First Drive: 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLC 300

Alsace, France - As a replacement for the GLK mid-size SUV, the 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLC has some big shoes to fill. That’s if you equate hoof size with sales success. Worldwide, Mercedes has moved over 650,000 GLKs since 2008, and it is the automaker’s best-selling SUV. In Canada, the GLK is Mercedes second most popular model (the majority being diesel), behind the C-Class sedan.

Yes, it’s an important vehicle, and one they don’t want to cock up.

But before we delve into this newcomer, it’s time for some housekeeping: New Mercedes-Benz SUV Nomenclature 101. Pay attention and no talking in the back row.

From now on, all Mercedes SUVs start with the letter G, coming down from the granddaddy of them all, the ancient, cubist, indestructible G Wagon. Any SUV below that is a three letter affair commencing with GL, with third letter relating to the corresponding class of Mercedes-Benz sedan. Thus, the upcoming new full-size SUV (né GL) will be the GLS. Below that, the Mercedes-Benz GLE (formerly ML). The entry-level GLA crossover is related to the CLA sedan. Makes sense?

Now class, who can tell me what this reimagined mid-sizer is called? Clue: it lines up with the C-Class sedan.

Now class, who can tell me what this reimagined mid-sizer is called? Clue: it lines up with the C-Class sedan.

You in the back row wearing the beer helmet. Yes, Jacob… and stop bothering Johnny.

No, “bugger off” is not the right answer. Johnny? Thank you. It’s the GLC.

And back to the task at hand.

In a nutshell, Mercedes-Benz has not messed this one up. As per the preordained script, this new generation SUV/crossover trumps the outgoing one by being a bit bigger, roomier, lighter, and more refined. It also comes with more standard kit, has a nicer interior, burns less fuel and is available with Benz’s latest safety and driver’s aid technologies.

The only possible point of contention from fans of the outgoing model could be the GLC’s appearance – it’s a tad nondescript when compared to the chunky GLK that stood out from the crowd, loud and proud.

That said, the 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLC is clean, handsome and cuts through the air with a class-leading 0.31 drag coefficient. The fact that it looks a bit like the Porsche Macan from the back is not such a bad thing.

From the front there’s no mistaking the GLC as anything but a Benz – the tri-star emblem on the grill is the size of a salad plate. The standard “Chrome Package” that some of these testers flaunted adds a touch of bling in the form of shiny front and rear scuff plates, chrome belt and shoulder accents, anodized aluminum grill inserts and roof rails, and twin stainless steel exhaust tips. Nineteen-inch alloys are standard with available 20-inch AMG wheels.

Unlike the GLK that had a 3.5L V6 as its only gas engine, the GLC will have four-cylinder power right across the board, be it gasoline, diesel or plug-in gas/electric hybrid.

More on autoTRADER: Preview: 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class

First to arrive in Canada will be the GLC 300 4Matic powered by Benz’s familiar 2.0L turbo four that makes 241 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque. An all-new nine-speed 9G-Tronic sends power to all four corners. It also brags standard adaptive damping that the GLK could not.

We will see this gasoline model in the fourth quarter of 2015. Diesel fans will have to wait until the third quarter of 2016 for the GLC 250d 4Matic.

A plug-in hybrid version, the 350e 4Matic, gets released in Europe late this year but it is at least two years away for us.

The bones of the GLC is a new body shell that, despite being larger, is 50 kg lighter due to the mix of aluminum and high-strength steels. Overall weight of the GLC is down about 80 kg. Length and width increase by 120 mm and 50 mm respectively. The wheelbase is up 188 mm.

Mercedes’ target with the GLC was to offer more interior space, and this is quite evident once within. It almost feels one size up in here when compared to the GLK. There’s more shoulder room, rear seat passengers get an extra 36 mm of knee room, and behind the seats there’s an additional 80L of luggage space.

It’s also a class up from the GLK when it comes to interior quality and detailing. Like its cousin, the fresh C-Class sedan, this SUV benefits from rich materials, fine metalwork and super tight tolerances. It also continues the current Merc design theme of large circular vents and a tablet style screen plunked on the top of the centre console.

