The Mercedes-Benz GLC finally gives the market's dominant luxury brand a viable medium SUV contender, and it's a hell of a debut
Mercedes-Benz has been kicking so many goals of late that its complete lack of a viable mid-sized SUV in Australia has long felt erroneous. Enter the GLC.
This market segment has been growing apace for years in Mercedes-Benz's absence, led by arch enemies BMW (with the X3) and Audi (the seven-year-old Q5). All the while, Benz has sat on the sidelines, forlornly watching others rake in the dough.
Why? The best part of a decade ago, Mercedes-Benz decided the fledgling SUV craze was worth a fence-sitting dip of the toe, and made the GLC’s predecessor, the GLK, a left-hand-drive (LHD) proposition only. Cue a doubtless fit of pique from RHD markets.
It worked. Come December 1, the Mercedes-Benz GLC you see here will arrive in your local Mercedes-Benz dealership, where it will be awaited by sales staff with the most open of open arms. Let’s not beat around the bush — it’s excellent.
The recipe is relatively straightforward to get your head around, but the result in the segment will be seismic. Take the wildly successful C-Class — currently doubling sales of the BMW 3 Series — and apply the same winning formula to an SUV.
Under the GLC’s skin, about 70.0 per cent of the components used are from the C-Class, given each model sits upon Mercedes’ MRA (Modular Rear Architecture) ‘platform’. Meanwhile the design both outside and in gives more than a cursory tip of the cap.
But the GLC brings to the table those elements most appealing to a growing number of modern buyers — a higher driving position (and the subsequent road presence yielded), and the intrinsic, if often futile, promise of adventure.
Pricing and competition
The GLC kicks off at $64,500 plus on-road costs for the 220d, which is only $2100 more than the less powerful 1.6-litre C200d sedan. It’s actually $400 cheaper than the C200d wagon despite offering more cargo space and all-wheel-drive (AWD).
It’s an even better story as you walk up through the variants to be offered. The $67,900 GLC 250 2.0 petrol is $3500 cheaper than the C250 wagon with the same engine, and $1000 cheaper than the sedan. It’s a similar story for the $69,900 GLC 250d flagship.
The GLC 220d also sits between the Audi Q5 2.0 TDI quattro and BMW X3 xDrive 20d, while the GLC 250 petrol hits the sweet spot between entry and flagship petrol versions of both the Audi and BMW. The GLC 250d undercuts equivalent X3 and Q5 versions by more than $7000, though it offers appreciably less power and torque.
You might also take note that the flagship, decidedly non-premium Mazda CX-5 Akera diesel is $50,610, that equivalent AWD Volvo XC60s are actually pricier than the Mercedes, and that the Land Rover Discovery Sport costs between $59,000 and $66,500.
Read our detailed pricing and specifications news story on the Mercedes-Benz GLC here.
The GLC is no ‘stripper’ either. The 220d gets side steps, 19-inch alloy wheels, keyless start, an LED Intelligent Light System, Garmin MAP PILOT satellite-navigation with touchpad, electric front seats, side steps and a 360-degree view camera.
All versions on sale (220d, 250 and 250d) also come with nine airbags, low-speed autonomous braking and blind-spot monitoring, as well as rear-biased 4MATIC permanent all-wheel-drive only (the X3 and Q5 are also AWD) and a 9G-Tronic nine-speed auto.
The GLC 250 petrol and diesel models get additional stuff such as 20-inch wheels, keyless go, real leather seats, tinted privacy glass and the Driver Assistance Package Plus pack that offers extras such as steering (lane) assist and adaptive cruise control.
This features list is doubtless impressive — some of this stuff is only optional on others. But it’s the presentation and layout that really drives the point home. Anyone familiar with the C-Class is going to be right at home here.
All versions get the familiar ‘floating’ screen atop the vents — a feature derided by some, given the perceived lack of stylistic integration. It’s really not so bad. Under this sits a trio of round vents, and an uncluttered sequence of ventilation controls and assorted buttons.
All is controlled by the rotary dial that sits at your resting fingertips, or a touchpad which responds to digit movements (like those you’d make literally drawing a line in the sand). Get your head around the interface and it’s child’s play, though BMW’s iDrive still feels more ergonomic to me, bereft though it is of the Benz’s fixed plastic hand-rest/covering.
The front seats, finished in fake (Artico) or real leather depending on spec, are soft and comfortable, and befitting of a cabin replete with lashings of leather, wood and steel highlights to lift the ambience, and gorgeous S-Class-esque speaker covers.
It all feels expensive, and that’s precisely the point. One of the major reasons for the sales success of the C-Class, which is second only the the Toyota Camry in the medium car sales charts, is its cabin. The GLC apes this layout, and it’s equally wonderful.
At 4656mm long and 1890mm wide, it is nigh-on identical to the X3. But its wheelbase is a good 70mm longer, and as such Mercedes claims 57mm more rear legroom. Even with a sunroof, the rear bench has ample headroom and knee room — more than most rivals.
Moreover, the seats have good under-thigh support, while our test car offered rear air vents and temperature controls, illuminated grab handles and the same classy door inlays as in the front. The use of optional quilted leather is a particular highlight.
