Mercedes-Benz changed the luxury-SUV market in 1998 with the M-Class. Never before had the automotive world seen a vehicle with such ruggedness, civility, and performance wrapped in Mercedes-Benz packaging.
But only recently did the German brand go all in on SUVs. Mercedes-Benz now offers six SUVs/crossovers for sale in the US, with a seventh model arriving early next year. At the bottom of the range is the entry-level GLA crossover; the venerable G-Wagon is perched atop the lineup.
The vehicle leading Mercedes’ SUV revolution is its new compact GLC crossover. The GLC debuted late last year as the replacement for the boxy GLK crossover (and, yes, we know the whole “GL” nomenclature is confusing — we actually have a chart stuck to the wall to make sense of it). Although the GLK was an appealing vehicle, it could never quite successfully go toe-to-toe with rivals Audi and BMW.
Things have changed with the arrival of the GLC. In 2015, the Mercedes GLK and early-production GLC models accounted for 5.7% of the US market for compact luxury SUVs. So far this year, that number is way up, to 9.1%. Through April, the GLC has outsold both the Audi Q5 and the BMW X3 by a significant margin.
Mercedes-Benz recently dropped off this 2016 CLC300 4Matic test car clad in a groovy matte “Magno Dakota Brown” paint job for Business Insider to drive (matte-finish cars are something of a trend now). Though the 2016 GLC300 4Matic starts at $40,950, our options-laden test car left the showroom with an as-tested price of $64,530.
With the arrival of the GLC, Mercedes has a new weapon to take on the segment-leading Audi Q5 and BMW's X3, as well as Porsche's high-performance Macan.
The GLK's Tonka-truck looks have been replaced by an elegant design based directly on the Mercedes C-Class.
You can even detect hints of the flagship S-Class sedan in the GLC's front grille and headlight designs.
Overall, the GLC is longer, wider, and lower than the GLK it replaces. As a result, it has more wagon-like proportions.
Inside, the GLC's interior is almost a carbon copy of the one found in the C-Class sedan. This is a major upgrade over the GLK, which drew some complaints for its less-than-premium design and quality of materials.
Although the Q5's interior is still one of the best in the business for comfort and ergonomics, it's beginning to feel dated. Even though the Audi Q5 has been around since 2009, its interior design debuted on an Audi A6 in 2003.
The GLC's interior feels thoroughly modern. The dash is covered in a classy Linden wood trim, and the seats are upholstered in soft, stitched nappa leather.
The GLC's steering wheel is shared with the C-Class. It's well-weighted, and controls are clearly labelled.
And here lies our first real issue with the GLC. It's running Mercedes' lacklustre infotainment system. The menu layouts look interesting, but they aren't intuitively organised. Mercedes organizes its infotainment system into bands located at the bottom, the middle of, and at the top edge of the screen. Unfortunately, the bands located at the top and bottom are usually hidden until the cursor approaches the area. The system was simply hard to use.
The infotainment issues are compounded by Mercedes' trackpad-and-rotary-dial-combo controller. Neither is all that accurate.
Worse, the prominently placed trackpad can result in the driver inadvertently activating the infotainment system.
Our GLC test car came equipped with a massive panoramic roof that flooded the interior with sunlight. It's a $1,480 option.
The rear seats are, for the most part, capacious and comfortable. Although taller passengers will probably struggle to find legroom.
There's a solid 20 cubic feet of cargo space under the hatch, with the rear seats up. Fold the seats down and that number goes to 56.5 cu.ft. Both figures are on par with the Audi Q5.
Under the hood, is 2.0-litre, 241-horsepower, inline-four-cylinder engine that's paired with a 9-speed automatic transmission.
According to Mercedes, the GLC300 4Matic can sprint to 60 mph from a standstill in 6.4 seconds. Car and Driver magazine managed an even quicker 5.9-second time in its testing. That's not too shabby for a 4,000-pound crossover.
Our only complaint with the driving experience involves the GLC's 9-speed automatic. We've driven several 9-speed units from various manufacturers, and they are generally abysmal. Mercedes hasn't quite perfected it either, but it's gotten considerably closer than anyone else. In the GLC, the transmission feels rough when accelerating from a standstill and would often abruptly kick into gear, sending a jolt through the car. We encountered this several times while pulling out parking spaces. But at speed and under hard acceleration, the 9-speed delivers power smoothly and effectively and without any significant lag.
The GLC comes standard with rear-wheel drive. Our test car was equipped with Mercedes' optional 4Matic all-wheel-drive system. 4Matic proved to be a worthwhile option, especially in poor driving conditions on the roads of New York and New Jersey.
To drive, the GLC300 was nimble and engaging, but you won't be mistaking this for a German sports sedan. But there's a hotrod AMG version on the way that could give you a performance kick to go along with GLC's luxurious utility.
Our GLC test car even came with LED headlamps that can turn to illuminate any upcoming corners in the road.
On the highway the GLC cruises beautifully. It's as quiet and elegant as one would expect from a car carrying the three-pointed star.
The GLC's lower and wider stance, along with all-wheel-drive traction, makes this crossover remarkably sure-footed in twists and turns.
With the new GLC, Mercedes has, more or less, a winner on its hands. It's stylish, comfortable, and offers more performance that one would expect from a four-cylinder crossover. Mercedes has a few kinks to iron out. But after dominating for the better part of a decade, the Audi Q5 and BMW X3 had better watch their backs!
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