Mercedes-Benz GLC worth the wait
MERCEDES HAS GOT IT RIGHT WITH THIS PREMIUM SUV-WAGON CROSSOVER
Full marks to Mercedes-Benz for pioneering the premium-crossover segment: the ML of 1997 was arguably the first such model on the market and proved the catalyst for an entire family of models.
But points off for failing to follow through in some crucial areas. In 2008, when it came to creating a medium-sized model called GLK to join the large ML and even larger GL in its SUV range, Mercedes-Benz decided to stick to its core left-hand-drive markets and never thought about engineering its newcomer for right-hand drive.
The company now admits it made a mistake there, because roughly 30 seconds after the GLK was launched there was a worldwide SUV boom and Mercedes found itself sans a rival for the Audi Q5 and BMW X3 in certain countries. Like ours.
Worse, some packaging idiosyncrasies meant that the GLK couldn’t be reverse-engineered to put the wheel on the other side. That must have been a see-me-after-class moment at Stuttgart R&D.
Mercedes-Benz isn’t making the same mistake with its GLK replacement, the GLC. There’s a new name and whole new attitude — especially in New Zealand, where a medium-sized SUV could be just the thing to help the Three-Pointed Star achieve its ambition of being the number one premium brand in the country next year.
Despite all of the excitement about the right-hook GLC, our first drive experience of the car still happened on the left side of the cabin. The international media launch for the new model was based in Basel, a city precisely on the border between Switzerland, France and Germany.
Where else could you drive across three countries in 30 minutes with very little effort? It’s the kind of pseudo-adventuring these vehicles are made for.
The new naming system for Mercedes SUVs reflects both the overall importance of the genre and an almost complete renewal of the marque’s crossover models. All the brand’s SUVs now wear the GL prefix, a reference to the original and legendary G-wagen (gelandewagen or “cross country vehicle”). Following that, the last letter of the badge tells you which passenger model it’s aligned with. So the GLA is the SUV version of the A-class and the GLE (formerly ML) is equivalent to an E-class. The replacement for the GL seven-seater (not to be confused with the hard-core G-wagen) will of course be the GLS.
So the new GLC is the SUV version of the C-class and aligns with that model in engine specification and equipment.
There’s no direct C-class equivalent for the entry-level GLC 220d, with a 2.1-litre diesel making 125kW/400Nm. But the 250d version, with 150kW/500Nm, matches the C 250d. Same goes for the GLC 250 petrol, its 155kW/350Nm matching the C 250.
But unlike the C-class, all GLC models have a new nine-speed automatic transmission and 4Matic four-wheel drive. Mercedes-Benz says it’s unlikely there will be a rear-drive GLC in the short term.
Even the entry-level model gets 19-inch wheels, pushbutton start, power tailgate, intelligent LED lights, satellite navigation, power-operated seats and a 360-degree camera. The GLC 250 models add 20-inch alloys, keyless entry, leather upholstery, privacy glass and Driver Assistance Package Plus, which includes Mercedes-Benz’s brilliant adaptive cruise control and steering assistance technology.
Prices were not available at the time of writing, but an educated guess puts the GLC around $2000 above the C-class estate. That would make the GLC 250 $91,900 and the 250d $93,400.
It’s harder to place the entry GLC 220d, but with the C 200d estate at $76,400 the new SUV should sit in the $80k bracket.
The 220d is surprisingly sprightly given its price-leading status: 400Nm is still a generous dollop of torque for a mid-size SUV and the nine-speed gearbox shifts adeptly. The diesel can be gruff once the revolutions rise, but with such a slick transmission there’s no need to work it beyond peak torque at 2800rpm.
Naturally, the 250d has a noticeably more muscular mid-range and the 250 petrol gives you a lot more engine speed to play with. Whether that’s necessary in this car is a moot point: it’s composed on the road but chassis-wise it’s no C-class, with higher propensity to understeer at speed and more body roll.
The final word on the GLC’s handling will have to wait until a drive closer to home, as every launch car was fitted with the optional Air Body Control suspension, adding even more adjustability over the standard (yet still adaptive) Agility Control.
Mercedes-Benz did use Air Body Control to showcase the GLC’s considerable off-road ability when equipped with the optional Off-Road Engineering package. Few are likely to take their GLCs off the beaten track: but it helps with crossover credibility to know you can.
What will really sell this car is the styling, inside and out. The cabin is sheer class, picking up its major styling cues from the C-class and therefore offering an interior ambience a lot like the super-luxury S-class. The dashboard is dominated by Mercedes-Benz’s signature tablet-like information screen, while customers can choose from a variety of trim materials. There’s nothing in the segment with anything near the opulent feel of the GLC.
Those three GLC models will be launched here in December, but there are more to come.
Mercedes-Benz is up to its old tricks with the GLC 350e plug-in hybrid, which is only available in left-hand drive at this stage. The wisdom of that decision remains to be seen: it will never be a big seller, but it does give the GLC range a green hero model.
There will, however, be some true high-performance versions heading our way in 2016. The GLC 450 AMG Sport will employ a 3.0-litre twin turbo six, while the full-house Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 will get the new 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 from the AMG GT coupe and C 63 sedan/estate — the first time that this engine will be used with all-wheel drive.
There’s also a GLC coupe on the way to rival BMW’s X4.