The bench has 40/20/40 split, and can be flip-folded via latches in the rear. You can also adjust the rear rake angle to liberate extra space behind them. The load capacity behind the rear seats is 550 litres and 1600L with the rear seats folded flat — 90L more than a C-Class wagon and on a par with the X3.
You access the cargo area with a one-touch electric tailgate. A novel button next to this deploys an electrically folding towball.
Unlike the also excellent Disco Sport, you can’t have seven seats. But this is also true of the Audi, BMW, Volvo and most others, so the GLC is no orphan there.
Under the bonnet
The entry 220d uses a 2.1-litre turbo-diesel engine making 125kW/400Nm — lining up against the 130kW/380Nm Audi and 140kW/400Nm BMW — with fuel consumption said to be as low as 5.0L/100km on the combined cycle.
The GLC 250d has an uprated version of the 220d’s 2.1 with 150kW/500Nm, a 0.7s faster 0-100km/h time of 7.6s, and identical fuel consumption. Both diesel engines tow 2500kg — 100kg more than the petrol.
Said GLC 250 petrol uses the same 2.0-litre turbo engine as the A-Class, C-Class and numerous others, with 155kW/350Nm (the latter from 1200rpm) on tap. The claimed 0-100km/h sprint time is 7.3 seconds, and fuel consumption is as low as 6.5L/100km.
The petrol engine is a sweet, free-revving and refined unit. The 220d is extremely refined as well, and offers its 400Nm between 1400 and 2800rpm, giving you good low-down surge. It actually feels scarcely less muscular than the 250d despite the extra 25kW/100Nm over the entry version.
We understand a six-pot GLC diesel is in the works to take on the X3 xDrive 30d and Q5 3.0 TDI/SQ5 — likely a GLC 350d powered by a 3.0-litre V6 with 190kW and 620Nm. It’d be most welcome.
Overseas, there's also a GLC350e petrol-electric plug-in hybrid available. But although Australia has it earmarked, RHD production is some way off yet.
All engines send power to four wheels (the torque split is 45 front:55 rear) on the 220d and 250 petrol, and 31:69 in the re-packaged 250d. The nine-speed automatic is familiar from the CLS, and has two more ratios than the C-Class.
It’s probably the weak point of the GLC. It’s perfectly anonymous 90.0 per cent of the time, but there’s the odd moment of indecision, especially on partial throttle. A software update would fix it.
Extra ratios help an engine meet Euro 6 fuel regulations, though we understand that Benz engineers found it rather challenging to calibrate the ‘box. If you’re wondering, we got into ninth ratio at about 130km/h (in Germany, a country with proper speed regulation).
Ride and handling
Again, like the C-Class (and the larger GLE), Mercedes-Benz puts a premium on comfort rather than sportiness. This differentiates it from the X3 for one thing, but to my mind also excels where it needs to and compromises in areas that are less vital.
The electric-assisted steering is light and easy to manoeuvre around town, and doesn’t really load up with any great veracity at pace. Matching this, the cushy ride — even in the suspension/variable dampers’ firmest setting — soaks up bumps beautifully on even 20-inch wheels (Benz engineers are attuned to working with huge wheels), at the expense of moderate body roll.
It doesn’t ride and handle as sharply as some rivals, but on our European test roads (we haven't driven it in Australia yet) it was more comfortable — and that’s clearly an appropriate balance for Benz to strike. It’s also generally quiet over most surfaces — though on the bigger wheels and coarse chip roads you’ll get some droning.
Another bonus is the high driving position afforded by the greater ride height over the C-Class wagon, and the requisite improvements in outward visibility.
Vehicles of this nature are seldom taken off-road, but it pays to remember that a significant number of buyers jump into SUVs because of the allure and ephemeral promise of hitting the dusty trail and getting some mud on your boots.
We tested the optional Off Road Engineering package that will cost about $7000 and be paired with the separate Airmatic air suspension that will sell for $2500. It basically comprises a bunch of trick, button-operated electronics that control engine speed and torque delivery, helping you tackle inclines, declines and slippery surfaces.
Best, though, is the special Rocking Mode, which sets the air suspension to add 50mm of extra ground clearance, and utilises impressive axle articulation to eat up some seriously pockmarked terrain. Don’t believe us? Look above. Or watch the video atop the page.
Few people will opt for this package given its cost, but as Daimler board member Thomas Weber told us, the company invested in the package to be an image and perception builder as much as a practical tool.
All told, it’s mission accomplished. The goal, says Mercedes-Benz, is for the GLC to be its second top-selling car in Australia behind the aforementioned C-Class. So long as supply holds up, it’ll do that without a problem.
It’s about time the company offered a medium SUV, and as we might have suspected given the quality of the C-Class, it’s rather knocked it out of the park.
The GLC feels properly premium, it looks fantastic in the flesh, it’s a joy to sit in and comfortable on the road while surprisingly capable off it. Its drivetrains are respectable though not show-stoppers, but the range of offerings will grow before you know it.
A December launch and subsequent comparison test beckon. It has the makings of a class-topper.