Mercedes-Benz GLC review – a crossover for keen drivers?
Comfortable on-road and surprisingly adept off it, but not the drivers’ SUV of choice
The GLC is the latest piece in Mercedes’s growing SUV puzzle. If you’ve not been keeping track, this latest model joins the A-class-based GLA, the GLE (formerly the ML) and GLE Coupe, the GLS (formerly the GL), and of course the G-Wagen, simply known as G under the company’s latest nomenclature.
The GLC, as you might imagine, features GL crossover and SUV attributes on a platform of roughly C-class size. Visually, it’s like a smaller GLE (previously ML, remember?) with C-Class level engines and interior features. To further enlighten or confuse you, the GLC replaces the old GLK, which was never sold in the UK.
Engine, transmission and 0-60mph time
The UK receives three diesel engines and one petrol model, the latter in the shape of the AMG GLC 43.
The GLC 220d 4MATIC and GLC 250d 4MATIC both use Mercedes’s ubiquitous 2143cc, inline four-cylinder turbocharged diesel powerplant. In the 220d it develops 168bhp from 3000 to 4200rpm and 295lb ft between 1400 and 2800rpm. In the 250d, these numbers swell to 201bhp at 3800rpm and a 369lb ft torque peak from 1600 to 1800rpm (though it’s safe to assume the 250d makes at least as much torque as the 220d across the lesser engine’s wider range. The 250d also sends more power rearwards in normal driving – up to 67 per cent).
Next up is the GLC 350d, with a 2987cc turbocharged diesel V6 and a 252bhp output, with a muscular 457lb ft of torque available from only 1600rpm. That's more torque even than the current range-topper, the GLC 43 – it makes 384lb ft from 2500rpm, though counters with 362bhp at 5500rpm from its twin-turbo, 3-litre V6.
All use Mercedes’s latest nine-speed 9G-TRONIC automatic transmission, which varies its cog-swapping attributes depending on the driving mode you’ve selected – in Eco it’ll shuffle up to ninth as soon as conditions allow, while Sport and Sport+ hang onto gears for longer and change down earlier. The upshot is an 8.3sec 0-62mph dash for the 220d, 7.6sec for the 250d, 6.2sec for the 350d and a brisk 4.9sec for the AMG.
The GLC’s most interesting features are unfortunately ones whose talents few owners will ever experience. Firstly, there’s an Off-Road line trim package, whose higher front and rear bumpers allow for a 28-degree approach and departure angle.
Secondly, GLCs are available with optional air suspension, called Air Body Control in Mercedes parlance, which automatically adjusts suspension height depending on road conditions or the weight onboard.
Finally, there’s the optional Off-Road Engineering package. This adds five extra features to the usual Dynamic Select driving settings – Slippery, Off-road, Trailer, Incline and Rocking Assist, the last of which automatically rocks the car fore and aft to free it from a sticky situation.
What’s it like to drive?
Most of the range is relatively unremarkable, on the road at least. Even so, this is unlikely to put off buyers of such a vehicle. It does the important things right: the ride is respectably pliant on all but particularly corrugated surfaces (at which point the air suspension struggles to deal with rapid intrusions). It steers well enough too, with decent weight and respectable accuracy, though the chassis takes a few moments to settle after any given input – sporty driving is not the GLC’s forte.
It feels heavy too. Both 220d and 250d tip the scales at 1845kg, a good 180-250kg heavier than an equivalent C-class Estate. It’s always fighting against this mass, whether cornering or in a straight line (where GLCs are about half a second shy of a similarly engined estate in the 0-62mph sprint). The diesel feels brawny in relaxed driving, but won’t thrill if you up the pace.
Where it does score highly is refinement. At low speeds the 2.1-litre diesel’s clatter is admirably muffled, and while the engine gets a little vocal under load, it’s probably the quietest application of this particular unit yet.
The GLC is also thoroughly impressive off-road. On road tyres, and utilising the modes of the Off-Road Engineering package, the GLC navigated obstacles we’d never have thought possible, including 70-degree inclines on shale and gravel, equally steep declines and sideways slopes as steep as 27 degrees. Each time we thought we’d become stuck, smooth application of the throttle gave the electronic brain the power it needed at each wheel to get moving again. It’s no Land Rover on the rough stuff, but it’s a genuine pity that virtually no customer will get to experience its competence off the beaten track.
Since our original drive abroad, we've also had a chance to sample the GLC in the UK, most recently in AMG form.
As you'd expect, the AMG is firmer than regular GLCs, and its ride is less settled than that of the equivalent C-class. The extra ride height does give it added ability to soak up really rough surfaces though and there's peace of mind in knowing that craters in the road and washboard surfaces can be tackled with slightly more aplomb than a low-slung saloon, coupe or estate.
It's still a heavy vehicle (1845kg, matching the diesels) but the firmer setup means body control is better than in regular GLCs and more tied-down still when Sport or Sport+ modes are selected. There's still more roll than in a C-class, but it's not excessive and there's enough front-end grip to allow you to play with the weight to adjust the balance of the car.
The turbocharged V6 is a really satisfying unit to use too. While it doesn't particularly feel like an AMG engine in the way we're used to, it's smooth, punchy, responsive to throttle inputs, and emits a pleasing note from the exhaust under larger throttle openings.
Prices, specs and rivals
GLC motoring, on-road or off, starts at £35,580 for a GLC 220 d 4MATIC in SE trim. For the same level of specification with the larger 250 d engine you’re looking at £36,735 – we’d say the extra power is worth the money – while prices rise to £50,870 for a GLC 43 in Premium Plus specification.
You can of course then spend thousands of pounds more – tens of thousands, even – prettying the interior and exterior with Mercedes’s War and Peace-style options list. A set of 20-inch alloy wheels is £595. The Premium pack (ambient lighting, keyless go, memory seats and a panoramic sunroof) is £1695, and to get the Premium Plus package, including the aforementioned plus a Burmester sound system, COMAND infotainment and traffic sign assist, is £2995.
At £495, the Off-Road Engineering package looks like a bargain, though given how few owners will seek out scenarios that would require it, perhaps it’s not worth ticking that box.
It’s the usual suspects: BMW’s X3, Audi’s Q5 and the left-field Lexus NX. BMW still edges the others on driving appeal, though none are as satisfying down a twisty road as their conventional estate equivalents. Only Audi, in the SQ5, offers a performance model equivalent to the Mercedes-AMG GLC 43 (at £52,300), but the Q5 is due to be replaced soon so it may be worth waiting for that one.
The Range Rover Evoque has no conventional estate equivalent, but it's also worth a look - it remains the most overtly design-led of the premium crossovers. It's not a B-road thriller (and as such, little different from its rivals), but the Range Rover badge has its own appeal and like the Mercedes, it has a reasonable degree of off-road ability.