Mercedes has been on a new product offensive lately as part of a constant tug-of-war for the luxury sales crown with BMW and Audi. After its thrilling AMG GT, uber luxurious Maybach and entry-level GLA launches now comes the money maker: The all new GLC mid-sized SUV, which replaces the popular GLK.
Engine: 2.0L four-cylinder with 241 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque.
Transmission: nine-speed automatic
Fuel Economy (US): not announced.
Pricing (US): base model starts at $38,950, GLC300 4Matic starts at $40,950.
The GLC (the new name signifies that it shares a platform with the C-Class) is in a very competitive and profitable segment and Mercedes hopes it will pull in huge sales. Its timing, aggressive redesign and raft of new technology makes it the current segment leader among the BMW X3 and Audi Q5.
Bye, Bye Boxy
Here’s what Mercedes said about the GLC’s new look in a press release: “The design philosophy behind the new GLC essentially favors sensual purity and a modern aesthetic over the classic off-road look.”
That’s all a load of crap. “Sensual purity?” Come on. I liked the off-road look.
I love boxy cars, so I was a fan of the first-gen GLK. Reminding me of a smaller, more attainable G-Wagen, the boxy GLK was unique. Maybe I’m just a hipster that likes old things that don’t fit into the mainstream, fine. But one of the GLK’s strongest selling points for me was its boxy looks; it made the GLK look more rugged and helped it stand out in a very crowded segment.
As much as I’m not a huge fan of the more mainstream looks, I can’t help but agree that its new style will only help its sales. And although it’s no longer boxy, the GLC is still a handsome SUV. It has all the right proportions and immediately stands out as something luxurious and with sporty intentions. It definitely looks fresher, sleeker and more aggressive than its bubbly BMW X3 and conservative, aging Audi Q5 competition. Photos don’t do it justice; it looks so much more handsome in person.
Beautiful New Interior
But its looks are the only thing I’ll miss. Everything else in the GLC is dramatically better than the GLK it replaces, starting with its interior. Its modern interior has classy setup, and wouldn’t look out of place in a car that costs thousands more.
The center console is mercifully clear of clutter and excess buttons, the switchgear feels substantial, and the Benz’s new minimalist approach to interiors is going to win a lot of fans. Its sweeping, curved center console and brushed aluminum trim are so fresh-looking. The optional quilted leather is a huge bonus.
Audi traditionally has the best interiors in the market, even for its entry-level offerings, and Mercedes is certainly stepping up its game. It easily beats both the X3 and Q5 in this arena in perceived quality, fit and finish and just how pleasing it is to the eye.
More Room, Higher Efficiency
The GLC’s wheelbase is 4.6 inches longer than the GLK, which results in more cargo room and usable space for rear-seat passengers. With the 40/20/40 split folding seats in the upright position, trunk space has increased to a total of 20.5 cubic feet. With the seats folded down, 56.5 cu. ft. of cargo can be swallowed (pretty similar to what the X3 and Q5 offer). The rear hatch can also be opened by a foot-activated motion sensor under the rear bumper.
The GLC’s weight has been cut by 176 pounds, which helps it get about 19 percent better mileage, Mercedes says. Official mileage for the gas model hasn’t been announced yet, but Mercedes claims the diesel can get about 42.8 mpg.
Tons of New Tech
The new technology starts inside with a new touchpad and rotary knob that controls the infotainment system. The touchpad mimics the gestures of a smartphone and allows you to draw in letters with your finger, swipe to move or pinch to zoom. In theory, it’s a good idea, but I still think it’s over-complicated; all of this could be avoided with a touchscreen, but the Germans refuse to put them in their cars. Instead, a seven-inch display screen operated by the touchpad and knob is standard. In use, it can be a bit fiddly to use and the system requires a learning curve before it becomes easy to navigate. There are definitely more user-friendly systems out there.
A head-up display that shows speed, safety and navigation information is also new to the GLC.
The tech upgrades that will really make a big difference can be found underneath the sheetmetal. The optional AirBody Control air suspension tailors the ride/firmness based on what mode you’re in. More importantly, the GLC gets many of the safety and driver assistance technologies first seen on the S-Class: Collision Prevention Assist, Crosswind Assist, Active Highbeam Assist and Attention Assist are all standard.
Optional safety equipment includes Distronic Plus with steering assist, Pre-Safe Braking with pedestrian detection, Cross-Traffic Assist, blind spot monitor, Lane-Keep Assist (that steers you back into your lane and applies the brake if you drift over a solid line) and Pre-Safe Plus, which adds more safety in the occasion of a rear-end collision. A 360 degree camera also comes in handy for navigating tight spaces. Active Parking assist can also apparently parallel park your car.
