Mercedes-Benz has gone full-steam ahead replacing, refreshing, or renaming every SUV in its lineup over the last 18 months, from the arrival of the new GLA-Class to the refresh of the GLE-Class and full-size GLS-Class (M-Class and GL-Class, respectively). The three-pointed star is doing its damndest to meet the demand of an “SUV feeding frenzy” it’s seeing in the marketplace, and its newest arrival to the U.S., the redesigned 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLC300, is maybe the most delicious thing they’ve cooked up yet.
C-Class luxury meets SUV practicality
Despite the fact that the former GLK sold quite well, it wasn’t without its flaws. We’re told the 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLC300 is a “fundamentally and drastically different product,” but the compact utility’s new look can speak for itself. The hard edges and busy lines of the GLK are gone in favor of a smooth and elegant design language that mirrors the C-Class on which the GLC is based. It’s pretty without being ostentatious, so you can safely pick your kids up at school without attracting sneers from other parents in line.
The interior — and this is a very good thing — is almost a carbon copy of what you’ll find in a C-Class. This means the single-piece, arched center stack — best enjoyed with dark open-pore wood trim — is the unquestioned main event of the redesigned cabin. You’ll also find the C-Class’ aluminum trim, 7-inch Comand screen with touchpad interface, and available suite of Distronic Plus active safety, all of which are supremely superior to anything found on the GLK. Even compared to the available Designo leather, the GLC’s base M-B Tex leatherette is handsome and comfortable on longer drives.
But the old GLK’s most egregious shortcoming was its paltry amount of interior space, an issue that the 2016 Mercedes GLC300 addresses for both people and their stuff. The new GLC is 5 inches longer and 2 inches wider. Rear legroom goes up by 2 inches, shoulder room increases an inch, and headroom drops by only a quarter-inch. Cargo volume, an important priority for families, is up 17 percent to 56.2 cubic feet with the rear seats folded. You’d think that all this would mean the GLC has packed on significant weight, but it’s actually dropped more than 170 pounds compared to the GLK.
The center console is surprisingly deep and capacious when it comes to storage, but we were most impressed by the cavernous storage available in the front door compartments. How’d they do it? By migrating the speaker components from the lower section of the doors to hollow openings in the body architecture. German engineering is not always about lap times.
One powertrain, at least for now
We previously drove the GLC in Europe, but the turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine makes quite a bit more power and torque in the land of Stars and Stripes. As in the C300, the 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLC300 makes 241 hp and 274 lb-ft of torque, while the Euro-spec GLC250 makes do with 208 hp and 258 lb-ft.
We’re delighted Mercedes didn’t shortchange us with any less power — the pairing of the turbo-four with Benz’s new nine-speed automatic transmission is right on the money. The so-called 9G-Tronic transmission is very eager to upshift on the highway to keep fuel economy numbers high (Mercedes expects a 20 percent improvement over the GLK), but there’s plenty of low-end torque in every gear to keep the GLC on the move. Particularly in Sport and Sport+ drive modes, the transmission fires off snappy downshifts at a moment’s notice, and the engine is content to rev all the way to redline. Peak power actually comes fairly late at 5,550 rpm, which means you actually get to hear this engine sing a decent tune when you floor the gas pedal.
The turbo-four is the sole engine for the moment, although there is a diesel-powered GLC300d arriving next year. This is probably a blessing for Mercedes-Benz, as it’ll allow some time for the VW-inspired hatred of German-branded diesel powerplants to cool off. Down the line we’ll also likely see a GLC350e plug-in hybrid, as well as sportier variants including but not limited to an all-out GLC63 AMG. We already know a biturbo V-8 can fit in the C63, so whether we eventually get a 469-hp GLC63 or a 503-hp GLC63 S is merely a matter of will.
Smooth operator, no matter the setting
As expected, the 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLC300 proves to be an ace crossover while shuttling around Atlanta and peacefully piling on highway miles. But there’s an excellent set of winding roads in the hill country two hours north of Atlanta, and we weren’t about to pass that up just because we were driving a crossover. While the GLC is far from a corner-carving sports car, it is surprisingly satisfying to drive quickly.
Although the GLC can be had with Mercedes’ Airmatic air suspension, both rear-wheel-drive and 4Matic all-wheel-drive versions we drove were equipped with the standard steel springs. The suspension calibration is soft enough to shrug off road imperfections, but this also permits a fair bit of body roll in some of the tighter sections. The GLC’s electric-assist steering is totally numb in Comfort mode, but it really comes alive when you switch into Sport. The added steering effort doesn’t feel overly artificial, and GLC responds quickly and accurately to sudden inputs.
A clear winner at any price point
High-dollar variants of the GLC equipped with the sexy Designo leather interior, Burmester sound system, and full tech package can easily fly north of $60,000, but it’s hard to deny the quality of the stylish materials and useful features you get. Fortunately base models don’t get totally overlooked, as the aforementioned M-B Tex (vinyl) seat upholstery is more than adequate, while goodies such as a rearview camera, push-button start, and emergency braking with attention assist are all standard.
As with the C-Class from which it’s derived, the 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLC is a genuine luxury vehicle, despite its relatively compact size. Once it hits dealerships in the U.S. later this month, we expect to see a lot of them on the road.