Road Test: Mercedes GLC is top contender in suburban battleground
At last, a Mercedes-Benz mid-range crossover that’s a true rival for Audi and BMW
Date Reviewed: February 23, 2016
Next time you mess up in work, take succour in the tale of the Mercedes GLK. In the midst of a multi-billion euro product offensive, the premium brand unveiled its new compact SUV, even spending big to make it a prominent feature in the then box office hit Sex and the City.
What they didn’t do, however, was to engineer the GLK to be built in right-hand drive. That meant no sales in Ireland, Britain, Australia, South Africa, Japan and several other significant Asian markets. Imagine being the GLK engineer presenting to the board when this faux pas was spotted.
It can be hard to keep up with the galaxy of new models carrying the three-pointed star. In the last five years there has been a veritable big bang in the Mercedes range, particularly at the more affordable end of the market, all in an effort to keep up with the sales race underway between arch-rivals BMW and Audi.
Mercedes now offers an alphabet soup of models and derivatives. I defy the average E-Class owner to namecheck the entire Mercedes-Benz range these days.
The end result has also created a model portfolio that has been hit and miss. The CLA coupe is a cracker, the B-Class is a metal box. The A-Class is a well-dressed – if expensive – supermini while the GLA is frankly a bit of a joke.
The cynic in me suspects the model assault has pushed engineering teams to the pin of their collar at Mercedes and the professorial innovators who work on the cutting edge of automotive technology and set new benchmarks with models such as the S-Class, don’t approach the challenge of creating an affordable family hatchback powered by a small diesel with the same ardour.
All of which left me relatively stoic about the arrival of the GLC, the mid-range crossover in Mercedes’s expanded G-Class line-up, finally in right-hand drive. How wrong I was.
The GLC is built on the same platform as the admirable new C-Class, but it has so much more to offer, with a greater use of aluminium offering significant weight savings and keeping it in line with rivals.
The car sits higher than many of those rivals and boasts the looks of a proper SUV, but it certainly isn’t to the detriment of its handling. The GLC comes with four-wheel drive as standard, another signal that this Mercedes isn’t afraid of the rough. Power is split 45 per cent front and 55 per cent rear.
Ground clearance is impressive, all the more so if you opt for an off-road pack that gives you an extra 20mm and an underbody guard. You can also opt for height-adjustable air suspension.
In terms of handling, the car will still tend towards understeer when pushed, even with the rear-wheel bias, while the steering is not as good or informative as the benchmark system in the BMW X3.
Power supply comes from a 2.1-litre four-cylinder diesel, offered with 170bhp 220d in our test car, or 200bhp in the 250d version. Standard fit on the GLC is a smooth nine-speed automatic transmission. There is also two variants of the firm’s four-cylinder 2-litre petrol on offer, but few Irish buyers will bite on that hook.
For the 220d version tested, an official time of 8.3 seconds from standing start to 100km/h seems a bit optimistic but it felt a lot more nimble than its SUV looks suggest. A significant contributor to this sense of pace is the 400Nm of torque that’s on tap, well orchestrated by that nine-speed gearbox. At all times the car feels poised and never flustered.
In other models this four-cylinder diesel is the weak link, a rattling bugbear of mine that doesn’t offer the refinement I expect from a car carrying the three-pointed star. Yet the engineers have worked wonders with the GLC.
The cabin refinement and low levels of noise and vibration set this car apart. Mercedes has reportedly used various features including spray-on insulation and an acoustic windscreen: the end result is a quiet, premium cabin with none of the diesel rattle and rumble that tarnishes the premium sensibility in the rest of its model range.
The interior is a direct carry over from the C-Class and that’s a good point because while it’s not quite as good as Audi, it’s one of the best from Mercedes in years.
Back seat legroom isn’t great compared to others but it’s ample enough for two adults in the back, while the boot will easily swallow everything a family will throw at it. You get up to 1,600 litres of space here, as big as any of its rivals and more than many estate cars.
Standard features include 17-inch alloys, but the optional 19-inch versions that come on the AMG version for €1,131 extra – or the Night Pack for €943 more – really set off the car’s styling.
Inside the standard 5.5-inch control screen that floats on top of the dash is within touching distance, which leaves us wondering why Mercedes doesn’t make it touchscreen. For now you must use the dial control, which still isn’t quite a match for BMW’s iDrive.
The GLC is a really pleasant surprise. It needed to be: it’s got some really tough competition in the form of the Audi Q5, BMW X3, Land Rover Discovery Sport, Range Rover Evoque and Volvo XC60. And heading our way in the coming months is the new Jaguar F-Pace.
Priced at €50,280 – or €53,700 in AMG trim as tested – the GLC is in line with its rivals, although there are two-wheel drive variants that start below €50,000.
This is heartland well-heeled motoring and a key battleground for the premium brands. Forget about the premium saloons such as the A4 and 3-Series: this is where the real action is these days in the leafy suburbs. Suddenly Mercedes is front and centre in the race. For refinement and off- road capabilities I reckon the GLC is certainly in the top three, overtaking its German rivals.
The lowdown: Mercedes-Benz GLC 220d 4Matic
Engine: 2,143cc four-cylinder diesel putting out 170bhp and 400Nm of torque, combined with a nine-speed automatic transmission and four-wheel drive system
0-100km/h: 8.3 seconds
L/100km (mpg): 5.5 (51.4)
CO2 emissions (motor tax): 129 g/km (€270)
Price: €50,280 (€53,700 as tested in AMG trim)