First Drive

FIRST DRIVE: Canadian-spec 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLC 300 4MATIC

Clean design, improved dynamics highlight all-new GLC compact luxury SUV

2016 Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class

ATLANTA, GA – Mercedes-Benz has given its popular compact luxury SUV more than a name change for 2016.  The German automaker is replacing its GLK, the second-best selling model in its lineup (behind only the C-Class) with the all-new GLC. The C in that new nomenclature equates it in Mercedes' model hierarchy to the C-Class sedan.

In Canada, there’s just a single model offered, the all-wheel-drive GLC 300 4MATIC, although there are numerous trim and technology packages that can rapidly escalate the bottom line well beyond the base price of $44,950 if the buyer opts to tick off add-ons.

Regardless of the trimmings, this vehicle is a significant leap forward from its predecessor – larger, more solid and robust, with better ride and handling characteristics.

Softer, cleaner look

Visually, one immediately notices a rounder, more aerodynamic shape than the GLK, with softer, cleaner lines replacing the boxy design of that model. In fact, this sleeker shape has yielded a significant improvement in its drag co-efficient, now rated at 0.31, which is nudging into sedan territory.

Not only does the new design look better, that slippery shape also reduces fuel consumption. (Official NR Can and U.S.-based EPA ratings are not available yet, due in part to more scrutiny as a result of the VW emissions-rigging scandal. In fact, this delay in certification has forced Mercedes-Benz to postpone the launch of the GLC until December.)

In addition to its softer lines, the GLC is larger than the GLK. Based on a slightly stretched version of the C-Class platform, its overall length has been increased 131 millimetres and its wheelbase is 118 mm longer, yet short overhangs front and rear add a sporty look. The GLC is also 50 mm wider and 9.0 mm taller.

In fact, the GLC’s larger dimensions are nearly identical to its primary competitors in the segment – the Audi Q5, BMW X3 and Lexus NX.

More interior room

That increased size results in more interior space, both for people and their stuff.

There’s ample legroom front and rear, including an increase of 57 mm for back-seat occupants; more shoulder, elbow and hip room, plus headroom aplenty. Those rear-seat occupants will especially appreciate the increased foot space ( 34 mm) and wider opening doors, making access and exit easier.

There’s also more useable cargo space – the flat cargo area floor is now 40 mm longer and 59 mm wider, while the liftgate opening has increased 140 mm. Overall cargo capacity is now from 550 to 1,600 litres, depending on whether the 40/20/40-split rear seatback is up or down.

Premium materials are used throughout the roomy cabin, with standard ARTICO leather upholstery and contrasting stitching covering the seats and upper instrument panel. A choice of aluminum or several wood trims accent the interior decor. And the three-spoke steering wheel is wrapped in Nappa leather.

The eight-way, power-adjustable front seats, with a three-level heating function as standard equipment, include power lumbar support for the driver’s-seat – and they are very comfortable.

The base GLC comes with automatic climate control, as well as a host of safety features, including blind spot, collision prevention and attention assists plus seven airbags.

The standard audio system delivers 100 watts of sound through five speakers, including a FrontBass speaker in the front passenger footwell that uses the vehicle’s frame as a resonating chamber.  If you’re a true audiophile and are willing to spend an extra $1,000, you can upgrade to a superb 590-watt Burmester surround-sound system with 13 speakers.

For those who like to let the sunshine in, a large-area panoramic glass roof is available.

Just one engine – for now

The only engine available at launch is the M274 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder with direct injection and an air-to-water intercooler. It generates 241 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 273 lb-ft of torque, peaking at just 1,300 revs.

It will propel the 1,375-kilogram GLC to 100 km/h in 7.3 seconds, although I found during our daylong test drive that it felt somewhat less perky than the current GLK V-6, especially when making a passing or merging move on a multi-lane highway, at least until the turbo spooled up.

As mentioned previously, fuel consumption ratings are still pending, but one can expect the efficiency of the 2.0-litre four to be better than for the outgoing GLK V-6 4MATIC, which was rated 12.6 L/100 km city, 9.6 highway and 11.2 combined.

With the current GLK, about 80% of buyers opt for the diesel engine, so it’s important the new GLC offers that powertrain as well – and it will, just not now.

Although the current issues with Volkswagen diesels has created anxiety among consumers considering an oil burner, Mercedes-Benz says it decided early on that a diesel option wouldn’t be offered until the GLC had been in the marketplace for a year.

So expect a 2.1-litre, four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine to be available in the 2017 model. A plug-in hybrid is also in the works.

Mixed review for auto start/stop

The current four-cylinder gasoline engine is paired with a 9G TRONIC automatic transmission with a hydrodynamic torque converter – a global first in the luxury segment. This setup’s high efficiency helps reduce fuel consumption.

To further improve fuel efficiency, the transmission also has an ECO start/stop system that shuts the engine off when the vehicle is stopped, at a stop light, for example, then re-fires when the brake is released and the gas pedal activated.

Unfortunately, while this system reduces fuel consumption, its restarts spoil an otherwise smooth-running powertrain. The restart function is clunky, in fact jarring at times. I thought (hoped) this lone flaw was an anomaly with my particular test vehicle, but found the same issue after switching to another GLC.

This complaint aside, the transmission – in fact, the total powertrain – functioned smoothly and was impressively quiet.

Choices, choices

 Engineers managed to reduce the mass of the GLC by about 81 kilograms, compared to its predecessor, thanks to the use of aluminum and high-strength steel in the unibody, aluminum suspension bits as well as aluminum front fenders and hood.

The result is a vehicle that feels more solid than the GLK, while delivering a ride level that’s much improved. However, if you prefer dynamics that are a bit firmer, the suspension can be tweaked using the GLC’s Dynamic Select system.

Activated by a switch on the centre console, you can choose from five settings. The default mode is Comfort, which delivers as the label suggests – a smooth, comfortable ride with decent steering and throttle response. The Eco mode, tunes the throttle and transmission response down a notch to enhance fuel efficiency.

Flip to the Sport mode and almost immediately you can feel a noticeable change in the ride and handling. The steering is more sporty, the throttle response is quicker and the transmission hangs on to a gear longer before shifting. Pick Sport and everything gets even more aggressive. A fifth mode – Individual – enables the driver to customize the settings to his/her personal preferences.

The GLC can also be fitted with an available air suspension system that can alter the ride height up to 40 mm. The Air Body Control system can almost instantly alter air pressure and damper settings to better manage body roll without impacting overall ride comfort. The system is also handy for lowering the vehicle, making it easier to access the cabin or load items into the cargo area.

The bottom line

Overall, the new GLC looks better inside and out, has more room and delivers improved ride and handling, compared to the outgoing model – factors that should ensure it continues as the top-selling utility vehicle in the Mercedes-Benz lineup.

SPECIFICATIONS:

Model: 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLC 300 4MATIC

Price: $44,950 base

Engine: 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder, DOHC, 241 horsepower @ 5,500 rpm, 273 lb-ft torque @ 1,300 rpm

Transmission: Nine-speed 9G TRONIC automatic with hydrodynamic torque converter and ECO start/stop function

Length: 4,656 mm

Width: 1,890 mm (excluding mirrors)

Wheelbase: 2,873 mm

Height: 1,644 mm

Towing capacity: 1,588 kg

Fuel Consumption: TBA (Premium unleaded)

Competitors: Audi Q5, BMW X3, Lexus NX, Porsche Macan, Volvo XC60

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