Mercedes of 2011 vintage.  I’m guessing that overall this is better industry-wide than it was and helps to make that criticism less of an issue.

Our car was also equipped as standard with the Burmester Surround Sound System with more settings than I knew what to do with, I explored it for a bit then just went with it.  It sounded great but the car also has its own soundtrack which sounds even better as I prattled on about earlier.  As befits a pretty much top of the line vehicle, it had many other minor touches such as illuminated door sills, of course a cargo cover, keyless everything, ambient lighting that can change color to your preference, power everything imaginable, yada yada yada…

While in the cabin, we might as well discuss the back seat at this time.  As you know, we used to own a 2011 Mercedes GL and I’ve driven/ridden in a number of MLs over the years as well.  I’ve always considered the GLC (and GLK before it) to be “small”, however it really is not.  When seated in the back seat with the front adjusted for myself, I still had a couple of inches of space in front of my knees and plenty of foot room.  More surprisingly, as I am 6’1″ with a 32″ inseam (so kind of shorter legs) I had plenty of headroom even though this vehicle was equipped with the panoramic sunroof which usually causes issues for me.  In short, the back seat was absolutely not objectionable for two adults, but three would be snug.

Upon leaving the Nature Center we drove about a mile down the road to Buffalo Bill’s Gravesite and Museum.  Buffalo Bill (William Frederick Cody) is likely known to most as an American soldier, buffalo hunter, and showman later in life.

While from LeClaire, Iowa and the founder of Cody, Wyoming, he lived in Denver at the time of his death and chose to be buried on Lookout Mountain.  His wife is buried beside him in a plot with wonderful views of Denver and the surrounding areas.  Steps away is a very well done little museum chronicling his life and times with many interesting displays and artifacts. 

Outside of the museum is a large veranda with sweeping views of Golden and Denver in particular and vistas stretching dozens of miles.  The picture above shows Golden in the foreground, in the middle below Table Mountain is Colorado School Of Mines and to the left behind that the large gray buildings are Coors Brewing Company.  Denver is to the right and off in the distance.  Downtown Denver is just out of frame to the right.

Photo by Riley Klein

After visiting Bill, we continued on to I-70 westbound toward Evergreen, but on the way there is a large clearing visible to passing highway traffic near exit 254, “Buffalo Herd Overlook”, where frequently there is a large herd of Buffalo (or technically American Bison) that is kept by the city of Denver and makes for a wonderful and surprising sight when they are there.

In a performance vehicle in North America, one of the everyday delights is a simple freeway onramp, being one of the few places where it is socially acceptable to just floor it and go every single time.  Of course in a car with 469hp and 479 lb-ft of torque this means that one will be at the speed limit very quickly and (theoretically) would easily be able to approach double the limit by the time the merge needs to occur at which point that type of speed is generally frowned upon.  Still, unleashing this car onto an on-ramp has to qualify as one of the high points of the day from the driving standpoint, and if the chuckle from my son was any indication he enjoyed it as well.  Soon enough (too soon?) we were at our next waypoint.

Evergreen is a small town in the Rockies with numerous items of interest.  The town itself is picturesque with saloons and the typical boutiques etc but also a large lake that in the winter freezes and allows for skating or walking or just standing upon.  My brother used to live here so we are pretty familiar with it and used to visit semi-regularly.

There is a dam and spillway at the south end of the lake (north end of downtown) and the town can make for a good stop to spend an hour or so walking about or enjoying a bite to eat both in summer as well as winter.  This day at the beginning of February was a very unseasonably 60 degrees Fahrenheit, making it perfect.

Just outside of town is the Hiwan Homestead Museum, consisting of a 25-room log lodge plus three other original buildings built in the rustic style between 1880 and 1942.  The museum displays many historic artifacts and gives one a sense of how the early settlers lived as well as also including many Indian artifacts.

While the car has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, it also came equipped with something called “Augmented Video For Navigation” as a standard feature on top of the regular Navigation System.  What this did, to our delight, was to split the screen and actually show real-time video of our path with an overlay directing us where to turn or what lane to be in etc using its front facing camera that also is used with the parking assist features.

While on the subject of screens, here’s one of the instrument panel, which is just a full width video screen.  There are multiple “themes” that one can choose from as well as numerous items that can be displayed.  Effectively there is no good way to describe everything, there are literally hundreds of options/combinations; I like to see my fuel mileage and also to keep an eye on the miles traveled etc so this screen setup worked well for me.  This, by the way, was taken right after we arrived in Golden from home; we traveled about eight miles on surface streets in total and about 60 on the freeway at around the 75mph limit to this point.  Our average shows a 61mph speed average with 19.1mpg for this leg.  I’ll touch more on that later on, but the distance to empty graphic is fun to look at (249 miles left in this case) and the mpg graphic changes to gallons per mile when stationary with the engine on as in this case.

