“You can’t beat cubic inches,” asserts the old automotive adage. Mercedes-AMG argues otherwise and, as proof, it’s unleashed the new ballistic GLC 63 S E Performance, which ditches its predecessor’s 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 motor in lieu of a giant-killing 2.0-litre hybrid power train.
Due on sale in the UAE early next year, the new GLC spearhead’s stats are nothing less than staggering as peak outputs of 680hp and 1,020Nm comfortably trounce the 510hp and 700Nm that the outgoing V8 model eked out.
A 0-100kph sprint of 3.5 seconds and top speed of 275kph (electronically limited) are electrifying numbers for a family-toting crossover SUV, and the fleet-footed GLC S E Performance has dynamics to match, thanks to a barrage of tech such as four-wheel steer, active-roll stabilisation, adaptive dampers and AMG’s 4Matic+ all-wheel-drive system.
At the car’s heart lies AMG’s 2.0-litre turbo motor (designated M139L), which belts out 476hp at 6,750rpm and 545Nm at 5,250rpm, making it the world’s most powerful four-cylinder production engine. It’s supplemented by a 204hp/320Nm electric motor and accompanying two-speed transmission mounted in unison with the rear axle.
The combustion engine is a formidable unit, but its real party trick is the F1-developed electric turbocharger that all but eliminates lag. The key ingredient is an electric motor that spins up the turbo at low revs, with exhaust gases taking over once engine speeds rise.
The National samples the GLC 63 S E Performance at its international launch in Barcelona and gleans that the newbie has a markedly different character to its V8 forerunner. This is partly good news.
The first thing I notice is the absence of the rumbling V8 burble on firing up the ignition. In the less aggressive of its eight driving modes, the car initially pulls away as an EV. It is only in Sport, Sport+ and Race modes that the combustion engine is always active.
Around town, the GLC 63 S E Performance is completely docile as it cruises in almost total silence under electric power (I initially twisted the drive mode knob into Comfort mode), to a point that almost belies its AMG tag.
The fun starts once the road opens up and traffic thins. Now in Sport+ mode, there’s the opportunity to flatten the throttle and stretch the GLC’s go-faster legs. When you fully open the taps, the GLC 63 S E Performance is devastatingly fast, but the build-up of speed is distinctly linear – in contrast to the massive mid-range wallop that the existing V8 doles out when you prod it.
The soundtrack is completely different, too. There’s no V8 thunder here, and what you get instead is a hard-edged (still sporty) note from the exhausts, with the 71mm Garrett turbo chiming in with a pleasing whoosh every time you stamp on the throttle.
The fact that the electric motor and AMG-developed battery pack are housed at the rear makes for perfect 49:51 weight distribution over front and rear axles, compared to a nose-heavy 55:45 split for the outgoing V8 model. The new GLC 63’s much-improved balance becomes evident as the Spanish road I am traversing becomes tight and twisty. The SUV’s turn-in is razor sharp, and there’s an almost complete absence of front-end push, even when chucking the car into tight hairpin corners. Grip is virtually limitless.
The aforementioned barrage of tech also plays its part in boosting dynamism. From behind the wheel, there’s absolutely no perception that this is, in fact, a heavy lump of a car at 2.3 tonnes. It feels about 500kg lighter.
The nine-speed MCT auto is quick-shifting and intuitive, while the steering is accurate and nicely weighted, though there’s not much in the way of textured feedback relayed to your fingertips. The composite brakes (390mm at the front and 370Nm) are strong, too, and the pedal is nicely progressive, despite the complexities of energy recuperation under braking.
It may have lost a touch of the brutish charisma of the outgoing V8 model, yet the 2024 Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S E Performance is, in many ways, a better offering. No potential owner will mind the fact that it’s a much more frugal vehicle than its predecessor, but the real kicker is that it’s a more agile and enjoyable car to thrash across winding country roads.