The Coupe version of Mercedes’ fastest-rising star, the GLC, is not without compromise, but it makes a better option to the wagon than an equivalent from a certain other brand.
WELL-appointed family crossovers and sports utes are massively important for prestige brands – no surprise, then, that Mercedes has been hard out pushing its GLC elevated wagon for the past year.
A game plan to elevate this medium wagon to become the ultimate star player has not gone quite perfectly because, contrary to market trend, the C-Class passenger car from which the GLC to some extent derives has peskily resisted being bumped from No.1 New Zealand market customer favouritism.
However, the models’ respective counts are so close run, now, that it’s not so much a matter of ‘if’ than ‘when’ the trad passenger offer hands over that crown.
The GLC’s present bridesmaid status does reflect its importance in driving up Mercedes’ SUV status; it arrived in time to be key to the brand achieving a 30 percent gain in its soft-roader sales in 2015 and has been at the forefront of a further year-to-date 31 percent improvement for 2016.
The Mt Wellington distributor’s belief that GLC had the goods to not so much redirect the tastes of existing Benz owners as pull in a lot of conquests has proven spot on, too.
It seems fair to assume that a lot of GLC owners have had previous seat time in a BMW X3, Audi Q5, perhaps a Volvo XC60 and maybe the Lexus NX or even the RX.
GLC’s impact will continue to grow with the brand now setting out to fill the niches within the niche; more engine choices (the AMG twin-turbo V6 and, further away, a plug-in hybrid) and a slinkier coupe body.
Does it seem strange for Benz to insist the new Coupe should not simply be described as a sister ship to the wagon?
The argument is not complex. There’s acceptance, of course, of the obvious genetic link. Coupe drivelines and engines are identical to the wagon, meaning 4Matic all-paw drivetrain and a 9G-Tronic nine-speed automatic transmission with five drive modes and paddle shifters, specifications also maintain compatibility and the cabin layouts mirror.
And even though the Coupe is eight centimetres longer, four centimetres lower and also a touch wider than the GLC wagon, the visual link is obvious.
Yet the Coupe is different, Benz quietly insists. It has its own persona and is “targeted at a different buyer” spokesman Matt Bruce says.
“They are on the same platform, but the Coupe is a sportier proposition. The wagon will appeal to a broader audience. The Coupe is certainly targeted at a younger demographic. It’s for someone who wants to stand out in the crowd, as well.”
‘Younger’ means what exactly? Conceivably, someone in their mid-30s. “That’s not to say someone in that age group would not also go for a GLC wagon.
“But while this (Coupe) certainly could be used as a family car, because it has that practicality, primarily the target is young couples or individuals. The owner who wants to ‘drive’ this car.”
The one obvious rival for this car as we see it now is BMW’s X4 (though, for the GLC 43 Coupe and wagon, it’ll be the Porsche Macan) which, despite a two-year lead, hasn’t done brilliantly here.
Benz belief that its pitch can prove superior to Munich’s machine straight out of the box is not merely reflected by it having a range but also with a forecast of the Coupe snaring 20 percent of next year’s GLC volume. It won’t say how many registrations that means, but makes it clear it will not be a small volume.
Desire will not simply be driven by its design – from first up experience wheeling the 250 and 250d around mainly secondary roads from Melbourne airport through the country town of Yea, and return, there’s driving talent, too.
Yet the swoopy shape is the obvious selling point and, if measured by that strength alone, it will be set to make major impact.
Even though it is pretty much another case of grafting a coupe-like roof line and a wider body onto a donor product, it’d be unfair to call it a ‘junior GLE Coupe’.
This newer effort is better proportioned and less hunkered; whereas the GLE has a roach-like awkwardness and hunkering malevolence, the GLC seems less hulking and its lines are smoother and more cohesive. You’ll likely agree it is less confronting than the big bro car, but no less memorable. It draws the eye equally as well and, just as importantly, doesn’t seem overly colour-sensitive.
The hero colour is a burnished titanium silver that I suspect will be as alluring in poor light as it was in bright sunshine, but the car loses not of its visual appeal in more mainstream hues. A white GLE Coupe would stand risk of being called a fridge; the GLC in the same hue is far more acceptable.
