Finally, Mercedes-Benz has a medium-sized to take on the Audi Q5, BMW X3 and Land Rover Discovery Sport. Was the new GLC worth the wait?
2015 Mercedes-Benz GLC: Overview
The medium-sized, five-seat 4×4 is fast-becoming the default family car. No longer do upwardly-mobile folks aspire to a Ford Mondeo or Audi A4; they want a Ford Kuga or Audi Q5.
So why has it taken Mercedes so long to enter this ever-expanding sector? After all, BMW launched its X3 more than a decade ago, and even the Q5 has been around since 2008.
In fact, Mercedes does have previous with medium 4x4s. The GLC’s predecessor, the GLK, was sold in Europe, just never converted to right-hand drive. Brits had to stretch to the larger GL-class (now renamed GLE) or – more recently – squeeze into the compact GLA crossover.
As its name suggests, the GLC is based on the same platform as the C-class saloon. A single 2.1-litre diesel engine is available from launch, offered in two states of tune: 170hp 220d and 204hp 250d.
The 220d sprints to 62mph in 8.3 seconds and has a top speed of 130mph. The 250d is quicker, at 7.6 seconds and 138mph respectively. Yet both engines achieve identical fuel economy of 56.5mpg and emit 129g/km CO2 (£110 annual car tax at 2015 rates).
All GLCs come with a nine-speed automatic gearbox – operated via a stalk on the steering column, in traditional Mercdes style – and four-wheel drive. However, while torque (pulling power) is split 45% front and 55% rear in the 220d, the 250d has a 31:69 split for sportier handling.
There are three trim levels available: SE, Sport and AMG Line. Standard equipment on the SE includes a heated windscreen, keyless entry, sat nav, DAB radio, reversing camera and an electric tailgate.
Spend an extra £2,495 on the Sport and you’ll get auto parking, heated front seats and smatterings of wood trim. The AMG Line package (a further £1,495) adds sports suspension, along with an AMG-branded bodykit, steering wheel and pedals.
As you’d expect, there’s a long list of expensive options, from a panoramic sunroof to a premium Burmester sound system. The £495 Off-Road Package allows the GLC to step on Land Rover’s toes with five off-road driving modes, a reduction gear, diff-lock and adjustable ride heights for the (optional) air suspension.
The GLC arrives in UK showrooms in October. Prices start at £34,950 for the 220d and £36,105 for the 250d.
2015 Mercedes-Benz GLC: On the road
Mercedes has its bonkers AMG models (more on that later), but what the company traditionally does best is comfort.
Here, the GLC doesn’t disappoint; driving it is a genuinely relaxing experience. The diesel engines are barely audible when cruising, wind and tyre noise are muted, and the standard nine-speed automatic gearbox shuffles ratios so unobtrusively you hardly notice it.
Ride comfort is very good, too – even on the steamroller-sized 20in alloys of AMG Line versions. However, all the cars we drove were fitted with optional air suspension, so we’ll reserve judgement on the conventional spring set-up until we drive the GLC in the UK.
To be frank, the 34hp difference between the 220d and 250d diesel engines is rarely noticeable on the road. Only when our test route veered into the hills and hairpin bends of France’s Alsace region did the 250d’s extra grunt become apparent.
Show the GLC a sequence of tight corners and it holds its line well, with ample grip and little body-roll to upset the car’s balance – or indeed your passengers. Nonetheless, this isn’t a sporty SUV and it doesn’t try to be. The steering lacks the feedback of a BMW X3 and feels oddly artificial in Sport and Sport+ modes.
Few GLC owners are likely to venture off-tarmac (spare a thought for those shiny alloys!), but many will take comfort in knowing that they could. Short overhangs, coupled with the optional Off-Road Engineering package (£495) mean the Mercedes can go where, in this class, only a Land Rover Discovery Sport might dare to tread.
And finally, the AMG question. Mercedes says a performance-oriented GLC isn’t on the cards just yet. But expect to see an GLC 45 AMG in the not-so-distant future – based on the four-wheel-drive GLA hardware, rather than the rear-wheel-drive C63 AMG saloon.
2015 Mercedes-Benz GLC: On the inside
For years, Audi has been the benchmark when it comes to car interiors. But that may be about to change. Mercedes has really upped its game with the GLC, with a cabin that is both stylish and beautifully made.
