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Payne: SUV OMG — Acura RDX A-Spec vs. Mercedes-AMG GLC 63

I like dessert. I’m usually satisfied with a scoop of ice cream or slice of apple pie. Usually. But on occasion, I’m tempted by something more dangerous on the menu. Like a triple chocolate delight warm brownie topped with chocolate chip ice cream and hot fudge sauce. Oh, joy.

Think of our testers this week, the Acura RDX A-Spec and Mercedes-AMG GLC 63, as your dessert choices in the compact luxury SUV class.

Yes, compact utes. Sure, these pandemic times are weird, but they’re temporary. Not so the SUV trend, which appears permanent. Rather than honor the law of physics and drive low-center-of-gravity station wagons, Americans have decided they like their wagons on stilts for better visibility. Which means we have the RDX and GLC SUVs instead of Acura TLX and Merc C-class wagons.

This being the luxury space, there is money to be made (and thrills to be had) by offering performance versions. So, RDX A-Spec and Mercedes-AMG 45 and 63 sport models naturally follow. Hey, the market gets what the market wants, and after adjusting to this new reality, I’ve learned to enjoy these 4,500-pound bowling balls.

It’s also nice to have Acura back in the game.

With speed-addled Formula One fanboy John Ikeda at the helm and a determined strategy in place, Acura has gone back to its roots. It’s dusted off the sporty albums containing hot models like Integra and Type-S and set a path for excitement. The Acura NSX and wicked-looking Acura TLX S-Spec (the new Type-S) are the halo models, and the styling and attitude have trickled down to the RDX.

While motorheads will have to wait for a crazed RDX S-Spec model with upgraded drivetrain (I’m thinking there’s a turbocharged V-6 in Acura’s crystal ball), the A-Spec trim is a nice appetizer — make that scoop of ice cream — to start with.

My $47,000 tester was dressed to the nines with Performance Blue paint, black trim and 20-inch black wheels wrapped in all-season tires. All this on top of one of the best standard packages in class with panoramic roof, adaptive cruise control and 10-speed tranny. SUVs suffer from having to think within the five-door box, but Acura’s “Precision Design” language does its best to please with sculpted sides and a signature piece of jewelry in front called the “diamond pentagon grille.”

That precision continues in the handling department, where the RDX brings its rear, dual-clutch pack-equipped “super-handling all-wheel-drive” (call it SH-AWD for short) to rotate this two ton-plus beast when the need for speed seizes you. Which is often, in my case. RDX further tempts such acts of madness by offering a big, fat drive-mode sport dial straight out of the NSX supercar — so you can tune suspension and engine dynamics to Sport and Sport+.

Cruising to Ann Arbor with Mrs. Payne riding shotgun I flung the RDX into a U.S. 23 cloverleaf (my wife instinctively reaching for the roof handle) and steadily dialed in the throttle. The tires squawked at the limit, their racket drowned out only by the rowdy, Sport+-induced exhaust note. Ah, dessert.

With class-topping 279 standard horsepower, the $47,195 Acura A-Spec is a value plate compared with the 469-horse, turbo-8 $79,705 Mercedes GLC in sizzling AMG trim.

That 30 grand difference could buy you a nice starter SUV for your 16-year-old. Like the, ahem, Mazda CX-5 — a 250-horse, luxe-gorgeous mainstream ute that can cut the rug with these premium brands for just $40. That’s a comparo test for another day.

Slide into the GLC and Merc’s claim to being king of luxury comes into focus. The console is slathered in gorgeous Fortune 500-boardroom wood with upscale aviation vents anchoring the dash. Yeah, this is a Merc all right. For $750 more, a crisp 12.5-inch digital instrument display is available to anchor the electronic “MBUX” system — an infotainment network that is among the best in the business with delicious graphics, precise touchscreen and intuitive voice commands.

MBUX exposes Acura’s biggest weakness: the infotainment display. Controlled by average voice commands and a maddening console touchpad, it is Acura’s biggest misstep in its otherwise meticulously engineered effort to engage occupants in the sport ute experience. Merc also offers a touchpad option for the masochistic — but in this smartphone age, most folks will use the easy touchscreen. Acura would be wise to offer the same duality.

But it’s hard to be mad. Apple Car Play and Android Auto smart-phone apps are available in the Acura with state-of-the-art voice and nav. My wife and I were spoiled in heated-and-cooled, red leather thrones with generous under-console storage for her purse. Both Acura and Merc use clever digital shifters that remove the need for a shifter cable, but only RDX takes full advantage with sub-console storage (console genius is in evidence across the Honda/Acura lineup).

If you want a serving of ice cream, the Acura RDX is just fine, thank you. If you want something more, go all the way and get the triple-chocolate $80,000 AMG 63 GLC OMG LOL SUV.

Double the cylinders, double the calories, double the fun.

I first drove the GLC 63’s decadent 469-horse, 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 in the sister GLC 63 Coupe on a trip to Watkins Glen, New York, a few years back. I left western New York’s rural roads in flames after rampaging across them in that four-wheeled devil.

Like hot fudge sauce dripping off a sundae, you know this is more than your average GLC as you approach. The AMG is noticeably closer to the ground than the Acura, as if pretending to be a hatchback sedan instead of an upright ute. The front grille gets AMG’s menacing Panamericana treatment, its fenders engorged with huge tires.

Push the key and the quad exhaust pipes erupt. BRAAAPPP!! Let’s eat. The growl can be turned up further with a console button. That’s not the only way the Merc-AMG encourages bad behavior.

Thumb though the infotainment pages past Phone and Radio and up pops ... AMG Track Pace. So you can clock lap times and 0-60 mph runs in an SUV, for goodness sake.

I set launch control and clicked off a few sub-4-second times. The V-8 bellowing. AWD gripping. Nine-speed automatic effortlessly swapping cogs. It’s addictive. And sure to get you in trouble with the local fuzz.

Acura’s dessert offering is plenty. But if you’ve got a bigger sweet tooth — and an extra 30 grand laying around — order the Merc.

2020 Acura RDX A-Spec

Vehicle type: Front-engine, all-wheel-drive, five-passenger SUV

Price: $46,795, including $995 destination charge ($47,195 as tested)

Powerplant: 2.0-liter, turbocharged inline-4 cylinder

Power: 272 horsepower, 280 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 10-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 6.6 seconds (Car and Driver); top speed: 113 mph

Weight: 4,015 lbs.

Fuel economy: EPA 21 city/27 highway/23 combined

Report card

Highs: Lotsa standard stuff; fun to drive

Lows: Oh, that touchpad; V-6, please

Overall: 3 stars

2020 Mercedes-AMG C 63

Vehicle type: Front-engine, all-wheel-drive, five-passenger SUV

Price: $74,745, including $995 destination charge ($79,705 as tested)

Powerplant: 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8

Power: 469 horsepower, 479 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 9-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 3.6 seconds (Car and Driver); top speed: 157 mph

Weight: 4,486 lbs.

Fuel economy: EPA 16 city/22 highway/18 combined

Report card

Highs: Launch control in an SUV; state-of-the-art interior

Lows: Pricey; over-engineered console

Overall: 3 stars

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at or Twitter @HenryEPayne.