Honey, I shrunk the GLE: The new mid-sized GLC Coupe has arrived in Australia. Is it up to its sporty pitch?
The ability for Mercedes-Benz to seemingly have an answer for every automotive question has been further illustrated by the local launch of the 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLC Coupe.
The new SUV is available in three models from launch: the 125kW/400Nm 2.1-litre turbo diesel GLC220d, 155kW/350Nm turbocharged 2-litre petrol GLC250, and the 150kW/500Nm turbocharged 2.1-litre GLC250d diesel.
The 270kW/520Nm 3-litre twin-turbo V6 AMG GLC 43 Coupe will follow in February 2017, although you can get in early and order one now.
We sampled both ‘250 Coupe variants on a day drive around Kinglake National Park and Yea, north of Melbourne.
Style-wise, the GLC Coupe is most assuredly a product of current Mercedes-Benz lineage. From the front it appears very much like its wagon sibling, while from the rear it shares a near identical look with the larger GLE Coupe.
High rump? Check. Long LED tail lamps? Check. Mercedes-Benz badge that hides the rear-view camera? Check, and with an added party trick of being the 'secret' boot-release button as well.
Here's a tip, too: you can’t open the boot if the reverse camera is activated, unless you do so from in the cabin. Not sure that one comes up very often in your day-to-day car use, but now you know!
Mercedes-Benz is positioning the coupe as the ‘sportier’ choice, making up for the slightly muted practicality with a higher level of standard equipment, which includes the full AMG styling package, diamond-style grille, running boards and dynamic suspension dampers.
Personally, I like the look of the GLE Coupe, and, as such, the GLC works for me, too; particularly with the AMG adornments. Styling is always subjective, though, so if you can’t bring your head around to the five door fastback on stilts thing, then maybe it just isn’t for you.
Incidentally, it is a case of po-tay-toe, po-tah-toe around the CarAdvice office. I’m pretty much on an island with Wilson the volleyball when it comes to liking the SUV-coupes, but refuse to get on board the good-ship Audi RS7 which everyone else here seems to love. The 6000SUX was a parody, not a design concept folks!
But I digress.
Due to the shared platform, the 2873mm wheelbase of the GLC Coupe is the same as the wagon, but the coupe is actually 81mm longer thanks to the larger overhang for the rear hatch. This, combined with a 34mm lower roofline, gives the coupe a more ‘squat’ looking stance.
This is further amplified by the standard 20-inch AMG wheels and flared wheel arch extensions. Which, with the 36mm wider rear track, help contribute to a much more ‘sporty’ looking SUV.
Sadly, though, expressions like ‘sporty stance’ tend to be the inverse of ‘practicality’, and the coupe does lose 50 litres of cargo space over the wagon with now 500 litres available under the cargo blind. That’s still pretty good, mind you.
Under the lockable floor is a big cavity, where you can fit an optional space-saver tyre (the car has a tyre-goo repair kit and a 24-hour roadside assist hotline), plus the usual fun Mercedes inclusions of a high-visibility vest, safety triangle and, of course, the shopping crate!
Inside the boot are a couple of storage hooks and a netted compartment, as well as remote releases for the 40:20:40 folding rear seats and a proper cargo blind, rather than the stupid, hard folding deck of the GLE.
Flip everything down and space increases to 1400 litres (200 less than the fully ‘folded’ GLC wagon) in this configuration.
Like the bigger GLE, though, is a high loading lip (860mm) and reasonably narrow aperture, which can make loading larger or heavy items a bit tricky.
For that ‘once a year’ trip to IKEA or the like, I’m sure you’ll make do. But if the back of an SUV is more important than the front, just stick with the GLC wagon. There's an answer for everything, as I said.
Rear seat passengers under six-foot should be quite comfortable and are well catered for. The door pockets can easily fit a large water bottle, there are a pair of vents and map pockets on the back of each front seat.
Those seatbacks are scalloped nicely too, which allows for good knee and toe room, but the bench itself feels a bit flat and short. You sit almost upright and, for me at least, will see your thighs lacking support.
A center transmission tunnel makes the GLC a four-up maximum proposition for larger passengers, but there are ISOFIX points on both outside seats if you are carting little ones around.
What feels a bit disappointing, and this isn’t limited to the GLC, is the lack of 12-volt power and USB points for rear passengers. There’s a nice flat cubby in the flip-down armrest, which would be a great place for some extra USB plugs. Move with the times a bit faster, please, Mercedes.
Up front, though, and the cabin is the identical Mary Kate to the GLC wagon’s Ashley. This evolution of the award winning C-Class interior still impresses on first glance, but is showing its slightly more mass-market nature in a few trim areas.
The sides of the main, dark ‘black ash’ wood dashboard console have a light and hollow sound when tapped. Plus the COMAND infotainment controller is still configured for left-drive cars, with driver oriented switchgear all but hidden from the driver while on the move.
I may be being hyper-critical, but these are not massive changes for Mercedes-Benz to make and would really improve the premium appeal of the cabin.
That aside, it is still a lovely place to spend time and Mercedes have added plenty of standard equipment to help you enjoy the ride.
All cars get DAB digital radio, powered seats, keyless start, adaptive cruise control, dual-zone climate control, adaptive LED headlamps, automatic parking and a 360-degree camera. Our GLC 250 in the video scores keyless entry and the more advanced ‘Distronic-Plus’ suite of driver assistance technology, which includes lane-keep steering assist and blind-spot detection.
Pointless but cool thing to note? The car shown in the 360-degree camera view is the same colour as the actual car. Attention to detail scores points with us!
Further, the car in the photos is finished in the optional Designo Hyacinth Red paint ($2990) and features the Vision package (sunroof and head-up display) for $3590 and the COMAND infotainment package for $2990.