How Does the GLC Drive?
At launch in the U.S., there will only be one engine available: a 2.0L four-cylinder pushing 241 hp @ 5,500 rpm and 273 lb-ft of torque @ 1,300-4,000 rpm. A diesel engine will be available in Europe at launch, and it will eventually make its way over to North America later in 2016 as a 2017 model.
Strangely, the base GLC is rear-wheel-drive. Apparently, half of the GLCs sold in the U.S. will have RWD. I suspect nearly every GLC driver in Canada will opt for the 4Matic all-wheel-drive model, as it makes the SUV more practical in bad weather and easier to handle.
The GLC will come standard with a nine-speed automatic transmission (operated by a column stalk and not a traditional center console gear shifter, freeing up space on the dash) and five driving modes: Eco, Comfort, Sport, Sport+ and Individual. I mistook the shifter for the wipers once and accidentally knocked the car into neutral, but this is something most drivers will get used to quickly.
During the drive from Basel, Switzerland, to the wine region of Germany, the diesel proved to be a bit noisy and perceivably rougher than the gas engine. Low-end torque is great in both the diesel and the gas unit, especially in Sport mode, and passing on the highway happened quickly and without white knuckles. You might have to use the paddle shifters to force a downshift for the best results if you’re in Eco or Comfort mode. In Sport mode, it’s very willing to shift down a gear or two on its own if strong acceleration is called for.
Depending on what mode you’re in, shifts can happen somewhat abruptly, and it felt strangely rough sometimes for a nine-speed unit (but at lower speeds, shifts are quite smooth). If you’re just cruising casually, Sport+ mode will hold your gears for an annoyingly long time waiting for you to hit a high rpm, so it’s really only appropriate for those days where you’re in a rush. The stop-start function is also rough — I just turn it off. In general, how the GLC drives can be coarse; it doesn’t live up to the Mercedes pedigree of smoothness, but is totally acceptable in isolation.
In Eco mode, the car is quite numb and unresponsive and Comfort isn’t much better, although if you’re just highway cruising, this is the best option, as it softens the suspension to be more forgiving over rough pavement. I drove the GLC in Sport mode most of the time, which makes it more responsive to throttle and steering input and stays more composed in the corners. It stiffens up the suspension so it stays more neutral when thrown around.
Despite its high centre of gravity, the SUV does feel nimble and easy to maneuver, driving more like a jacked-up car than an SUV. No matter what mode it’s in, though, it’s not a “sporty” car and it definitely doesn’t provide that fun-to-drive go-kart feeling, but most drivers will never find themselves wanting. Performance for an SUV is quite good, but not the best. Those who want a sportier GLC rocket should just wait for an AMG model, which will definitely heat things up.
Most GLC owners will likely never see road conditions worse than a snow storm or an unpaved path to the cottage, but Mercedes wants to assure you that this SUV isn’t just a poseur. In addition to the optional permanent all-wheel drive, the U.S. spec GLCs all get front and rear bumpers optimized for off-road use with a 28-degree approach and departure angle.
Armed with different off-road modes (a new optional feature), the GLC is capable of impressive feats. Mercedes designed a legitimately dicey off-road course where we were able to drive some of the diesel models. The course featured steep gravel inclines and declines and huge ruts where only three wheels had traction. The GLC was not fazed even once. It was truly impressive how composed the car remained where many cars would have already called a tow truck.
All you need to do is select the off-road mode and the GLC takes care of the rest. It raises the car higher, it has a hill holder so you don’t roll back, a 360-degree camera helps you navigate when you don’t have visibility, and hill descent control modulates the brake based on your speed and sensors that detect the degree of the incline. It’s a weird sensation to feel the car creeping down a hill with your foot completely off the brake.
Unfortunately, U.S. spec models won’t get the special off-road package we got to test here, but Mercedes claims our GLCs will be able to handle most choppy situations it encounters.
The Verdict: 2016 Mercedes GLC First Drive Review
After its redesign, the GLC has proven to be the segment leader when it comes to style and substance. Loaded with advanced technology, a handsome new look and a chic, luxurious interior, it makes up for the fact that it is geared more towards comfort than true sportiness, which is what most regular drivers want. The GLC will find many fans, and sales will undoubtedly be strong.
Expect more variants and powertrains to join the U.S. GLC lineup in the near future, including an AMG model, a plug-in hybrid GLC350e (unofficially for the 2018 model year), and diesel GLC300d. A coupe version has also been rumored.
The 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLC300 will arrive in U.S. dealerships in November 2015. The rear-wheel-drive GLC300 will start from $38,950, while the GLC300 4Matic starts at $40,950 in the U.S.
Discuss this story on our Mercedes GLC Forum