► Premium mid-size SUV takes on X3, Q5 and Macan
► Diesel-only engine line-up at launch; hybrid to follow
► Air suspension unique in class
The Mercedes GLC replaces the Mercedes GLK, a mid-size SUV that never made it to the UK due to right-hand drive issues with its four-wheel drive underpinnings – a situation that singularly failed to prevent it from becoming Stuttgart’s best-selling off-roader. The new GLC has no such mechanical foibles, and will be hitting British shores October 2015, priced from £34,950.
As the SUV alternative to the Mercedes C-Class, the GLC bridges the gap between the awkward teenager that is the GLA and the plastic surgery obsessed old timer that is the GLE/nee M-Class, which essentially establishes it as the pick of the Mercedes SUV range. At least until the S-Class-based GLS is unveiled later this year. The premium force is strong with this one.
First things first, why the name change?
Oh, this again? Doesn’t really matter to UK buyers, as they never saw the predecessor, but GLK becomes GLC as part of Mercedes’ new strategy for more closely aligning its SUV and conventional model ranges. GL now denotes an off-roader of any stripe, while the final letter tells willing punters which regular Merc the supposed mug-plugger is best mates with. In this case it’s the C-Class.
The GLC looks pretty good from here…
We agree. The GLK was quite an angular, boxy thing, whereas the GLC is much more rounded and modern in its appearance – as if it’s been left out on a tundra somewhere and had all its edges blasted off by a gale force 10. As such it’s perhaps not a surprise to learn that its 0.31Cd figure makes it the most aerodynamic SUV in its class. It’s also arguably the most visually resolved of the recent crop of Mercedes off-roaders. We’d even call it handsome.
If anything, the view improves once you’re inside. With the necessary caveat that the examples on the launch were specced up to the proverbial nines, the interior not only pays homage to the latest C-Class it even seems to be channelling the S-Class Coupe. Get a load of those sweeping curves, the diamond stitching (that’ll be the top spec Designo trim), the intricate speaker grilles on the optional Burmester stereo and the open-pore woods – although how closely related those are to an actual tree is open to debate; certainly the ‘metal’ is mostly Merc’s clever ‘cool touch’ plastics, while the leather is often man-made Artico.
But hey, whatever it’s really made from the GLC puts the GLE utterly to shame – there’s no nasty Dynamic Select driving mode knob here (it’s a classy switch instead), and the iPad-like infotainment screen is far better integrated. Want a Mercedes SUV with a fancy interior? Then you’ll need to downsize to this one.
I presume it’s about as practical as a pair of hotel spa slippers, then?
We wouldn’t go that far. The GLC is actually quite roomy inside. Adults of the average persuasion will have few complaints in the back, and you get 550 litres of luggage room in the boot before resorting to making those same adults get the bus home.
And though it is also bigger externally than the GLK it’s a useful 80kg lighter as well. This is thanks to increased use of aluminium (approximately 13%), added varieties of high-strength steel and even some unusually placed plastics. The front firewall, for instance, is an acoustically optimised plastic composite, which also goes some way towards explaining the above-par 2.1-litre Merc turbodiesel engine refinement.
But the GLC is more pavement dweller rather than mountain tamer, right?
We can’t imagine too many customers will be planning serious excursions into the wilderness, but the £495 Off-road Package gets you an approach angle-increasing front bumper design, reinforced bodywork and engine guard, an extra 20mm of ride height, off-road lighting setting, and a whole bunch of electronics – including Downhill Speed Regulation (DSR), off-road ABS, ESP and traction control, and up to five additional driving modes.
The main four are Off-road, Incline, Slippery and Trailer – that last being perhaps the most useful to target buyers as it should help negotiate wet grass with a trailer attached. Tally ho. The fifth off-road driving mode is called Rocking Assist, and is for getting you out of ruts where you would otherwise remain stuck. It’s only included if you also take the air suspension.
Suitably deployed, the off-road toys are quite impressive – particularly the way the DSR and other electronics can instantly intervene to slow a runaway car on loose surface. Don’t ask how we know this.
Hold on – air suspension? Isn’t that rather unusual in this class?
It most certainly is. In fact, you might even call it the GLC USP. Mercedes calls it Air Body Control (amazed the marketeers didn’t cram the word ‘magic’ in there, too, but we digress) and it’s a £1495 option available right across the range.
This gives you a choice of Comfort, Sport and Sport+ ride settings, accessed via the Drive Select switch (there are also Eco and Individual modes in Drive Select, but ride-wise the former is the same as Comfort and the latter is whatever you choose it to be). It also adds self-levelling for heavy loads, the option to lower the boot to make life easier for your arthritic Labrador, and gives the off-road pack an additional 50mm of ride height.
So what is the GLC like to drive?
A GLC350e hybrid is coming, but the only engine choices at UK launch will be 220d and 250d variants of the familiar 2.1 turbodiesel. Good news is that Mercedes has managed to tame the dirge in their application here, leaving you to enjoy the torquey performance without resorting to earplugs. The 201bhp 250d is a little noisier than the 168bhp 220d, but for £1255 the upgrade from 295lb ft of torque to 369lb ft makes it worth putting up with, especially since CO2 stays the same. Mercedes expects most customers to agree.
The standard nine-speed automatic gearbox is generally notable for the absence of reason to comment upon it, though if you have sudden occasion to kick-down hard it can jerk about a bit.
The Dynamic Select does what all these things do: mucks about with the gearbox programming, the accelerator map, the steering and – where a variable system is fitted – the suspension. Further testimony to the refinement is that it wasn’t until we noticed the in-dash display that we realised Sport+ will sometimes hold the car three or four gears lower than Comfort. The difference in steering weighting isn’t dramatic but it is palpable; chop and change at will using the Individual setting.
Is the air suspension worth going for?
It’s hard to make a definitive call on the air suspension without sampling the alternatives (which Mercedes hadn’t brought along), but it certainly offers diversity. A touch too floaty in Comfort at higher speeds, this nonetheless takes the edge off some of the abruptness around town, while the sportier modes do add a fair resistance to body roll. It never feels entirely at ease though, with a fizzy, high-frequency irritableness on anything but the smoothest of surfaces – probably not helped by test cars’ 20-inch wheels – and a slightly digital feel to cornering transitions.
The GLC is reasonably cohesive when pushed, but a reluctance to really get stuck into a sequence of bends is apparent in the early onset of understeer, which the ESP seems entirely too eager to kill by subtracting power. There’s little evidence of the standard 4Matic four-wheel drive being used to dynamic advantage, despite being biased quite heavily to the rear in the 250d (31:69 versus 45:55 in the 220d).
Browse Mercedes GLC for sale
The GLC is exactly the sort of mid-size SUV Mercedes needed to deliver. Handsome on the outside with proper premium wow factor on the inside, it sensibly focuses on refinement and control rather than outright performance. So while it’s more expensive and less exciting to drive than the main rivals, demand is likely to be high – especially with UK supply limited to around 8000 units a year. This is the Mercedes SUV you’ve been looking for...