First Drive: 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLC 300 4MATIC Coupe

Turin, Italy – For model year 2016, the angular and distinctive Mercedes-Benz GLK was replaced by the rounder, smoother and more corporately styled GLC 300 SUV. Next up in the GLC line is the is the 2017 GLC 300 4MATIC Coupe, a sportier and more “performance-oriented” version designed to suit “modern individualists with an expressive lifestyle,” according to Mercedes-Benz. It's a type of vehicle that the company calls a Sport Utility Coupe.

Like the GLC 300 SUV, the Coupe is packed with convenience and comfort features, along with semi-autonomous technologies that hint at full autonomy likely to come.

Actually, a friend of mine who has purchased a succession of coupes, explains her affinity for them as simply that “coupes are more youthful, they're not so ordinary.” She's likely representative. The coupe shape is indeed a bit more daring, less common, more expressive.

For the four-door GLC 300 Coupe, these characteristics are complemented by a suspension with “more robust springing and less tendency to roll” compared with the SUV and sport-tuned steering with a faster ratio. Obviously the “fastback” body style also makes a statement (practicality is not top of the Coupe buyer's list), and the integrated spoiler at the rear suggests high performance potential. At the front, a diamond grille with single louvre appears less massive and is, I think, more appealing than the grille of the SUV.

Perhaps most significantly when it comes to appearance, the GLC 300 Coupe sees a 38 millimetre reduction in height and is 76 mm longer compared with the SUV version, and when equipped with Air Body Control (the optional air suspension), the vehicle will automatically drop a further 15 mm at speed. The self-levelling system, by the way, is fully adjustable for ride comfort and driving dynamics and can be raised by 15mm when driving on poor surfaces.

Under the hood you'll find the same 2.0-litre (1,991 cc, actually) direct-injected, 16-valve turbo dual-overhead camshaft engine (DOHC) used in the GLC 300 SUV. It makes 241 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 273 pound-feet of torque at 1,300–4,000 rpm. The engine is mated to a nine-speed “9G-TRONIC” automatic transmission and premium fuel is specified. It will be available in October 2016.

Diesel fans will be pleased with the availability in the second quarter of 2017 of the GLC 300d Coupe. The 16V turbo DOHC diesel engine displaces 2.1 litres (2,143 cc) generating 200 hp at 3,800 rpm and delivers a whopping 369 lb-ft torque at 1,600–1,800 rpm. It receives the same nine-speed box.

Another upcoming version, the Mercedes-AMG GLC 43 4MATIC Coupe, will be available in early 2017. While not a full AMG version, it will be equipped with a range of AMG performance upgrades including a V6 biturbo engine making 362 hp and 384 lb-ft torque.

The nine-speed gearbox common to all versions features an ECO Start/Stop function and a Direct Select control on the steering column that permits the driver to change the transmission mode between P, R, N and D while keeping both hands on the wheel. It's effectively a small, column-mounted transmission stalk, with a button at the end to engage “Park.” The transmission, according to Mercedes-Benz, now boasts “faster, smoother and more efficient gear changes,” and is quieter in operation compared with earlier versions.

The SUV: 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLC 300 4MATIC Test Drive

A standard-equipment Dynamic Select feature changes engine, transmission and steering characteristics to favour comfortable, sporty or efficient driving styles. The system can be individually configured if none of the Comfort, Eco, Sport, Sport+ profiles precisely suit the driver. Additionally, the Sport and Sport+ modes are more aggressively calibrated in the Coupe compared with the SUV.

Like the GLC 300 SUV, the Coupe is packed with convenience and comfort features, along with semi-autonomous technologies that hint at full autonomy likely to come. For instance, one of several available packages is Intelligent Drive, a component of which is Distronic Plus with Steer Assist.

While intelligent automatic cruise control is becoming more widely available (it will match your speed to follow the vehicle ahead), Distronic Plus with Steer Assist adds lane guidance using information from a stereo-3D camera and radar sensors fitted around the vehicle. Steer Assist keeps the vehicle in the middle of its lane even in corners (slight bends, to be precise), and slow, hands-off stop-and-go driving can be used in heavy traffic. At higher speeds, the driver’s hands can likewise be removed, although a warning is emitted and Steer Control is deactivated by the vehicle after 30 seconds of “hands-free” driving.

What does that mean in practice? Well, when it comes to driving at speed, not much right now. All current drivers have been taught to keep their hands on the wheel at all times, so removing them even for a short period seems unnatural and potentially reckless. Furthermore, many jurisdictions have laws that compel drivers to keep their hand on the steering wheel. Nonetheless, my experiment with Steer Assist at 110 km/h on a multi-lane highway demonstrated the effectiveness of the system and its potential to operate for much longer periods if conditions permit.

Intelligent Drive also features BAS Plus (Brake Assist Plus) with Cross-Traffic Assist that monitors vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians with a view to avoiding or minimizing collisions; and Pre-Safe Plus, which is an occupant protection system that uses radar sensors in the rear bumper to detect and react to an impending rear-end collision.

