The 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLC300 impresses us with its dynamics, interior and cargo upgrades, but it could use more power to boost its nondescript performance.
Versus the competition:
The GLC300 is a compact luxury SUV that could be seen as merely a replacement for the previous GLK-Class, but that wouldn't be doing the new model justice. It's built on an entirely new platform that's slightly larger and has a new engine and a new interior design. You can compare the GLC-Class with the GLK-Class here. As a compact luxury SUV, it competes with vehicles such as the Audi Q5 and Acura RDX.
I tested the 2016 GLC across a mix of highway and mountain roads over two days, driving both all- and rear-wheel-drive GLC300s.
Exterior and Styling
While the outgoing GLK-Class had angular features that tried to mimic the larger G-Class, the new GLC300 is softer, with more rounded edges. If anything, the GLC300 now more closely resembles the softer edges of Mercedes-Benz sedans and SUVs such as the GLE-Class rather than the G-Class.
While the GLC does lose the angular, chiseled styling that helped make the GLK-Class distinct, I think the new look is more modern and fits better with the rest of the Mercedes-Benz family.
Finally, the GLC is 5.06 inches longer and 2.1 inches wider than the outgoing model. At least from the outside, though, it doesn’t appear appreciably bigger. To my eyes, that’s a good thing.
How It Drives
The GLC300 is powered by a 241-horsepower, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that’s matched to a nine-speed automatic transmission. Mercedes said it tuned the turbocharger so it provides more power at the low end for an engine with more “grunt,” and that the new engine shouldn’t make people miss the GLK-Class’ V-6 engine. But I’m not prepared to say I don’t miss the V-6, because with the added weight of all-wheel drive, the performance in the GLC300 didn’t blow me away.
Specifically, the engine is underwhelming off the line, though once you’re moving there’s good response. Performance is better with rear-wheel drive, but I wonder how many SUV buyers are going to want to live without all-wheel drive.
Standard in the GLC is what Mercedes calls its Dynamic Select system, which lets you switch from Comfort to Eco to Sport or aggressive Sport Plus modes. This alters both the steering feel and the transmission response, but no mode fully overcomes the GLC’s initial lag from a standstill.
However, I liked the Dynamic Select system because there are clear differences between the modes. In Sport, and especially Sport Plus, you really notice the transmission holding on to lower gears longer and the engine winding itself out, plus the steering offers more feedback. If it’s not spectacular, it’s at least satisfying to drive it this way, especially on twisty, hilly roads.
The real stars of the GLC’s driving experience are its overall dynamics and ride quality. The GLC was able to absorb bumps in the road, yet not demonstrate any body roll. It just felt like it was gripping the road, especially in the all-wheel-drive version. That kind of security was welcome in the really twisty parts of my route.
Mercedes-Benz will offer an optional air suspension, but I was only able to test models equipped with the traditional steel springs. In the past I’ve been wowed by the abilities of Mercedes’ air suspensions, but this car has me questioning whether I’d really want to spend the extra money for the optional air suspension — that’s how good the conventional setup was.
Road noise is acceptable for the compact luxury SUV class. I found the GLC to allow slightly more noise into the cabin than the Audi Q5, but less than the Acura RDX. In terms of Mercedes’ lineup, the noise level is comparable to a C-Class — so it’s quiet, but not “cone-of-silence” quiet, like the S-Class.
The GLC’s fuel economy had not been tested by the EPA as of publication, so no estimates are available.
You really notice the fact that the GLC300 is larger than the GLK-Class in the front seat. (The GLK always felt slightly narrow to me, leaving me feeling like I was sitting snugly with my passenger.)
The front doors are sculpted out in such a way that your outside arm isn’t pinned in by the door, but there’s still plenty of room for your inboard elbow. My driving partner and I were both larger guys, and we never once bumped elbows in two days of driving.
It’s the same story in back: The seating area is large, and I wasn’t hurting for head or shoulder room. My legs also had good space and my knees weren’t raised too high in the air. That’s appreciated, especially when you’re 6 feet, 2 inches tall like I am.
Also, cabin quality is very good for the compact luxury SUV class. The GLC adopts the styling of Mercedes’ C-Class sedan, and that’s a nice choice. In addition, a more upscale designo treatment is available, as are various trim options.
Overall, it’s well-executed both in how things look and how they feel. Comparing it to an RDX or Q5, I’d say the GLC300 — like the Q5 —has the right amount of buttons and controls without presenting an overwhelming array, like the Acura does.
It does, however, carry over the “floating tablet” center screen that some find objectionable, but it’s becoming more commonplace across both the Mercedes lineup and the market at large.