You can take or leave the sunroof, but COMAND is almost a must-have, as it upgrades the sound-system to a 13-speaker Burmester unit and expands the infotainment display from 7- to 8.3-inches and adds the native Mercedes-Benz navigation functionality, rather than the Garmin software in the standard system.
Jump around cabins between different cars, and you'll not pick the difference. It's only under the bonnet where the changes lie.
We opted to drive the $82,100 (before options and on-road costs) GLC 250d first.
Peak torque comes on low, but in a very narrow band; 1600 to 1800rpm. This gives the diesel some punchy go off the line, which is key for urban driving, but leaves it perhaps a little short of legs when needing to overtake at speed on highway legs.
That said, it builds and holds speed effortlessly, and manages to disguise your rate of advancement really well. At freeway speeds, you can barely hear the engine, with just wind and tyre noise giving an indication of speed and chosen road surface.
We were tracking around 7.0L/100km fuel consumption, which is up on the claim of 5.8L/100km for a combined cycle, but not surprising - given the relatively quick and ‘assessment heavy’ drive loop.
The $80,100 petrol GLC250 too, sits in that ‘adequate’ performance band for a sporty SUV. Here, too, peak power isn’t available until high in the rev range (5500rpm) and so you really need to work the little guy hard to get a sensation of fastness (it’s a word). The noise isn’t something I’d write home about either, although if you run the car in Sport-Plus, there’s a nice little raspberry from the exhaust on up-shift.
There’s a wider torque band for the petrol, 1200 to 4000rpm, which gives it a more consistent response than the diesel, albeit not quite as 'off the line' punchy. Fuel here is claimed at 7.4L/100km and we were sitting in the high 8L/100km range for the most of the run, which again is pretty impressive.
As with the diesel, the petrol Coupe tours well and manages to quietly and effortlessly build up speed on open highway runs. You’re not going to ‘feel the Gs’ under your right foot in any great way, though. But, remember: if you want more punch, that 270kW GLC43 is only a few months away. And if even that won’t suffice, a mind-melting GLC63 is expected to roll in during 2018.
Ah, Mercedes. Answers upon answers, again.
The big wheels and adaptive dampers help the GLC hold tight in sweeping bends, and - while you don’t feel this is a car to throw around - on a fast, snaking B-road run, the GLC felt very confident, easily holding speeds above the advisory markings without a hint of protest.
It turns in well and can actually be quite enjoyable and entertaining on a winding country road, providing you aren’t trying to chase down sport bikes.
You can feel the higher center of gravity that comes with the SUV platform, but this isn’t supposed to be a sports car with a boot. It’s a sporty SUV, and, for that role - especially when touring - it feels just about right.
Switching between Comfort and Sport suspension settings on the open road, too, doesn’t offer polar differences, just a slightly tighter and more firm and direct feeling in the stiffer setting.
In town, it’s as much a personal choice as a dynamic one. The Coupe errs toward a firmer state but doesn’t crash or rattle over uneven pavement. You’ll get a solid thump if you hit a sharper edge or larger speed hump, but it isn’t unsettling or crashy.
My experience of Mercedes SUVs on the optional ($2490) air-suspension tends to be one of floaty comfort, so this car, pitched as it is as the sporty-alternative, is almost better without it.
Mercedes still can’t seem to match BMW for outright dynamic ability and driver enjoyment, but the GLC Coupe works surprisingly well as a multi-role car. Something different to run around town in, while providing a capable and entertaining drive when the opportunity presents itself.
It’s getting closer, though, so we’ll be pitching the GLC Coupe against the BMW X4 as soon as we can!
Like all C-Class derivatives, the GLC Coupe uses the 9G-Tronic nine-speed automatic gearbox with the column mounted shifter. You can force a manual shift mode and use the nice alloy paddles on the wheel if you want your drive to feel more ‘you oriented’.
On the move, the gearbox is intelligent and smooth in its selection of gears. At low speeds, though - particularly when parallel parking or making a three-point turn - it can be slow and jerky to react. This is where I need a gearbox to be faster. (Most likely because I've made a pseudo-legal U-turn, but that's not the point.)
Slow down your urgency, however, and the box behaves a bit better. It is designed to learn your driving behaviour, too. So, theoretically, it should improve over time. And, to be fair, having multiple drivers constantly switching from Comfort to Sport and back again isn’t going to be a strong blueprint for gearbox consistency. We'll pay closer attention to this when we have a car in for a longer assessment.
All sounds pretty good so far, but there's one important factor we can't overlook.
The Coupe commands a 17 per cent premium on the Wagon. For example the $65,990 GLC220d 'squareback' is $11,100 less than the GLC220d 'fastback'. Yes there is more gear ($3062 worth by the option packages), and a sense of unique style... but that's not insignificant. Your choice again on whether 'sporty' carries that much value.
Sales of the GLC wagon are showing no signs of slowing, so even with pricing as it is, there is no reason not to expect the 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLC Coupe to be successful.
Over the course of a day, you get used to the slim rear window and slightly snug roofline in the cabin. The column shift becomes second nature and you stop tapping bits of the dash to see what they sound like. You start to enjoy this car for what it is supposed to be, a pleasant, premium SUV with a unique look and a sporty nature.
It’s an easy car to live with and an easy car to like - providing that you like the car that it is. That might sound confusing, but it is an important consideration step. The GLC Coupe isn't for everyone, but that doesn't stop it from being good at what it is.
Remember too, even if the GLC Coupe isn't for you, Mercedes no doubt have something else in their range that is.
Click on the Photos tab for more images by James Ward and Tom Fraser.