Stuttgart’s latest X3 and Q5 fighter signifies a paradigm shift from the GLK in terms of design, externally as well as in the interior.
The exterior, supposed to combine “sensual purity with dynamic sportiness to embody a new interpretation of modern luxury”, is a generic rendering of traditional Mercedes-Benz lines and definite GLE design cues.
The new Mercedes-Benz GLC, recently revealed to the world media, is the most important model in Stuttgart’s extensive SUV line-up.
Why? Well, consider this:
• Until now its predecessor, the GLK, has been the most popular model in the three-pointed star’s SUV portfolio with more than 650 000 units sold.
• Sales of Mercedes-Benz SUV’s have grown by 30% in the first half of 2015 compared to the same period in 2014.
• Unlike the recently introduced GLE and GLE Coupe (and the imminent GLS) the GLC is completely new from the ground up, not a facelift.
• Since the GLK was never available in right-hand drive format the GLC will be Stuttgart’s first contender in the ultra-competitive mid-size SUV market in right-hand drive countries… A formidable task.
’Benz is well aware of this, so it was no wonder that media from right-hand drive markets were first to sample the newcomer at the international launch in Switzerland.
SO, WHAT’S NEW?
Well, in essence everything.
The completely new interior has flowing lines similar to the GLE with a large, one-piece console panel sweeping from the centre air vents under the semi-integrated media display to the armrest.
Most striking is the upgrade in quality of interior materials and trim, and in this respect you’ll be hard pushed to distinguish the smaller GLC from its bigger brother.
The newby is bigger and substantially more spacious than the GLK – its cabin is 120mm longer and 50mm wider, and the load compartment 40mm longer, allowing for 80 litres more luggage capacity.
While larger in all respects the GLC is still 80kg lighter than its predecessor, due to lightweight aluminium and high- to ultra-high-strength steel. It’s also up to 19% more energy efficient, thanks to outstanding aerodynamics (a best-in-class Cd of 0.31) and intelligent design.
The new GLC has high levels of standard equipment, with a list longer than the upgrades at Nkandla.
Herewith some highlights:
All engine derivatives are mated to the latest 9G-Tronic transmission, with the exception of the hybrid model using the 7G-Tronic Plus transmission.
Also standard is dynamic select with five driving modes (eco, comfort, sport, sport+ and individual) and agility control suspension with selective damping.
other systems include eco start/stop, adaptive brake assistance with hold function, hill assist, attention assist, collision prevention assist plus, electronic stability control with crosswind assist and dynamic curve assist.
Inside, thermatic air-con with dual climate zones, heat-insulated glass, multimedia system with high-res 7” colour display, radio, USB connectors and Bluetooth interface with SMS display and internet capability are standard.
Optional systems include Air Body Control (ACR) air suspension with continuously variable damping, an Offroad Engineering package with Downhill Speed Regulation (DSR) and up to five off-road driving modes: Slippery, Off-road, Incline, Rocking Assist and Trailer.
A driving assistance package with distronic plus, steering assist, pre-safe brake, BAS Plus with cross-traffic assist, blind spot assist, lane-keeping assist and pre-safe plus is also available.
The optional Parking package includes active park assist with parktronic and a reverse or 360º camera, adaptive high-beam assist plus and LEDs.
SELECTION OF ENGINES
Three models, either with Merc’s 2.2 litre four-cylinder diesel or 2.0 litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engines and 4-Matic permanent all-wheel drive – the GLC 220 d 4-Matic (125kW/400Nm), GLC 250 d 4-Matic (150kW/500Nm) and GLC 250 4-Matic (155kW/350Nm) – are now available.
By year end they will be joined by the GLC 350e 4-MATIC plug-in hybrid (total system output of 235kW), first of its kind in the mid-size SUV class. While this model will not be available locally, a powerful 175kW 300 4-Matic is earmarked for local release later.
They can all be ordered in optional Exclusive Line, Off-Road Line or AMG Line trim. This can be combined with the Night (only with the AMG or Exclusive Line) or Off-Road Engineering package.
The latter incorporates off-road driving modes and a 20mm raised suspension, or up to 50mm in vehicles fitted with Air Body Control.
Other extras include a large panoramic sliding roof, aluminium-look running boards, Easy-Pack tailgate with Hands-Free Access, automatically opening and closing the door using a swiping movement of the foot below the rear bumper, and fully electric trailer coupling.
For the interior there’s a choice of combinations in fabric, leather and man-made leather in Exclusive, AMG and Designo equipment lines.
The new GLC features Stuttgart’s Agility Control suspension with steel springs and variable damping system (ADS Plus) as standard, but an electronically controlled Air Body Control system is optionally available.
This system has a Dynamic Select driving dynamics programme with pre-selected settings that changes vehicle behaviour. In Sport mode it lowers the chassis by 15 mm for a tauter ride, while in Comfort mode it’s softer and more relaxed.
Equipped with the off-road engineering package and Air Body Control the suspension can be raised by up to 50mm for off-road work. An array of off-road specific driving modes – Slippery, Off-road, Incline, Rocking and Trailer (the Rocking assist function allowing clearance of up to 227mm) – can also be selected.
ANY GOOD ON (AND OFF) THE ROAD?
Well, driving the entry-level 220d 4-Matic diesel on well-kempt European roads from Basel in Switzerland to Strasbourg in France, the new GLC impressed with its exemplary manners.
Sure, it was a bit lethargic at low revs due to some turbo-lag, but once it gained some inertia it pulled quite strongly through the gears. At high speed it was remarkably quiet and its overall mechanical refinement was tangible.
The Dynamic Select system made it easy to find a preferable ride and steering set-up for prevailing road conditions, and in Sport+ mode the more powerful (155kW and 350Nm) petrol driven GLC 250 4-Matic relished the twisty mountain roads…
More lithe and nimble than its heavier GLE stablemate the GLC felt more composed and assured on the tarmac, even when pushed hard.
The 250d 4-Matic was the model that really impressed. With ample power (150kW) and tremendous torque (500Nm), a near seamless drivetrain and very low noise levels, it was a pleasure to pilot.
It was also the model of choice for the off-road section, where it performed remarkably well.
With DSR speed control, ample ride height and good wheel travel it tackled the obstacles with aplomb, the off-road driving systems doing all the work for you, and while we could not really test the Rocking Assist function, it seemed its main contribution was to increase ride height.
For sure there will be hotter versions, and they should be available quite soon. AMG versions on the cards is a 450 AMG Sport (with a 3.0-litre twin turbo V6 delivering 270 kW/520Nm) and Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 (with 4.0-litre twin turbo V8 producing 350kW/650Nm).
A 375kW Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S version is also a possibility, while a GLC Coupe derivative, aimed at the BMW X4, is also imminent.
WORTH THE PRICE TAG?
Not including CO2 tax or any extras local prices vary from R600 000 for the smaller 220d 4-Matic to just over R650 000 for the expected 300 4-Matic – quite steep, given that it includes no extras, but more affordable than its bigger siblings.
So, can this model establish Mercedes-Benz in the highly competitive premium mid-size SUV market when it is made available here in the last quarter of the year?
Well, there’s no reason why, given its combination of modern, generic styling, luxurious and high-quality interior, remarkable ride comfort, great handling and good off-road competence…
220d 4-Matic - R599 900
250d 4-Matic - R619 900
250 4-Matic - R604 900
300 4-Matic - R654 900
MERC'S ANSWER TO Q5 AND X3: The new Mercedes-Benz GLC is a premium SUV ready to take on rivals BMW and Audi. Image: Daimler