Mercedes Benz was already running hot before GLC arrived. Now it’s in the stable, there’s every chance the sales pace will step up yet again.
For: Alluring styling, high quality interior, strong engine, sharp pricing.
Against: Firm to-crashy ride, some diesel chatter.
WELL-appointed family crossovers and sports utes are becoming the most important class for prestige brands – notwithstanding that the C-Class sedan went against general trend in being its best-seller of 2015, Mercedes’ sees the GLC elevated wagon as being the star offer of 2016 and beyond.
Such is our love for quasi-to-actual off-roaders that these cumulatively these account for the largest slice of new car sales, around 34 percent; rising to 50 percent if those doublecab diesel auto one-tonne utes are thrown into the mix. Being commercial vehicles, they aren’t, yet given a great many seem to be bought for private-prioritised lifestyle use, well it’s easy to see the other side of the argument, too …
Anyway, to the GLC. Some (and I’ve been guilty, too) have taken to calling this an elevated station wagon, kind of like Mercedes’ version of a Subaru Outback or – if you like to think purely German – a Volkswagen Passat Alltrack.
In fact, contending there’s that level of DNA commonality is not wholly fair. Yes, it has the same platform as the road-tuned C-Class family, but whether you compare by by measuring tape or simply using an eye-ometer, it’s clear they’re different animals. The wagon is, of course lower and less chunky-looking, but it’s not as if Mercedes used the same panels and simply beefed them up a bit.
There’s more to the GLC: Literally. While the body length is 46mm more truncated, it has a longer wheelbase, and the shell is also wider by 80mm. In addition to having a taller overall stance, there’s quite a difference in the floor to roof measurement. And, yes, while they share engines, that’s not the case with the sole choice automatic transmissions: A C-Class wagon has a seven-speed box, the GLC has a nine-cogger.
That doesn’t necessarily stop would-be buyers using one as a measuring stick for the other, yet even though the dearest estate is just $800 cheaper than the entry GLC while the entry wagon has $5100 advantage Benz honestly feels high-noon shootouts will be rare. The brand believes it is more realistic for a GLC buyer to be someone who has also considered a BMW X3, Audi Q5, perhaps a Volvo XC60 and maybe the Lexus NX or even the RX, since one is slight smaller, the other slight larger.
Anyway, it’s new, it’s needed and it’s certainly not harmed by being a product from a brand that has freshly achieved prestige sector domination for the first time.
Three models are currently here; two with a 2.1-litre turbodiesel in two outputs, and a flagship petrol turbopetrol 2.0-litre.
This test is on the entry GLC220d with 125kW and 400Nm, a 25kW and 100Nm deficient on the alternate GLC250d. The cheaper diesel is normally an $89,900 buy in, but this example took Vision and Seat Comfort packages to elevate to $95,180, thus sitting around $1500 short of the 250d and $280 above the petrol 155kW/350Nm GLC250.
As indicated, the exterior styling is chunkier and more truncated that the orthodox station wagon’s; there’s still an element of the road car there but it also adopts classic Mercedes SUV design elements seen on the larger GLE, though it’s not as bluff, even around the nose. It could probably stand to look a little less conservative, though the black paintwork hardly helped.
The jacked-up ride height isn’t just for show, though one potential sore point are those side steps, do seem to be there to simply add an ambience. There’s no obvious practical benefit. Even though it stands tall, the body is still not high enough to step up into, and anyway the ledge is too narrow and recessed to get a foot onto it. Instead you tend to either bang your shins or brush clothing against the edge; annoying either way.
The elevated ride height makes the boot easier to access, especially when you’re moving bulky items. That’s made even easier by the powered tailgate, standard fare across the range.
