First Drive: 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLC Coupe

CALGARY – Let’s get this out of the way right now, I am a traditionalist. A coupe has two, count ‘em, two doors. But I’m shouting into the wind against the onslaught of automakers who have taken the name for four-doors with a hint of coupe styling. And so we have the all-new 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLC Coupe.

That nine-speed automatic. It’s simply a thing of beauty.

It follows in the tread-steps of the first company’s first sport-ute so dubbed, the GLE Coupe, a derivative of the larger GLE sport-utility. As its name suggests, the GLC Coupe joins the lineup alongside the GLC sport-ute. (For those unfamiliar with the terminology, Mercedes-Benz has renamed the size progression of its SUVs in line with that of its cars, including C, E, and S, and since there’s no K-Class sedan, the GLK became the GLC.)

The GLC currently comes in two variants. The GLC 300 uses a turbocharged 2.0L four-cylinder making 241 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque, starting at $49,990, while the Mercedes-AMG GLC 43 contains a 3.0L twin-turbo V6 making 362 horsepower and 384 lb-ft of torque, starting at $63,200. Both come with a nine-speed automatic, designed and built in-house. Both also use 4Matic all-wheel drive, which sends power to all wheels all the time, and with a permanent torque split of 45:55 in the 300, and 31:69 in the 43. There’s a quicker steering ratio in both over the GLC SUV to further cement the sportier nature.

And if neither of these models are enough for you, start saving your pennies: coming later this year is the 2018 Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S, with a 4.0-L bi-turbo V8 cranking out 503 ponies and 516 lb-ft of torque.

Size-wise, the GLC Coupe is just slightly longer and not as tall at its GLC SUV sibling. The Coupe’s trunk takes a hit from that sloping roofline, which shaves 50 litres away from the 550-litre capacity of the SUV. You’ll have to pack a little lighter, but smaller items can fit into the divided compartments tucked below the cargo floor, including a pop-up plastic crate. Mercedes says legroom, shoulder room, and entrance height are the same as on the SUV, but I’m 5-foot-4 and my noggin was just below the headliner when I sat in the rear seat.

I started my drive in the AMG 43, bemoaning the fact that the Calgary area doesn’t have much in the way of switchback roads. The bi-turbo V6 is a great unit, but what really impresses is that nine-speed automatic. It’s simply a thing of beauty. It clips the cogs at lightning speed, whether on its own or persuaded through the wheel-mounted paddle shifters, keeping this torquey engine perfectly centred in its powerband and blipping on downshifts. You can make quick paddle shifts and then let the unit go back into Drive once you’re done, but if you select the manual mode button on the console, it gives you full control. The engine will throttle back if you take it up into redline, but the transmission won’t override the gear you chose.

I’ve always said that, despite being the least-expensive of the AMG models, the C-Class makes the finest transition of all models to that marque. It simply feels the best in terms of power-to-weight, balance, and overall performance, and the GLC Coupe – which basically feels like a taller C-Class sedan – is more of the same. The self-levelling air suspension also continuously adjusts the damping at each corner, and can be adjusted to comfort or sport suspension. The comfort level is firm but not uncomfortable, while the sport setting provides a confident, hunkered-down feel and cuts down on body roll. A toggle controls the Dynamic Select feature, which adjusts the engine, transmission and steering response to comfort, eco, sport and sport-plus, along with an individualized mode that lets you combine various attributes. The sportier settings also open up the exhaust, providing a throatier sound that’s all air flow, with no artificial growls pumped in through the stereo speakers.

In contrast, the 300 is more mild-mannered, but is still no slouch. Acceleration is swift and linear with virtually no turbo lag, while the transmission shifts a bit slower than in the AMG for smoother, quieter performance. The steering is responsive, and its weight increases in the sport setting, but there’s little in the way of feedback. I found the brakes a bit spongy, but that might have been because I’d just driven the AMG’s bigger-disc stoppers. A portion of the drive took me on a gravel road that had been turned into sticky mud by a late-season snowfall, and while the stock all-seasons were woefully unprepared for slippery guck, the all-wheel and lots of throttle got me through. Stick some season-appropriate tires on this puppy and it’ll easily handle the worst of winter.

Inside, the GLC Coupe is typically C-Class, with a tall centre console that splits the cabin into cockpit-style seating and provides lots of handy small-item storage. Hard buttons handle the climate control functions, along with some that take you quickly to the navigation and stereo displays on the tablet-style infotainment screen. I’d still prefer a touchscreen to Mercedes’ dial-and-touchpad system, which I find clunky, though. The seats are firm but very supportive and comfortable, clad in very realistic-feeling faux leather that can be optioned to the real thing.

In addition to stealing cargo space, the sloping roofline also cuts dramatically into visibility, and the rear window becomes a slit in the rearview mirror. A back-up camera is standard and pops out of the rear star logo to keep it clean. There’s no rear wiper; the company says that the rear spoiler lip alters wind flow and prevents water from landing on the glass.

The GLC Coupe is not destined to be a huge chunk of the lineup, expected to make up less than 20 per cent of GLC sales overall. But BMW fired the first shot with its X6 and X4, and Mercedes felt the need to respond, as well as to competitors like Jaguar’s F-Pace and Porsche’s Macan. Whether it’s a necessary addition is up to buyers, but for those willing to sacrifice a bit of practicality to get that lower-slung look – and a price difference of as much as $4,800 over the GLC SUV – it’s a satisfying performer overall.

In defiance of definition. 4/27/2017 4:48:33 PM