The GLC has established as Mercedes’ golden child – we drive the surprise sales star.
For: Alluring styling, high quality interior, impressive engine.
Against: Sometimes harsh ride, gear selector confusion.
WHEN it comes to star player ascendancy, nothing in the Mercedes’ line has moved faster than its compact crossover, the GLC.
Just four months. That’s all it took for this model to hit top sales billing. Since then this spin-off from the previously dominant C-Class (yes, this was truly an internecine takeover) has simply gone about consolidating that position, not just within the family but also within its category. Audi, BMW, Lexus and, now that the F-Pace has arrived, Jaguar … all cite the GLC as a particular rival.
It couldn’t go any other way. As punny as it sounds, the stars were all aligned for this model: Kiwis are simply suckers for sports utilities and crossovers; anything with an elevated ride height, a hint of off-road potential and an alluring look and feel is going to win. For two years now quasi-to-actual off-roaders have cumulatively accounted for the largest slice of new car sales, around 34 percent, and there’s no sign of this habit being broken soon, not least within prestige circles.
So it’s the right car for the right time. Well done Mercedes for getting it spot on. And, yet, funnily enough, the distributor has been the first to admit that they probably got their data analysis wrong in one respect, by choosing two diesels and a single petrol.
That should have been a safe bet. Diesels are normally so strong in this category, so the thought was that the 220d, 250d – which share a common 2.1-litre turbodiesel but in different outputs - and the 2.0-litre turbopetrol 250 would respectively go gold, silver and bronze in the standings.
Actually, those tables have been completely turned. So far this year, the top choice in this four-cylinder range has been that turbopetrol model.
What’s the attraction? Having just spent time with an example that, with options represented a $106,860 buy-in, we think we have a pretty good picture.
Regardless that it shares a platform with the C-Class family, whether comparing with an actual tape measure or simply using an eye-ometer, they don’t seem that closely related, at least externally. 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 literally more to the GLC. 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.
If you’re seeking greater similarity, look inside. There’s not a lot of reorientation required, which is a good thing: Both the C and GLC see the cockpit in its modern form, which is also the best in the business. It’s great to touch and look at, intuitive to use. A real delight.
The 250 models replace Artico artificial leather with the real stuff, swap from 19-inch alloys to 20s and gain comfort entry and privacy glass. The GLC 250 gets a Driver Assistance Package upgrade that includes adaptive cruise control and a host of active safety features, such as blind spot warning, lane keeping, and collision avoidance (including recognition of stray pedestrians).
That’s on top of a fulsome standard content that spans all the usual ingredients: Sat nav, dual zone air con, powered front seats, parking assistance, nine airbags, LED headlights with auto-dipping and a powered tailgate.
As mentioned, the test car had been treated to three cost option packages that significantly hiked its $94,900 base price. The Vision package delivers a panoramic roof and head-up display at a cost of $3990. The Comand package presents a bigger screen, 10Gb music register and enhanced Burmester sound system for $2990. The AMG line provisions special wheels, body kit and sports suspension for $3490. On top of this, the attractive Hyacinth Red Metallic paint job adds $1990 to the bottom line.
What to divest? I’m happily do without a sunroof but apparently you cannot lose it with the head up display, which I quite like. Those side steps do seem to be standard but I’d ask for their removal. 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. You do tend to either bang your shins or brush clothing against the edge; annoying either way.
That the GLC is on the compact side of medium has been reinforced by recent exposure to the Jaguar F-Pace. They’re obviously rivals but, for rear leg room especially, the Jaguar feels like its half a class larger. Same goes for boot space.
Mercedes’ 2.1-litre turbodiesel provides lots of low-down shove and some decent thrift, but it doesn’t disguise the realities of living with this style of engine. So, as per usual, it has limited rev-ability and 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. Likewise the imposition of Road User Charges.
The 2.0-litre petrol is, of course, a smoother accomplice; less torquey but more powerful and more obviously accelerative when you give it the beans. Just as you knew it would be. It’s also audibly more interesting, with a rather throaty thrum at full throttle and even a touch of snarl between gearshifts in Sport mode. So there’s a touch more machismo to how it actions.
Enhancing this appeal are two other factors. First, though it has less muscularity 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 7.2 litres per 100km means it isn’t as thrifty as the diesel alternate (that’s good for 5.6L), 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.
Ultimate lean-ness unsurprisingly occurs on the open road, notably when you can maintain decent stints at constant pace. Assuredly, I wasn’t consciously falling in the sort of eco-driving silliness during a two-hour inter-city run, so to see the trip computer citing a journey average of 7.8L/100km was quite gratifying. Basically, then, it is giving pretty much the same good vibes as a diesel without any of the drawbacks. No wonder it’s selling so well …
To be fair, it’s probably not the engine per se. The gearing – and gear count – and the drive mode configuration also come into vital play.
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 and fuel-intensive in the “sport’ modes than the ‘Eco’ setting, of course.
The nine-speed 9G-Tronic automatic transmission is an impressively smooth operator, too, and obviously takes the lead for gear count. 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. Then again, you’d have to imagine it wouldn’t be so economical if it wasn’t fully exploiting the gear set. This engine allows more opportunity to make use of the the wheel-mounted shift paddles. This obviously adds another layer of control, especially when teamed with the improved response sport mode brings.
With Benz having determined to emphasise the ‘sport’ part of SUV, a ripply ride is part of the GLC experience and those 20-inch rims and 255/45 low-profile rubber aren’t exactly a panacea. It’s even less at ease over larger imperfections than the 220d was.
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. When driving on coarse chip especially 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. 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.
Aside from this, there’s the quirk, also highlighted during our 220d drive, 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. There’s benefit to having a selector that takes up little actual room, but 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.
Sitting low in the GLC makes it feel most car-like but you can end up so that the leading edge of bonnet disappears from sight, which raises challenges when judging its extremities when parking. That makes the 360-degree camera quite useful.
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 makes it roomier than the C-Class wagon, though you might wonder how, though here the rear seats don’t fold quite flat.
Easy to understand why the GLC is the country’s favourite Mercedes; it’s an attractive vehicle that conforms the category expectations and achieves exactly what an owner will expect of it.
It’s understandable, too, why that petrol engine is proving so popular. It’s not as brawny as the diesel, but is smoother and more engaging and, economy-wise, shines bright enough to make the oiler advantage seem negligible.
Unless you are actually going to use the GLC for any semblance of off-road adventure – and, let’s agree now, the chances of that happening are so slim as to be negligible – then the petrol is a safe way to go for this highly capable all-round family choice.