While being assisted and partially chauffeured by all the features of Intelligent Drive, there are other packages and standalone options that can be enjoyed. Premium Package MP1 adds Parktronic with Active Park Assist, online navigation, a 360-degree camera and ambient lighting. Premium Package Plus MP2 delivers satellite radio, garage door opener, heated rear seats, a 115-volt power outlet and hands-free (voice) activation. There's an Exterior and an Interior Sport Package (20-inch wheels, styling, cladding, performance exhaust, upholstery), and an AMG Night Package (special wheels and black accents).

Additional standard features include electro-mechanical steering with Crosswind Assist, power folding exterior mirrors, automatic climate control, power and heated front seats, keyless start, rear-view camera, sunroof, power liftgate, Attention Assist (alerts the driver if erratic driving behaviour is detected), Blind Spot Assist, rain-sensing windshield wipers and run-flat tires.

Standalone options include a high-definition, colour head-up display, Burmester premium audio, trailer hitch (tow rating is 1,588 kg, 3,500 lbs), acoustic glass, ski pass-through, heated steering wheel and Keyless Go.

All to say, the GLC 300 Coupe doesn't want for much on the options list other than possibly another engine (a plug-in hybrid is expected in a couple of years) and ventilated front seats (an unexpected omission). It is, though, somewhat surprising that items like a heated steering wheel, satellite radio, ski pass-through and acoustic glass are not standard equipment, but one is reminded that in luxury hotels, for instance, Wi-Fi, parking and bottles of water are often similarly standalone items. Such is the segment!

The first thing one notices upon opening the door of the GLC 300 Coupe is the excellence of interior fit and finish. Mercedes-Benz has gone to work on all the C-Class vehicles recently, and the GLC likewise benefits. There's a satisfying aura of quality within, and several luxurious interior trims are available.

The front seats are truly comfortable and supportive, with sufficient bolstering in the right places and enough adjustability to suit almost every occupant. Considerable legroom is available as they track way back (taller drivers will like this, although it should go without saying that this may significantly reduce  legroom in the rear. Headroom in the rear seat, by the way, exceeded expectations.

Cargo space behind the rear seat is also sufficient (no windshield wiper back there, just so you know...), although Coupe buyers will give up a significant 250 L cargo capacity compared with the SUV. But fold the rear seats and you can fit a bicycle in without removing its front wheel. Two bicycles? Maybe.

On the road, the GLC 300 Coupe is surprisingly agile and responsive. I think the 2.0 L engine gives plenty of power, and even though the European market gets a 3.5 L V6 (which we drove in Italy), I reckon the I-4 is more tossable and perfectly capable climbing steep grades compared with the heavier V6-powered version.

The diesel gives lots of torque and urge from standstill but seems a bit lazier in sporty driving. On the highway it's as silent as the gasoline engine and should give you a bump in fuel economy (figures not yet released). The tow rating is the same: 1,588 kg.

Operating the shifter is indeed a breeze. So funny that for years we've coveted a burly shifter between the seats (automatic or manual) and now here's Mercedes with this delicate little column-mounted stalk that minds its own business until required. Then it performs with such simple efficiency that you've got to admire the intent and execution. Touring around northern Italy's mountain roads, the transmission up- and down-shifted with precision and at just the right time. When accelerating in Sport+ mode it even emitted a suitably rorty exhaust note. Unfortunately, the fancy HUD display completely disappears when sunglasses are worn (at least, my Oakleys killed it, and my driving partner's glasses had the same effect).

So the GLC 300 Coupe can be more about accelerating, steering and braking than rowing up and down through the gears (you can press the M button if you want). The roads around Saint Vincent where we drove are unlike any I've experienced in Canada. Single-lane byways punctuated frequently with switchbacks that soar and dive as they traverse the local mountain ranges. Watch out for the cattle, and the occasional brave cyclist, but otherwise you're pretty much on your own up there. The GLC 300 Coupe, I must say, behaved rather like a go-kart in such terrain. Not bona fide sports car quick, I grant you, but let's just say it had honest aspirations.

Interestingly, there is a Sports Suspension option that augments the already “sport-tuned” suspension fitted to the vehicle. And there's the air suspension and a Dynamic mode that really stabilizes the GLC when the going gets twisty. So Mercedes wants you to know the GLC can handle, right? Point taken.

On the main highways, I should add, all is quiet and calm. Road noise and wind noise are virtually absent and the GLC can ride like it’s on carpet if you set the Dynamic Select to Comfort.

I think the GLC 300 Coupe (and SUV actually), is a right-sized vehicle for Canadian tastes. Big enough to be useful and comfortable, not so big that it's excessive or so small that it confines. The more I think about it, the more I like it. It's just not really a coupe, is it?

Pricing is not yet available for the 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLC 300 4MATIC Coupe, but a ballpark figure would be in the same area (likely somewhat higher) as the current GLC 300 4MATIC SUV which starts at $44,950 and can easily be optioned to $60,000. Stay tuned!

For model year 2016, the angular and distinctive Mercedes-Benz GLK was replaced by the rounder, smoother and more corporately styled GLC... 7/5/2016 10:30:10 AM