BENZ'S JACKED-UP C-CLASS, THE MERCEDES-BENZ GLC, IS MORE THAN JUST A ME-TOO ATTEMPT TO CASH IN ON ACCELERATING DEMAND FOR LUXURY SUVs - it is, in fact, a genuinely enticing car.
Besides nicely balanced lines (it looks very smart), this diesel model under test here, the 2016 GLC 250d, has a massive 500Nm of torque nestled under its bonnet but is remarkably fuel-efficient - even under a heavy right foot.
The interior, lifted almost straight out of the C-Class sedan, is very appealing, superbly trimmed and fastidiously put-together... just like a C-Class. And yet it's slightly cheaper.
Lots of appeal here, and the only debit a firm-ish ride.
Vehicle Style: Medium prestige SUV
Price: $69,900 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 150kW/500Nm 2.1 turbo diesel 4cyl | 9sp automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 5.7 l/100km | tested: 6.9 l/100km
Mercedes-Benz Australia has never had a product in this size class before, which has allowed arch-rivals BMW and Audi to make a killing off booming demand for midsize luxury SUVs.
That now comes to end. After just a few months on the market, Mercedes has asserted its dominance of the segment, notching up nearly double the sales of the X3 this year.
Like its smaller brother the GLA, the GLC is more overtly car-based than its competitors - but when the car it's based off is the acclaimed W205 C-Class, that's a definite selling point.
Is it a "proper" SUV? Not really, not that anyone seems to care. Is it a crossover then? Perhaps. Is it any good? You bet.
- Standard equipment: Leather upholstery, power front seats, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and ignition, cruise control with speed limiter, trip computer/multifunction display, remote folding rear seats, 20-inch alloys.
- Infotainment: 7.0-inch display, rotary and touchpad infotainment controller, single disc CD player, AM/FM/USB and Aux audio inputs, five-speaker audio plus FrontBass system, Garmin satellite navigation
- Options fitted: COMAND package (21.3cm infotainment display, voice control, internet 13-speaker audio and high-end sat-nav), panoramic glass sunroof.
- Cargo volume: 580 litres seats-up, 1600 litres seats-down.
Look familiar? It should. Forward of the B-pillar, the GLC’s cabin is a near-facsimile of the C-Class sedan.
There are some minor differences, like the extra padding on the side of the centre console, dashboard contouring and the size of the glovebox lid, but, on the whole, the interior of the GLC 250d looks just like the sedan's.
That means material quality is outstanding. Our car’s open-pore wood and real leather upholstery (lower-grade GLCs get artificial leather) look and feel high-end, and the smart silver accents and machine-finished Burmester speaker grilles (part of the optional COMAND package) add an extra level of visual sparkle.
The cumbersome infotainment interface isn’t quite so elegant. Having a touchpad perched over a rotary dial is not the most ergonomically-sound setup, with the touchpad occasionally registering false inputs from your palm as you twirl the main dial.
The touchpad itself isn’t great either, with inconsistent response levels to swiping actions.
As standard, the GLC ships with a simplified Garmin Map-Pilot sat nav system, though our car had the more sophisticated COMAND Online infotainment setup (and its more high-featured navigation software and crisp 21.3cm TFT colour display) fitted as an option.
The GLC feels more spacious than the C-Class wagon, with great visibility through the side glass and great headroom. The seating position meanwhile, remains very sedan-like.
Back seat comfort is superb, with a supportive rear bench and plenty of leg and headroom - even more so than what’s offered by the C-Class wagon thanks to a slightly taller roofline.
Face-level vents keep rear passengers cool, though the highish centre tunnel limits the usability of the centre seat position.
There are some clever touches dotted around the cabin, like the release switches for the 40/20/40 split rear backrests that are located just inside the rear doors. Pull them once, and the spring-loaded backrests fold down in an instant - no need to wrestle with them.
There another pair of seat-fold switches accessible from the tailgate too, making loading big items a cinch - especially with the power-operated tailgate.
You also get a pair of bag hooks moulded into the boot trim, however they’re located toward the front of the car and aren’t so easily reached by shorter folk. Under the floor you'll find a nifty collapsible storage crate - perfect for small trips to the shop.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 150kW/500Nm 2.1 litre turbo diesel inline four
- Transmission: 9-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
- Performance: 0-100km/h in 7.6 seconds
- Suspension: Double-wishbone front, multi-link rear
- Brakes: Ventilated discs, front and rear.
- Steering: Electro-hydraulic steering
- Towing capacity: 2500kg braked, 750kg unbraked
Taking the same 2.1 litre turbodiesel four as the C250d, the GLC 250d makes a healthy 150kW of power and 500Nm of torque to play with.