The major gauges are now white-on-black and clearly backlit (thank you) and the resolution of tablet and central info screen is sharp.

An available option on the 2016 GLC will be Air Body Control – a new multi-chamber air suspension system that smooths the ride, firms up in Sport Mode and adjusts the vehicle’s ride height. What we won’t get in Canada is the impressive Off Road Engineering package with five selectable programs and the capacity to jack the ride height by 50 mm. On an off-road course, a GLC so equipped was scrambling up a 38 degree incline and traversing terrain that had it cocking its extremities like a house-bound terrier.

But in reality, who the heck is going to subject their pretty urban crossover to that kind of foolishness? Evidently, that’s what the Canuck marketing types were asking too.

There were no true Canadian-spec cars at this international media event. In fact, the Euro-spec 2.0L turbo fours deliver 30 less horsepower (211) than ours, so the closest gas model here was the GLC 250 4Matic.

Big Brother: 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE in Pictures

My first tester was loaded to the max with Air Body Control, Designo two-tone interior treatment, Burmester audio, head-up display and the full complement of available Mercedes’ tech and safety systems that includes the semi-autonomous Distronic Plus adaptive cruise with Steering Assist and Stop&Go Pilot. So yes, just about everything big-daddy S-Class has, you can get in the 2016 GLC. 

Despite being down 30 horses from what our 2.0L will deliver, the GLC 250 4Matic never felt wanting for power. It cruised with little effort on the motorway and pulled with conviction through the mountainous bits. The new nine-speed auto avoided the dreaded hunting and kept the four banger in its power band with little fuss. The only issue was the occasional jerky downshift when slowing – something you won’t get in the ubiquitous and excellent ZF eight-speed ‘box that BMW and Audi use.

Dynamic Select is standard issue - the toggle switching between Eco, Comfort, Sport and Sport+.

Most impressive was the Air Body Control that imbues this crossover with a true magic carpet ride. It glided over the road surface in true S-Class fashion. Switching to Sport firms up the steering and tightens reflexes, making the GLC a decently competent, if not outright inspirational handler. There’s more of that in the BMW X3 if that’s what you seek in a Euro crossover.

Nonetheless, the GLC feels every bit the Mercedes – solid, secure, comfortable and drama-free.

The next day we drove the Euro-spec 250d 4Matic with its 204-hp 2.1L turbo diesel four. A bit noisier and not as quick off the line as the gasoline powered GLC, it wins our hearts with bags of low end, effortless torque (368 lb-ft at 1,600 rpm) and outstanding fuel efficiency. After a morning of highway and mountain driving, the trip computer read 6.4 L/100. No final specs for the Canadian diesel engine yet, but it should be close to this one.

A brief spin in the 350e 4Matic plug-in hybrid proves it will be an accomplished salve for the eco conscious. EV range is up to 34 km, and with the same 2.0L gas engine as the 300, total system output is a heady 320 hp with 413 lb-ft of torque. Brake pedal feel is excellent – no jerky regenerative issues. Downsides? It weighs an additional 200 kg, you lose a bit of trunk space due to the battery pack (the load floor is a couple of inches higher) and of course, it will be pricey.

Ah, pricing of the 2016 GLC. With the Canadian release of GLC 300 4Matic several months away, M-B has no cost info yet. However, Mercedes didn’t get to be Canada’s top luxury vehicle purveyor by overpricing its cars, and one of the GLK’s biggest draws was its competitive entry point – currently $48,600 for the 2.1L diesel and $50,700 for the 3.5L V6. I expect this new model to come in close to the old. And after a few days behind the wheel, I also expect the 2016 GLC to continue the sales success of it progenitor.

Competition:
Audi Q5
BMW X3
Land Rover Discovery Sport
Lincoln MKX
Porsche Macan
Volvo XC60

Alsace, France - As a replacement for the GLK mid-size SUV, the 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLC has some big shoes to fill. 7/20/2015 10:30:34 AM