With crossover SUVs now outselling sedans, the latest Mercedes-Benz entry into the fast-growing compact segment seems destined to become the marque’s bestseller in short order. It’s been on sale since December, so you’ve probably already noticed these leather-lined shopping carts crowding your local Neiman Marcus and Whole Foods parking lots.
Stepping in for the former GLK-class for 2016, the new GLC-class moves onto the latest C-class platform and adopts the new Mercedes-Benz nomenclature. And a lot has changed besides the name. While it shares suspension and drivetrain hardware with the C-class sedan, the wheelbase and track width are greater. In all, the GLC300 measures 4.7 inches longer and 2.0 inches wider than its predecessor. A more commodious rear seat and expanded cargo hold are welcome benefits, and it all comes without the usual weight penalty. In fact, the GLC300 and the GLC300 4MATIC tested here weighed 275 and 128 pounds less than did the equivalent 2013 GLK models we tested nearly four years ago.
For the new model, we again tested both rear- and all-wheel-drive editions with the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, which is the entire model range at present. The rear-driver is one of few in a class where opting out of AWD usually means settling for front-drive. Stuttgart intends to fill out this range with diesel, plug-in hybrid, and AMG high-performance editions in later model years, plus a hydrogen fuel-cell model and one of those crazy fastback “coupe” crossovers to face off against the BMW X4. While handsome and stylistically in tune with its sedan (and coupe) platform-mates, the GLC’s exterior profile hews more closely to class norms than did that of the distinctively squared-off, wagon-esque GLK. It’ll blend into the crowd in those shopping-center parking lots and carpool drop-off lanes, which might be a good thing for those who don’t want to feel ostentatious sliding a Benz in amongst the neighbors’ Kias and Hondas.
Gravitating to the Norm
The drivetrain, too, reflects the current automotive hive-mind with yet another 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo unit, rated at 241 horsepower. This supplants the GLK350’s 3.5-liter V-6, which made 302 horsepower. That power peak is fast becoming mundane for a turbo four of this size, matched by Kia, Ford, and Chevy among others. This turbo four’s 273 lb-ft of torque is identical to the rating of the former V-6, and the new car’s nine-speed automatic transmission has two more ratios to play with than did the GLK’s gearbox. An upshot is that EPA city ratings are up 3 mpg across the board, while the 28-mpg highway rating shared by both GLCs is up 3 and 4 mpg over the commensurate rear-drive and 4MATIC GLK models. Our observed fuel economy of 21 mpg with the 4MATIC and 24 with the rear-driver is 2 and 3 mpg better than we got in our test of the 2013 GLKs.
The turbocharged engine’s early-arriving torque helps the GLC300 get to 60 mph in 6.0 seconds (RWD) and 5.9 seconds (4MATIC), or just 0.3- and 0.1-second slower than did the V-6 GLK. Most of the competition hovers around 6.0 seconds, too, so this slight backsliding won’t be noticed except, perhaps, by those trading in a late-model GLK. The GLC also is slower to 100 mph (by a full 2.0 seconds), and the top-gear 30-to-50-mph and 50-to-70-mph times also increase by 0.3 to 0.7 second—those might have been worse but the nine-speed offers more optimal choices than could the old seven-cog transmission. The performance feels perfectly adequate in normal driving situations, though, and buyers in this segment who care are probably waiting on the AMG version, anyway.
Track figures that were more evident on the road include the improved braking performance, with 70-to-0-mph stops coming up in 166 and 174 feet, shorter by a significant 15 feet for the rear-drive model but only one foot for the 4MATIC. Skidpad roadholding of 0.84 g marks an improvement from 0.77 for the rear-driver, but the 4MATIC did 0.81, identical to its predecessor’s performance.
We’re told that Mercedes designers prevailed upon engineers for bigger wheels for the GLC, with 18-inchers now standard and both 19- and 20-inch upgrades offered. The GLC300 4MATIC had the 18s, wearing mud-and-snow-graded 235/60 Continental tires with a run-flat design. The rear-drive example had a lot more optional equipment, including the stylish, black AMG 20-inch wheels and Bridgestone Dueler summer rubber, size 255/45, which again were run-flats. Tire differences are no doubt reflected in the rear-drive car’s superior cornering and braking figures. Given how much easier it was to launch the 4MATIC car without excessive wheelspin, we suspect the acceleration gap might have been wider if both examples had the same tire.
The ride quality would have to be a lot creamier than it is to avoid the inadvertent reversals and setbacks that beset us when trying to use the COMAND system’s oversensitive touchpad, which manages the many features on the center-console screen. Best to use the rotary knob or do everything while parked or at least stopped—changing functions while on the move is distracting and often ends in cursing the system and abandoning the attempt. For this, you pay $2330? The Audi and BMW interfaces are better.
The Dynamic Select system that adjusts the car’s performance on an upward scale from Eco through Comfort and up to Sport+ marks useful distinctions and is much easier to manage. Other automated systems also work well—Mercedes-Benz’s Distronic Plus adaptive cruise control, part of the $2800 Driver Assistance package—may well set the industry standard, and its related driver aids always function as you’d expect.