The classy cabin design of the GLC wagon carries into the Coupe but not all of the practicality. Coupes always compromise utility and nothing different here.
Even though rear headroom is better than it first seems to be, due to some cleverness in the headlining shape, and legroom is pretty good thanks to the 2.87m wheelbase, the rear seats are adequate rather than exceptional in terms of space. The tall will find their heads brushing the roof and there’s really only space for two in comfort thanks to the large transmission tunnel.
The boot is smaller than the wagon’s, too, being 50 litres down with the seats up, and 200-litres down with them folded. The loadspace is long and wide enough, but it’s not very deep (even with underfloor storage) and you have to lift items high to load them in. Cabin storage is reasonable: the door bins and glovebox are a decent size, the centre console armrest flips up to reveal a deep bin, and rear seat occupants get cup holders in the armrest.
Even though it feels a bit enclosed, the Coupe is nonetheless a nice place to sit due to the quality of Benz’s design, materials and appointments. The driving position is a bit lower than the GLC wagon’s, which helps the car feel like a sportier SUV, and is adjustable for all shapes and sizes, with electric steering wheel adjustment provisioned. Front visibility isn’t too bad but, as you’d expect, the sloping roof and thick pillars affect rear and side visibility. Best to rely on the rear view camera to help you out of tight spots.
The price premium over the wagon doesn’t just comes down to styling. Most of the popular sportier styling tweaks that are optional to the GLC wagon provision as standard to the Coupe’s standard AMG Line kit of 20-inch wheels, diamond pattern grille, a number of body upgrades and Dynamic Body Control suspension for more driver-focused handling.
The steel-spring set-up can be upgraded to the optional Air Body Control air suspension.
The Coupe also gets Garmin Map Pilot navigation, 360-degree camera, Intelligent Light System LED headlights and unpolished black-ash interior trim as standard.
Above the entry-level 220d, both 250 variants get leather upholstery in place of synthetic hide, Keyless-Go, power tailgate and the Driver Assistance Plus pack.
The model uses the same ‘Comand’ infotainment and navigation system as the GLC wagon, so you get the usual tablet-style dash mounted screen, that wins points for clarity. The mix of a scrolling dial and a touchpad takes a bit of learning, but I like it.
Safety encompasses nine airbags, autonomous braking, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring and lane departure warning and assistance, pedestrian-protective active bonnet and a 360-degree camera with parking sensors.
Engines tried and tested elsewhere in Benz-dom are shared with the GLC wagon, so the entry 220d and flagship 250d run the same 2.1-litre four-cylinder diesel, but with differing outputs - the base model having 125kW and 400Nm of torque whereas the 250d produces 150kW and 500Nm – while the GLC 250, with a 2.0-litre turbo petrol, makes 155kW and 350Nm.
There’s vague talk that this diesel is only going to be with the GLC until the mid-life refresh, whereupon Benz will retire it for the quieter, smoother and punchier 2.0-litre mill that has recently debuted in the E-Class. Also in the global future, but not being discussed openly in a local market context, is a 3.0-litre six-cylinder turbodiesel which will be badged 350d. The super-frugal 200d offered on the home market does not seem to have permission to leave.
Which side of the forecourt to favour? Whereas large SUVs remain virtually diesel pure, there’s no argument emergence of four-cylinder petrol powerplants with diesel-like performance traits and efficiencies has impacted on the medium sector.
Mercedes doesn’t believe it go its data analysis wrong in choosing two diesels and a single petrol, but admits thought that the 220d, 250d and the 250 would respectively go gold, silver and bronze in the standings has not proven correct. So far this year, the top choice in this four-cylinder range with the wagon has been that turbopetrol model and they anticipate that the Coupe might also reveal a 50-50 allegiance split.
Only the higher output turbodiesel was on hand for play. It endows deep, easily accessible low-down shove and some decent thrift, but it doesn’t disguise the realities of living with this style of engine. Even though the headiness is sufficient to reach into the mid-range, refinement isn’t a strong suite. At-idle clatter is an unavoidable, but it also sounds strained when extended and drones a bit at open road speed. These traits don’t destroy its credibility, but they potentially restrict the appeal, despite the long-distance pluses being obvious.