Leaving Evergreen, we continued down the highway toward the town of Morrison, the location where Red Rocks Amphitheater is located.  If you are at all into music, you know of Red Rocks, which is simply the single best outdoor music venue in the world, to the point that when Pollstar magazine started to rate outdoor music venues and Red Rocks won eleven years in a row, they simply renamed the award the Red Rocks Award and removed the location from the running in order to give other places a chance.

Located among stunning rock formations, it was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the late 1930’s and was their largest and most ambitious project.  The entire physical structure of the facility as well as all the finished terracing and stonework was all built by hand, no heavy machinery was used.

I’ve seen several concerts here and it is by far my favorite place to see any act, the terrace levels are deep with plenty of space to stretch out in your assigned “seat” (just mounted planks as part of the terraces) and the sound bounces off the rocks on the sides while in almost every seat the view beyond the stage is marvelous.  Since it’s public space it is always open to the public; when we were there, there were numerous others as well just looking around, some exercising, some doing yoga on the stage or the terraces etc. 

We walked down all the steps onto the stage, and then decided to race each other straight up the terraces/rows of seats.  This is much harder than I thought it might be; I got a good start then started lagging as each “step” is basically chair height, but still managed to make it to the last row in one minute and fourteen seconds by my stopwatch function.  The last half-minute was spent thinking about where a defibrillator might be should I need it, as it certainly felt like I might. There’s no air at 6,450 feet, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking with that.

However, I recovered and my son eventually arrived too, his short legs were just overwhelmed by the “steps” and it became more of a climbing exercise than anything else for him.  The above picture is a model of the place in the visitor center, it’s hard to take a picture of the whole actual area.

It’s almost as if you could take this car to the trailhead.  Of course the suspension is a little low for any real off-roading otherwise it would certainly be possible.  Still, a moderately maintained gravel trail shouldn’t be any issue whatsoever, I pulled off in several areas worse than this one that I would be more worried about with a low slung sports car and never had issues.

If you DID take it for a hike, you’d find the cargo area very practical and extremely well trimmed out.  The seats fold if needed in sections (40/20/40 – each side and the center separately or in any combination), there is more storage under the floor, and a netted area to the left side for water bottles or whatever other loose oddments.  Of course it opens/raises/lowers electrically and the button to close it again is in the overhead sill area of the hatch (and duplicated on the keyfob).

While this phone picture is a little distorted making it look a bit smaller than it really is it gives a decent idea of the size difference between it and the Toyota Highlander to the left and the Chevy Tahoe to the right.  The AMG was also one of the most commented on and “looked-at-by-bystanders and passers-by” vehicles that I’ve driven lately, for example as we were taking this picture the owners of the Tahoe walked toward their car.  Mr. Tahoe Driver pointed our car out to his passengers and then when we walked toward it while they were entering their car, we overheard him remarking on it complimentarily.

He then waited for me to start it and drive off while nodding his head at the sound (it really does sound distinctive) and watching us leave.  I’m a fairly low-key person and while it’s not really a show-offy vehicle (as well as that not really being my thing), it has just enough for others who know cars to appreciate it.  In this case, the Cardinal Red Metallic “designo” paint (optional at a fairly eye watering $1,080) really was a draw, it’s a very pretty color that shows off the lines wonderfully and thankfully isn’t just another shade of gray.

After exploring everything including driving around the roads linking the different lots and going through a natural rock formation tunnel we eventually descended back to the Town of Morrison, another little enclave in the lower Rockies filled with one main street with several restaurants and some shops. 

It wasn’t tacky, there are no chain outlets or anything at all like that, just a pleasant place for a stroll and perhaps lunch or a beverage from a local establishment.

After we ourselves enjoyed lunch at “The Cow, An Eatery” (whose namesake cow had apparently been tipped by parties unknown) where I texted Paul some pictures of the car and we text-chatted back and forth while my son ate his grilled cheese, we continued on to one of Morrison’s other attractions, Bandimere Speedway. 

A full 1/4 mile drag racing facility, Bandimere is just off I-470 outside of Morrison and has been in operation since 1958.  While the track was closed the grounds were open so we pulled in and watched some go-karts race in the parking lot for a bit. 

I’ve actually run my 911 here and while initially dismayed at my times even though I seemed competitive with my group of friends’ cars, once I used the significant correction factor applicable to this altitude I was pleased that my times were about what the factory had advertised. As regards today’s ride, according to Car&Driver, when they tested a similar example to this AMG tester two years ago, they recorded a 1/4 mile time of 12.0 seconds at 115mph.

On Wednesday evenings during the summer they do a “public night” where anyone can go and try their hand, it is a fun event and even the local police departments show up and drag race the local youths in their cars.  It beats doing it on the street.

There’s the heart of this beast, a 4.0liter V8 with twin turbos visible right on top next to the small plaque bearing the name of the craftsman that hand-assembled the entire engine at his station by himself.  AMG is now a wholly owned part of the house that Karl and Gottlieb built, but originally AMG was a small racing shop founded in the 1960’s by two Mercedes engineers named Aufrecht and Melcher (the A and the M).  The G stands for Grossaspach, the town that Aufrecht lived in and where they worked on engines.

