The woman smiling in her silver Alfa Romeo, scarf flailing in the wind, knows what she wants. The man riding his Ducati Super Sport Desmo, his worn Dainese leathers scraping against the pavement, knows what he wants. The countless owners of four-wheel-drive Fiat Pandas with fat rear differentials, ever ready for sudden snowstorms here in the Aosta Valley of the Italian Alps, know what they want. And here we are among all of them, driving an all-new 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLC Coupe, trying to figure out what it is we want.
Steep Roads, Steep Roofline
In the Matterhorn’s imposing shadow, winding along mountain passes that straddle the Italian-Swiss border, we get to know the 2017 GLC Coupe. Its closest competitor, the BMW X4 xDrive28i, is also a style-driven derivative of a sensible and luxurious midsize crossover. We’re in the GLC300—the standard, 241-horsepower version with a turbocharged I-4 engine and a nine-speed automatic transmission. An AMG-tuned model, the 362-hp GLC43, will compete with the BMW X4 M40i and go on sale alongside the GLC300 in early 2017, but we won’t get a chance to drive it just yet.
Obvious physical features that set the GLC Coupe apart from the regular GLC include a stretched roofline, high beltline, squat stance, bigger haunches, wide wheel arches, a taut mid-section accentuated by broad shoulders, and a steeply raked rear end with a sharply creased rear spoiler. Additionally, Mercedes-Benz has pushed the GLC Coupe toward the “sport crossover” class by revising the car’s steering ratio for a more direct feel, making the sport suspension standard, offering optional sport seats and adaptive suspension dampers, and by including superficially sporty features like a flat-bottom steering wheel. The GLC Coupe’s interior design is otherwise unchanged, so it remains a fantastic and fascinating assortment of circular forms, rounded-off edges, leather, satin aluminum, and faux carbon fiber.
Silence and a beautiful backdrop
We follow alongside a fast-flowing river, flooded after days of rain, before driving into one of the long, well-lit tunnels that travel under the Italian Alps. We lose radio signal, and the world is suddenly hushed. The only sound is a faint growl from the GLC’s exhaust, which reminds us we haven’t yet swapped out of Sport mode after our first ascent up the Alps. In Sport, with cruise control set at 70 mph, the nine-speed transmission stays in seventh gear. When we change to “Comfort,” and then to the even more conservative “Eco” mode, the transmission shifts from seventh to ninth and the exhaust goes quiet. It’s serene, driving under a stream of bright white lights in near silence. The sight we see when we reach daylight is stunning—snowcapped mountains with quaint, slate-roof houses carved into their sides and skinny roads with sharp switchbacks running up their rocky faces.
We exit the highway, pull up to a tollbooth, and as we wait for the tollgate to open, we put the GLC300 into its most aggressive driving mode, Sport Plus. The instant the red-and-white arm goes up, we flatten the rubber-studded accelerator and, believe it or not, the GLC tosses us back into the black-leather seat. Throttle and transmission response are immediate, and the exhaust barks between upshifts. We tap the GLC’s right shift paddle as we go up through the gears, starting our second ascent into the Alps.
Seeing and feeling
Roads are narrow, turns are blind, and most people up here drive like it’s the apocalypse. At least we can spot them coming—the GLC’s raked roofline has very little effect on forward visibility and next to no effect on side and rear visibility thanks to the presence of a large porthole window between the C- and D-pillars. We keep our eyes up as we put the GLC to work, seeing if Michael Kelz, its chief engineer, was simply blowing smoke when he told us that “the GLC Coupe is the sports car among the SUVs from Mercedes-Benz, and the SUV among the sports cars.”
There’s a noticeable difference in GLC300 Coupe’s character when compared to the crossover it’s based on. The chassis gives more feedback, feels more confident, and rarely seems overworked. The car stays composed as we toss it into tight turns and skirt along rock walls covered in moss and wildflowers. The drivetrain is unexpectedly snappy in Sport Plus, the smooth and ample turbo-four complements the chassis’ character, and the nine-speed transmission is unobtrusive, never once struggling or searching for a gear during our climb up and along the mountain passes. It’s a stimulating, enjoyable, and engaging car to drive, even when we have to slow way, way down to crawl through small, sleepy communes like Brusson, Challand-Saint-Anselme, and Saint-Vincent. It is while driving through one of these towns that it dawns on us what we want.
Wondering and wanting
Unlike other coupe variants from other automakers that are overwrought, overdone, and over-the-top, the GLC Coupe is a thoughtful and restrained adaption of an already satisfying crossover that will resonate with buyers that want an SUV without any of the perceived lameness that comes with driving an SUV. But while the GLC Coupe is enjoyable and inoffensive, it’s without a clear purpose.
The GLC Coupe is a compromise between disparate classes of cars. In its pursuit to become better-looking, it had to gobble up more than a dozen cubic feet of cargo room, seriously handicapping what makes SUVs sexy in the first place—functionality. And its sports-car aspirations, while admirably chased after, are still unfounded. The most seductive thing about the GLC Coupe then is the three-pointed star on its grille, which reminds you the car comes from an automaker that creates cars that not only make sense but also are sensational in their respective classes. The GLC Coupe is a flawless execution of a flawed vehicle concept that does away with purpose for the sake of appearance.
To each their own
Still, we can see the GLC Coupe’s appeal: It’s a Mercedes-Benz built on great bones and wrapped in a swoopy body that turns heads when it goes down the street. Up in the Alps, surrounded by focused machines, we end up questioning its place in the world, its defining purpose. We care less as we roll back down to the highway, set cruise control, and simply enjoy a quiet, comfortable, and solidly built SUV with a few drawbacks but a lot of sex appeal. This Mercedes-Benz is not what we want, but it is something that we can appreciate.
2017 Mercedes-Benz GLC300 Coupe Specifications
|On Sale:||Early 2017|
2.0L turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4/241 hp @ 5,500 rpm,
273 lb-ft @ 1,300-4,000 rpm
|Layout:||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD crossover|
|EPA Mileage:||21/28 mpg (city/hwy) (est)|
|L x W x H:||186.2 x 74.4 x 63.0 in|
|Weight:||4,000 lb (est)|
|0-60 MPH:||6.3 sec (est)|
|Top Speed:||145 mph (est)|