Depending on the driving mode, the transmission either shifts up early maximise economy or holds gear to maximise that muscularity. Given the diesel’s flexibility, you won’t often feel inclined to use those steering wheel-mounted paddles, though when that occurs the shift is speedy and smooth.
Given, however, that the Coupe is being actively promoted as a driver’s choice, the 2.0-litre petrol does seem to be the better kind of accomplice. And so it proved; while less torquey, it immediately evinces as the more powerful and more obviously accelerative option when you give it the beans. Just as you knew it would be. The machismo also delivers with a more interesting soundtrack, too, with a rather throaty thrum at full throttle and even a touch of snap-crackle snarl between gearshifts in the Sport and Sport Plus mode. touch more machismo to how it actions.
Enhancing this appeal are two other factors. First, though it has less torque than the diesel, it nonetheless spreads that flex in similar spread; you’re also finding decent heft from quite low in the rev range, which enhances the amiability. Revving it certainly stirs the pot, but there’s no need to do so if you want to run quietly.
Also attractive is the efficiency of the thing. It’s true what they say; modern petrol engines are much better at getting more return from every fuel drop these days and, as a brand always at the forefront, Mercedes seems to have elicited particular under-bonnet improvement.
The maker-cited optimum of 7.4 litres per 100km (against 7.2 for the wagon) means it isn’t as thrifty as the diesel alternates - they are good for 5.8 litres per litre (5.6 in the wagon) - but it does nonetheless seem to demonstrate a diesel-like ability to run a lot closer to that optimal return than you might generally expect from a petrol.
The nine-speed 9G-Tronic automatic transmission is an impressively smooth operator with the petrol, too. It’s hard to say how often it actually is in that top-most gear, and perhaps a couple of those cogs likely only come to the fore at autobahn speed in economy mode. Those Sports settings seem to make it a seven-speed straight out.
The GLC Coupe apes the wagon in offering a comprehensive drive mode suite that allows adjustment and individualised settings for engine/drivetrain and steering tuning, and these do make a difference.
Even ‘soft’ German suspension set-ups can be firm to the touch down on some export market surfaces – coarse chip is enough of a challenge for the wagon for even the comfort setting to feel a touch ripply.
The Coupe has undergone a thorough re-engineering in search of a sportier feel still and it isn’t exactly a panacea for those looking for a pillowy experience. Not when alterations run to a wider track, a retuned steering rack for more directness, retuned sports suspension including Mercedes’ Dynamic Select system with adaptive dampers and five driving modes plus the provision of 20-inch rims and 255/45 low-profile rubber.
It’s not racecar-rigid and there’s some sense of suppleness at low speed; where it becomes less relaxed is at medium to open road speed. Away from smooth bitumen there’s clearly surface texture patter coming through and evidencing in the form of noise and some vibration and jarring becomes an issue over what appear to be relatively minor potholes. Such an innocuous-looking crater caused rude shock when pulling off the road at the memorial to the Black Saturday bush fire; the impact through the cabin was so sharp and severe I momentarily wondered if a rim had been damaged.
To the credit of the designers and assembly line workers, the interior fit proved capable of withstanding this barrage, with no tell-tale rattles in the cabin.
There’s no argument, though, that the Dynamic Body Control does what it says on the tin; it’s more enjoyable to steer down a winding road than the wagon, with keener body control and less roll and pitch. The steering also seems is more direct, though a greater sense of engagement wouldn’t go amiss. Does it have the agility and playfulness of a sports car? Of course not. Even though the ride height is lower than the wagon’s and it sits more squarely on the road, MX-5 owners will never fear of seeing this thing menacing their mirrors.
Yet it’s good enough dynamically – asnd in every other respect - to leave X4 drivers thinking might they’ve bought into the wrong package. Benz does everything better - the cabin, though still compromised, is roomier; the road gait, while firm, is less wooden; the looks, though not for everyone, more appealing. And while the GLC Coupe is also expensive, it’s better value.
Which, I guess, is the whole point of this exercise.