The main difference is all that power and torque is sent to all four wheels via Benz’s 4Matic all-wheel-drive system and a nine-speed automatic, while the C-Class diesel is strictly rear-driven and uses a 7-speed auto.
The extra ratios help offset the GLC 250’s 250kg of extra fat, but, at 7.6 seconds for the 100km/h dash, it’s still a full second slower than its C-Class counterpart - and it feels it.
But that matters little in the urban jungle, and around town the GLC 250 is a very appealing drive, although typically firm underfoot.
Peak torque is accessible from low in the rev range, and there is little need to work the engine hard to get where you need to go. Its 500Nm of torque is a hell of a lot, and although the GLC 250 tips the scales at 1845kg empty, it’s got the grunt to counter that.
You won't find it wanting if needing a quick burst of speed to plug a hole in fast-moving traffic or when overtaking.
Engine refinement isn’t the best in its segment (look to BMW or Audi for quieter, smoother diesels), but the Benz’s motor is far from a clattery oil-burner. There’s a muffled hum from up front, but that’s it.
It’s the same basic engine that’s used by the lower-output GLC 220d, but with two-stage turbocharging. Surprisingly, having 25kW more power and 100Nm more torque only costs the GLC 250d a mere 0.1 l/100km in claimed average fuel consumption.
Mercedes reckons the 250d drinks (well, sips) 5.7 l/100km on the combined cycle, and our on-test average of 6.9 l/100km is appreciably close to that claim. Our week of driving was mostly urban, typically the most taxing environment as far as fuel economy is concerned.
The nine-speed gearbox can occasionally feel a bit spoiled for choice when it comes to gear selection, and will occasionally hunt on steeper ascents. That said, it’s more than happy with regular around-town driving.
It might seem a bit busy as it shuffles up and down the gears to optimise economy and is occasionally caught off-guard by sudden demands for power, but if you crave more response there’s always the Sport drive mode at your disposal.
Shift quality is great too - Mercedes knows how to make a silky-smooth auto.
You should rarely need it though. With so much torque at its disposal, the GLC 250d is happier to lug around in high gears and low rpm than its petrol-powered counterpart the GLC 250.
Standard are 20-inch alloys on the GLC 250 and GLC 250d, and the ride can be quite sharp over bridge-joins and the like. It’s more settled over longer bumps, but a lumpy highway will highlight the GLC’s generally firm suspension tune.
If you crave comfort though, Mercedes can equip your GLC 250d with 18 or 19-inch alloy wheels and taller-sidewalled tyres at no extra cost. As we found at launch, having a little extra tyre compliance takes some of the bite out of the GLC’s ride.
The upshot of that taut suspension is that the GLC 250d feels properly athletic for a midsize SUV.
It delivers a more involving drive than an Audi Q5 and is a close match to the BMW X3 for overall handling nous. It is also capable should you point it at a winding country road.
Yes, we know that driving dynamics aren’t a high priority in this segment (Benz would probably do better to chase ride comfort over handling), but a certain level of agility and grip is always important to have from a safety point of view. The GLC 250d provides exactly that.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - this model scored an adult occupant safety rating of 95 percent, a child occupant safety rating of 89 percent and a pedestrian safety rating of 82 percent by ANCAP.
Safety features: Stability control, traction control, ABS, brake assist, autonomous emergency braking parking sensors, a reversing camera and nine airbags (dual front, front and rear side, full-length curtain and driver’s knee) are standard on all GLC models.
For the GLC 250d, the Driver Assist package is standard and brings active radar cruise control, lane-keep assist, blind spot monitoring, collision detection and rear cross traffic alert.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The GLC takes on the established BMW X3 and Audi Q5, while the Lexus NX and Range Rover Evoque offer a slightly smaller alternative. Spec-for-spec, the Mercedes comes out slightly ahead of larger-engined variants of the X3 and Q5 on price.
But if you’re after a car-based luxury crossover that’s comparable in size and performance to the GLC 250d, but is not of German origin, maybe hang out for Jaguar’s F-Pace.
Alternatively, similar money will get you into the top grade of Land Rover’s impressive Discovery Sport.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The GLC 250d really does blur the line between car and SUV. If anything, it’s not much more than a slightly taller C-Class wagon wearing North Face gear.
But here’s the thing: lined up against the C 250d sedan that it shares so much of its mechanical package with, the GLC 250d is more versatile in its packaging, is just as well-equipped, boasts all-weather grip yet costs slightly less.
The C 250d retails for $70,400, the GLC 250d goes for $69,900. It’s almost as if Mercedes is TRYING to undermine the C-Class’s dominance.
In that respect, it’s a hell of a deal. Why go for the C-Class when spending $500 less gets you more car? The question is no longer “can we afford the extra cash to get a similar-sized SUV?”, it’s now “which flavour do we want - sedan or off-road wagon?”.