Finally, visibility in the GLC-Class is quite good. While the SUV is larger than before, it doesn’t feel like it has become unmanageably large, and that’s partially down to its good visibility. It’s easy to put the GLC300 right where you want to — a point I proved by making a few tight parking maneuvers during my drive.
Ergonomics and Electronics
The big news here is that Mercedes-Benz has fixed an issue we’ve had with its Comand multimedia system: The touch-pad can now be turned off.
The Comand system uses a rotary controller or a touch-pad to accept inputs. The issue is that the touch-pad is positioned over the rotary controller, so it’s easy to accidentally activate the touch-pad or bring up the wrong screen with the palm of your hand while you’re using your fingers to twirl the wheel. Now that the touch-pad can be disabled, that issue doesn’t happen, making the system much easier to live with.
Aside from what I’d call “touch-pad interference,” I’ve always found the Comand system to excel in its ability to swap between menus such as navigation, music and so on, and this version is no different.
Considering the Mercedes system versus ones from Acura and Audi, all are similar in that they use a rotary knob to make selections, and all are similar in ease of use. I do find the Audi system — with its buttons to swap between navigation, entertainment, etc. — the easiest one to use, but with the ability to turn off the Comand touch-pad, Mercedes is now right up there with Audi, and both are ahead of the Acura system.
Also, the floating screen — at least in the GLC — is so close to the driver you could be forgiven for thinking it’s a touch-screen, but it’s not. It’s the kind of thing you get used to, but its proximity was almost annoying at first.
Finally, an ergonomic setup I really loved was the toggle switch that changes driving modes. It’s intuitive, in that pushing it forward dialed up the performance — from Eco to Comfort to Sport to Sport Plus — and toggling it back dialed down the performance. It’s much easier than the stand-alone “Eco” mode buttons some other systems use.
Cargo and Storage
The cargo area is also bigger and better shaped than in the previous model, and it has a few new tweaks that really come in handy. Specifically, instead of a normal cargo floor that can be lifted up to expose more cargo area, Mercedes made the cargo floor panel lockable, making the under-floor storage that much more secure. A power liftgate is standard on the GLC300.
Finally, for those of us who like to haul long things and have to regularly fold seats, the rear seats in the GLC fold down via switches you tug in the cargo area. It’s a setup that’s growing more common these days, but Mercedes takes it a step further: If the front seats are set so far back they would prevent the rear seats from folding forward, the system will move the front seats forward to allow the rear seats to fold. No more do you have to run to the front of the vehicle to move the front seats.
The 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLC300 had not been crash-tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as of publication.
Notable standard safety features include Collision Prevent Assist Plus, which provides a visual and audible warning when a safe distance to the car ahead is not maintained. There’s also a standard backup camera and crosswind assist, which helps keep the GLC on track in heavy crosswinds.
Safety options include adaptive cruise control — called Distronic Plus with Steering Assist — which can help keep the car centered in its lane on straight roads, maintain a set distance between the GLC and the car ahead, and bring the GLC to a complete stop. You can also add front and rear cross-traffic assist — called BAS plus with cross-traffic assist — which alerts drivers to cross traffic at intersections or when reversing.
Value in Its Class
Measured against its competitors, the GLC300 offers a more luxurious cabin than the Acura RDX, but largely matches the RDX in handling and acceleration. The Audi Q5 matches the GLC in terms of its luxurious interior, but I don’t find it can match the GLC300’s handling and overall dynamics.
So, too, is it with price. The two-wheel-drive GLC300 starts at $39,875 (all prices include destination), compared with $36,210 for the RDX and $41,825 for the lowest-priced Q5 (all Q5 models come with all-wheel drive). Stepping up to all-wheel drive will cost you $41,875 for the GLC300 and $37,710 for the RDX. While the RDX is cheaper by a few thousand dollars than the GLC300 in either comparison, it’s not enough cheaper to make it the slam-dunk winner, and the Q5 is competitively priced compared to the GLC300. Compare the models here.
Taken on its own as the small SUV in Mercedes’ lineup, the GLC300 is more comfortable and practical than the GLK, thanks to its larger size, cargo amenities and interior quality. Its performance with all-wheel drive, though, is a bit underwhelming in the push-you-back-in-the-seat-and-rocket-forward department, but it really wouldn’t be fair to call it bad.
All in all, the GLC300 will have people forgetting its predecessor in short order, so thorough and comprehensive are the improvements. And it’s a competitive entrant in the compact luxury SUV class.
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