Mercedes-Benz’s most popular SUV, the GLC, builds on its appeal and guarantees a solid sales future after announcing modest design tweaks, updates to its petrol engine — and the news a plug-in hybrid version is on the way.
This has always been a favourite German because it’s priced right, is the right size, has great safety gear and looks the goods.
With a starting price of $66,100 (plus on-roads), it’s a Merc-badged family wagon for about $4000 more than a front-drive Mazda CX-9.
LED headlights are now standard across the three-versions (though the 300e hybrid isn’t here until next year) along with the intuitive MBUX infotainment- communication system appearing in a Merc for only the second time after the A-Class’ A35 AMG.
The 2.0-litre petrol engines have been so significantly upgraded, they wear a new code number and come in two power variants: the GLC 200 (145kW/320Nm) and GLC 300 (190kW/370Nm) — with the former available only with rear-wheel drive and its bigger sister standard with all-wheel drive.
It continues to compete with its traditional German rivals, the Porsche Macan ($81,800-$142,000); BMW X3 ($63,900-$110,900), and Audi Q5 ($65,900-$99,900), with competition from Land Rover’s Discovery Sport ($60,500-$82,900) and sister Jaguar’s F-Pace ($77,392-$106,135).
Pushing the envelope is some new options added to the GLC to broaden appeal and tailor it for buyer demands. It gets, for the first time, the option of the Dynamic Body Control adaptive suspension that operates atop the standard steel suspension.
Air suspension is another option.
The comprehensive MBUX (Mercedes-Benz user experience) system includes “Hey Mercedes” voice control.
Cleverly, or annoyingly depending on your point of view, it will leap to life with a “Can I help you?” when it “hears” the word “Mercedes” mentioned, presuming you have a question.
In an era of distractive buttons and touch screens and accompanying police fines, the “Hey Mercedes” chat is very welcome, introducing verbal access to answers about restaurant and fuel station locations, telephone contacts, questions such as “the meaning of life” (not really), and other services and information. It can also be controlled from the steering wheel or by swiping the screen.
The feature list of the entry-level GLC 200 include the MBUX with a 10.25-inch central touchscreen and an instrument cluster with a smaller screen that can be personalised.
The 200’s upholstery is Artico (vinyl) with electric front seats, dual-zone air-conditioning, ambient cabin lighting with the choice of 64 colours, sat-nav, live traffic information, digital radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and “Mercedes me” connection.
The safety kit includes autonomous emergency braking, traffic sign assist, rear cross-traffic alert, LED headlights, blind-spot monitor, parking assistant with 360-degree camera, and nine airbags.
It also has 19-inch alloys, Agility Control (steel coil) suspension, driver-select modes, and hands-free electric tailgate.
The GLC 300 adds 20-inch alloys, gutsier 190kW/370Nm engine — a big jump of 35kW/20Nm on its GLC 250 predecessor — all-wheel drive, wireless phone charging, rear privacy glass, more sophisticated LED headlights, and active cruise control with the active functions applied to other safety items.
Mercedes will also offer a Coupe version of the GLC 300 that adds Dynamic Body Control, AMG Line enhancements and 20-inch AMG alloys.
The way the GLC looks isn’t the way it drives. The SUV is substantial in size, though more width and height compared with a relatively compact length. Regardless, from the wrong angle it can look a bit like a blob.
On the road, it feels almost featherweight. There is excellent feel from the steering, near-perfect turn-in and a lightness at parking speed that matured to a confident firmness on the highway.
The height affords occupants a broad vista and most importantly for the driver, a clear view backed by the 360-degree camera and parking sensors. You have no excuse for carpark accidents, though the inventiveness of bingle-prone shoppers never ceases to amaze me.
The Artico seats are as close to leather as most buyers are willing to pay, with excellent support and comfort despite their firmness.
The electric-adjust steering wheel, with the height adjustment of the driver’s seat, make it easy to feel at home.
The GLC 200 was the first to be driven for this test, proving quiet and surprisingly enthusiastic out of the Melbourne carpark and towards the Victorian hills.
This budget-priced (and I use those words reservedly) version is near perfect as a comfortable family wagon with the accent on economy (7.8L/100km claimed average) and safety.
While it is efficient in the suburbs and CBD, the engine feels wanting on the country roads where there is some noticeable lag when proceeding from a cruise to an overtaking manoeuvre. Not a big negative, merely one noted.
The 300 has no such qualms. The tweaked version of the same petrol engine sparkles at lower revs and eagerly leapfrogs fellow traffic. It also felt more comfortable, with a ride less prone to transmitting smaller road dents into the cabin. It was later shown that the 300 has all-wheel drive and the extra weight of the components could settle the body more efficiently.
It was also better, by degrees, through the corners to make it a more fun SUV — and, yes, I know that’s an oxymoron — to drive.
The GLC is more impressive than the already much-lauded predecessor. The in-cabin MBUX will delight those who grasp the concept of wireless communication, while the rest of us will love the way it fits the family.
Variant: GLC 200; GLC 300
Price: $66,100; $77,700
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol
Output: 145kW/320Nm; 190kW/370Nm
Transmission: 9-speed automatic; RWD (GLC 200), AWD (GLC 300)
Thirst: 7.8L/100km; 8.1L/100km
Variant: GLC 300e (due May 2020)
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol plug-in hybrid
Output: 235kW/700Nm (combined)
Transmission: Nine-speed automatic, AWD
Thirst: 2.2 L/100km