In the main, the cabin design is just as you’ll find in a C-Class road car. Even though the 220d is an entry model, the only sign of cost-containment comes from it having Artico artificial leather instead of the real thing; and even then it’s good enough to fool. Otherwise the cabin feels as luxurious as any other more expensive Benz; the matte dark wood panel look throughout the centre console wasn’t everyone’s preference, though I’m among those who see it as an improvement on those piano black finishes that highlight dust and fingerprints.
In regard to specification, Benz hasn’t squandered. All cars get reversing and 360 degree cameras, navigation – though at this level the mapping is slightly basic in its rendering compared to that provided by the cost-extra Comand set-up - nine airbags, keyless start and 19-inch alloys. The Vision package adds a panoramic roof (no, thanks) and head-up display (yes, please). Seat comfort brings front chairs with a fuller range of adjustment, including adjustable cushions on the leading edge of the cushion.
At launch we drove both versions of this turbodiesel engine and figured that, while the gruntier version is certainly not to be sniffed at, the base unit is more than adequate enough to appeal in a typical NZ driving scenario. That view remains unchanged after clocking around 800kms locally, including two decent open road stints.
You’re not buying a firebrand at this level. In fact, as is always the way with diesels, it pays not to give too much concern about the power output and to concentrate instead on the torque.
The 220d’s strengths are not in outright sprintability; it’s actually something of a plodder in that respect. Yet it does perform impressively in respect to the torque effect, to the point that there was no discernable difference in the pull when we went from just a driver to having three adults aboard.
This model comes with the usual comprehensive drive mode suite that allows adjustment and individualised settings for engine/drivetrain and steering tuning, and these do make a difference: It’s more alert in the “sport’ modes than the ‘Eco’ setting of course.
Basically, though, it’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer. You simply need to forget about revving it too much and concentrate on riding that big fat slug of muscularity generating from around 1200rpm. It’s a different kind of driving, you’re really just sailing along, which suits its dynamic style, too. If you try to make quick cut and thrust overtaking moves it can be found wanting. On the other hand, it simply sailed up a steep ascending passing lane, when asked to accelerate more gently from 90kmh to hold around 110kmh without any discernable change to the even engine note. It probably changed down a gear or two but that was just as hard to pick.
The engine’s relaxed nature won’t suit everyone – just the 0-100kmh time of 8.3 seconds will seem a touch doughy for some - but it certainly appeals for long distance work, as does the economy.
The nine-speed 9G-Tronic automatic transmission doesn’t appear to offer any taller gearing than the older seven-speed box the C-Class cars have but instead seems to stack its ratios more closely. At the same token, it’s hard to say how often it actually is in that top-most gear. If you drive with urgency it seems to rarely reach beyond seventh – often sixth – which reinforces impression that these extra cogs likely come to the fore at autobahn speeds.
Even so, there is efficiency. Benz’s official figure is 5.6 litres per 100km; my real world total usage figure came to 6.9 litres per 100km; basically much the same as I tend to see from the long-term test Subaru Outback diesel which, of course, runs a Lineartronic CVT. Given the GLC weighs around 1850kg and is running in permanent four-wheel-drive, I’m happy with that. It’s among those cars, too, in which using cruise control returns a more favourable performance.
Best address the one jarring issue now: It’s the ride quality. It’s not unsurprising, or necessarily disappointing, that this car has a certain firmness about it; that’s typically the German way and potentially also in keeping with the sporty part of the SUV tag.
At the same token, though, when you look at any car with an obvious element of extra ground clearance, there’s surely an expectation of this translating to additional suspension travel which, in turn, might also lead to enhanced compliance.
That doesn’t happen with the GLC. The further we drove it, the greater the impression that the intention here has been to maintain a ride quality that is more like that of a sporty sedan than something with a degree of dirt-ability. That’s an interesting approach, given that even if the GLC is never taken off-road, it might be still be bought with expectation of it being a long-legged cruiser with a relaxed attiude. That’s certainly how the drivetrain approach life – but the chassis, however, has a different agenda. It’s forgotten about suppleness.