Close the GLC’s wide, heavy doors and you feel sealed-off from the outside world. A high centre console cocoons you in the driver’s seat, and simple white-on-black dials are easy to read through the chunky, three-spoke steering wheel.
The dashboard isn’t entirely bereft of buttons (like a Tesla or Volvo XC90), but it’s an uncluttered design that incorporates most ‘infotainment’ functions within the ‘Comand’ media system.
Sadly, Comand isn’t as intuitive to use as Audi’s MMI system, or indeed BMW iDrive. And it doesn’t offer touchscreen functionality. Even so, it’s relatively user-friendly – with nav, phone, entertainment and car settings accessible via a click-wheel or (trickier to use) touchpad. The 7in tablet-style screen is mounted high on the dashboard, placing it easily with the driver’s line-of-sight.
Space inside the GLC is merely average for a car in this class. Two tall adults can get comfortable in the back, but the middle seat is narrow and occupants must splay their legs either side of the wide transmission tunnel. Not very dignified.
Boot capacity is 550 litres – identical to the BMW X3 and fractionally more than the Audi Q5. A Mercedes C-class Estate holds 490 litres.
As you’d expect, the GLC comes with a long list of safety kit, including a full complement of airbags and automatic emergency braking. We tried the optional Distronic Plus active cruise control, which maintains a set distance from the car in front. It’s a valuable safety aid on the motorway and at lower speeds can even adjust the steering so you ‘follow’ other cars in traffic. Who needs a ‘real’ driver anyway?
2015 Mercedes-Benz GLC: Running costs
Perhaps we should count ourselves lucky we get the GLC at all. As previously mentioned, the old left-hand-drive GLK never made it to Britain.
However, the Europeans still have the last laugh with two engines that aren’t available here yet: the 211hp 2.0-litre petrol GLC 250 and 320hp petrol/electric GLC 350e plug-in hybrid.
The 350e hybrid is the undisputed efficiency champ of the GLC range. It emits just 60g/km CO2 – well below the threshold for free car tax. And it ekes out 109mpg, provided you drive you’re taking the official EU fuel economy test (i.e. very carefully). However, it won’t be cheap to buy when it comes to the UK in “a couple of years time”, according to one Mercedes insider.
For now, your choice is limited to 170hp 220d and 204hp 250d diesels. The good news, though, is that both offer an identical 56.5mpg and 129g/km CO2. That’s slightly better than the equivalent Audi or BMW, and also means there is no penalty for choosing the more powerful engine – apart from the initial £1,155 difference in list price.
Mercedes’ three-pointed star carries plenty of car-park kudos and that, coupled with the strong demand for 4x4s, leads to strong predicted residual (resale) values for the GLC. Whole-life running costs – or indeed monthly leasing costs – should therefore be competitive, as the car holds onto a greater percentage of its value than ‘mainstream’ rivals.
One word of warning, though. If you want to protect that resale value (and save yourself money upfront), go easy on the options. As with any upmarket German car, it’s easy to add thousands of pounds’ worth of extras to a new GLC. And you’ll get very little of that money back when the time comes to sell.
2015 Mercedes-Benz GLC: Verdict
With worldwide SUV sales booming, it’s hard to imagine the GLC being anything less than a success. It looks good, drives well and comes with all the equipment that spoilt-for-choice buyers will expect.
Just as importantly, it wears the right badge and feels unequivocally like a premium product. No question, it’s a very desirable family car.
Does that make it the best SUV in its class? Certainly it has the edge on the ageing Audi Q5, which is due for replacement in 2016. And while the BMW X3 is more rewarding to drive, the Mercedes feels more comfortable and, yes, ‘premium’.
If you need seven seats, or want to go off-road, the Land Rover Discovery Sport remains the obvious choice in this class. If you drive mostly in the city, the hybrid petrol/electric Lexus NX is worth a look, too. And if want an SUV that genuinely handles like a sports car, it has to be the Porsche Macan.
As an all-rounder, though, the new GLC is hard to beat. Mercedes took a while bringing a medium SUV to the UK, but the GLC gets it right first time.
Specifications: Mercedes-Benz GLC 220d 4Matic SE
Engine: 2.1-litre diesel
Gearbox: 9-speed automatic
Torque: 295lb ft
0-62mph: 8.3 seconds
Top speed: 130mph
Fuel economy: 56.5mpg
CO2 emissions: 129g/km