Their most public claim to fame came when they built a 5liter V8 engine with an AMG-developed 4-valve head that was implanted into a W124 chassis and known colloquially as “The Hammer”.  Over the years they worked closer and closer with the factory and as of 2005 the company was 100% sold to Mercedes and now is based in Affalterbach.

While AMG has also become sort of a trim line for some Mercedes’, the top AMGs have their engines built by one person whose name is affixed to it and are badged as AMG, then the model line (GLC in this case) and then a two digit number that used to denote displacement but with the advent of turbos seems to denote relative power within the line (or lineup).  In this case the 63 is a 4liter biturbo V8 with 468hp, but in the S-class AMG S63 (same 63 number), it’s also a 4liter biturbo V8 but produces 603hp for example.  (There’s also a “lesser” AMG GLC43 that uses a turbo six but that’s a production line engine, not individually built.)  It’s confusing, I know.

Our last stop of the day was just north of Bandimere, it was Dinosaur Ridge, a National Natural Landmark.  A popular hiking and bicycling area, Dinosaur Ridge has a visitor center, small museum, and more importantly a closed off mountain that is covered in Dinosaur tracks and other fossil remains. 

We’d been here before (and that time sort of got lost on a five or so mile hike), but this time we just ventured up the road about a third of a mile to the main dinosaur track find to check it out again.  This area was once all covered in water and apparently host to a number of migrating dinosaurs over the ages, as such many fossils were preserved in the sediment (marked with paint here to make them more visibly obvious).  It’s not just a kid thing, it really is interesting for all ages and the hiking varies from easy paved paths to more difficult trails.

Since we are on the subject of Dinosaurs, specifically dead ones, how’s the gas mileage?  Well, officially it’s rated at 16city and 22highway.  As shown earlier I averaged around 19 on a heavily freeway oriented section.  Around (a busy) town on the days when I just ran errands or work stuff, it seemed to be below the 16 number, usually ranging between 12 and 15 or so, likely due to me enjoying driving it, what’s the point otherwise really.  You don’t need to hoon it to have fun, but there’s no need to pretend there’s an egg underfoot either.  Note that for three days of its stay with me, temperatures were between 0 degrees Fahrenheit and about 30, which doesn’t help those numbers.

With that fairly low mileage rating it was useful that the navigation system showed gas stations as well as the current price for super unleaded at most of them.  In this state gas stations only display the price on a big sign for unleaded and diesel, if you want super you don’t know the price until you arrive at the pump, so being able to comparison shop as you drive around is nice.  It’s a feature that I believe is standard for a while (to get you used to it), then eventually a subscription fee is required.  The way gas prices vary around here it’d probably pay for itself fairly quickly though.

So going back to the “means” part in the title, let’s talk turkey, what are we looking at here to put this bad boy in my (or your) driveway for good?  Well, I know there are people that will say the numbers are outrageous, but in context I’ve come to the (personal) conclusion that it’s actually a value as compared to the basic vehicle it is derived from.  A basic regular 2WD GLC with a 2.0 turbo 4 starts at $42,500, I can’t seem to configure one that would be acceptable to me for under $50k.  The base price of the AMG GLC63 like this one here is US$73,750.  As tested it rings in at $83,655.

After looking at the online configurator I’ve realized that this is the rare test car that is not actually loaded with every possible option although nobody would ever call it a stripper.  The options it does have I’ve mostly touched on before, here goes with prices – the special paint at $1,080; Nappa leather interior at $2,590; the AMG performance steering wheel covered in “Dynamica” suede-ish material for $600; 21″ wheels for $1,000; AMG Drive Unit (the dynamic selector program) for $400; AMG Track Pace (allows you to time yourself and more on track only) at $250; Panorama Roof for $1500; Inductive Phone Charging and Near Field Pairing for $200; Parktronic parking assist and surround cameras for $1,290 and then the delivery charge at a comparatively to lots of other cars very reasonable $995.

“Value” obviously assumes that it’s of use, further that it can be used to its fullest and that it can be appreciated.  While viewed purely in the context of a generic transportation device, sure it’s expensive.  But as a phenomenal sports “car” filled with technology, safety, and as an engineering accomplishment it can transcend all that.  Just for giggles I figured out what I would want personally.

I’d actually probably take this color paint or one of the blue hues, skip the Panoramic Sunroof, I like the wheels, I could skip the Nappa leather although it is quite lovely, I like the AMG Drive Unit selector, need the inductive charging and NFC (goodbye cables!) and would take the parking camera package as it has come in handy in my garage this week as I successfully attempted to not damage this car as well as wanting the lighting package with automatic high beams.  All told I could be out the door for just under $80,000 and I already told my wife I really want one.  And I do, I found it to be simply a glorious vehicle.  Alas, she told me to work harder…

(Note: Mercedes provided the GLC63 shod with winter tires and a tank of gas for us to drive for a week.  I spent my kid’s lunch money for the month on more gas.  He didn’t seem to mind.)