The result is that it can’t quite soak up road surfaces and imperfections as you might expect it to. For the most part, it’s okay; when driving on coarse chip especially there’s clearly surface texture patter coming through and evidencing in the form of noise and some vibration, but not the point where it becomes a particular issue.
However, then came a certain railway crossing on a stretch of state highway. This is a heavy traffic zone so the rails are neatly integrated to ensure as little impedance as possible. I’ve been over it more times to remember and there’s never much of an issue. Perhaps so a slight body wiggle, a touch of suspension compression. Nothing too harsh.
Until, that is, we crossed in the GLC … it was if we’d sailed into a chasm. The suspension simply failed to cope. The crashing noise from under the car was bad enough; the shock impact within even worse. An acquaintance who happened to be following said it looked pretty spectacular from his viewpoint, too. I’ve been over the same point since, in a sportier car, and it wasn’t an issue. So, not the road then.
I’m not sure what to make of this. Before, and after, that moment the car wasn't too bad. Yet here, it just came undone. An air suspension is optional and perhaps it is the answer; I cannot say for certain because I’ve yet to try it. At the moment, though, this appears to be the GLC’s weakness. In fairness, it was only evident on that spot; in general, the ride was comfortable enough around town, for instance.
Aside from this, there’s the quirk of its Drive selector. If you’ve never owned a Mercedes-Benz before, you might take some time to become accustomed to the column-mounted gear selector. It’s not immediately the most intuitive setup and even though I’m well-attuned to it, every once in a while I’ll still inadvertently mistake it for the indicator wand and tip out of Drive into neutral. Maybe I just need to drive more Mercedes and fewer cars with right-side indicators.
The benefit of the column changer is evident otherwise. When you’re pulling quick manoeuvres like three-point turns or reverse parking, for instance. Not having a gearstick in the centre part of the console also provides design and ergonomic advantage; here that is given over to the infotainment system controls and there’s no denying it makes them even easier to access and use.
The only issue with this interface is from the metal controller; it looks smart but when exposed to the summer sun becomes incredibly hot to touch. Not that you need to; rather than risk the rotary controller you can also use your voice or touchpad to access the infotainment menus.
The basic instrument outlay is Mercedes 101, but the driving position is not quite C-Class, with the chairs being set quite a lot higher, to strike an SUV-like air. I’m of above-average height and also prefer a more car-like driving position; the GLC allows this but you can end up sitting so low that the leading edge of bonnet disappears from sight, which raises challenges when judging its extremities, particularly when parking. That makes the GLC’s exclusive 360-degree camera quite useful.
It’s not just the front seat occupants who sit a bit higher than they would in a C-Class car; everyone does and this leads to more than just impression of an airier ambience. It definitely offers more shoulder and elbow room than the pure station wagon and Is better for legroom, too. My leg length demands that the chair is set quite a way back when I’m driving, yet there was good leg space remaining behind.
Load space is also pretty good. Bring the 40:20:40 split-fold rear seating into play and there’s 550-litre capacity, enlarging to 1600 with the seats folded. That makesa it roomier than the wagon, though you might wonder how: The GLC has a vastly differently shaped storage zone in which gains appear to be made with vertical space. Those rear seats also do not fold quite flat, as they do in the wagon.
Even so, in overall dimension, the GLC is in a good place. It straight away shines in providing impression it’s very much a dimensionally correct select; big enough to be spacious and comfortable, but it’s not so large or ponderous to ever risk being cited as an urban battlewagon.
That one bang-crash moment over the rail crossing was a memorable moment in this car, for sure, but it’s not fair to say it defined our time with the car; though it does elevate desire to try out the air suspension.
The GLC is overall a car with huge potential; being last into the field of play has potentially cost Mercedes sales, but they’ve used that delay to good advantage, by assessing the strengths and weakness of every major competitor and reacting accordingly. It might not hold all the aces, but is nonetheless a winning hand.