Mercedes-Benz GLC Class SUV (2015 - ) review
The Mercedes GLC is a prestige compact SUV to rival the likes of the Audi Q5, BMW X3 and Range Rover Evoque. It’s a cracking all-rounder and a very tempting ownership proposition.
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Style is the main reason people buy compact 4x4s like the GLC, so it’s good news that the Mercedes is handsome enough to compete with either of its key rivals from Audi and BMW. The styling has all the rugged-yet-sophisticated appeal to match the Q5 and X3. Although cars like the similarly priced Range Rover Evoque do offer a bit more glamour than any of the German alternatives. The standard SE car has roof rails and 17-inch alloy wheels as standard, but looks a little dowdy and plain to us. The Sport model adds LED headlamps, larger alloy wheels and chrome trim which lift the design considerably. The AMG Line car adds sportier body styling, 19-inch alloy wheels as standard and lowered suspension.
Climb into the GLC, and you’ll find a cabin that’s every bit as appealing as a big Mercedes should be. It’s trimmed with high-quality materials and thoughtfully finished surfaces, and even if you hunt around, you’ll struggle to find a single surface that lets the side down. The buttons on the centre console are clearly marked, if a little small to hit on the move. Most functions are controlled by scrolling through menus on the tablet-style (non-touch) screen using a rotary dial. It lends the cabin a high-tech feel and it’s also a pretty intuitive system, so long as you ignore the touchpad controller – which is inaccurate and distracting – and stick with just the dial. It can be quite hard to bend your elbow around the seat bolsters to use this control wheel comfortably too. You get the high driving position and good forward visibility that SUV buyers love, even if the wide rear pillars and small back window mean your over-the-shoulder visibility for swift parking manoeuvres isn’t quite so hot. The pedals are also quite off-set to the right, which is less of a problem in an automatic, but does mean you need to shift your body position to line-up across the pedals properly.
This is an area in which the GLC competes with its very best rivals. The generous boot is on a par with the Q5’s and X3’s for capacity, and the back seats fold virtually flat at the touch of a button when you need to carry bigger loads. The rear bench is more comfortable for two than three, due to the middle seat being hard, raised and positioned above a bulky transmission tunnel. But, if you only have two adults back there, both will enjoy generous head- and legroom. The black roof lining does make the cabin look less spacious then it actually is, but it's nowhere near as bad as in the GLA. The rest of the cabin is stuffed full of useful cubbies, and the door bins are helpfully shaped to take two big bottles in each side. Five seats are standard, and unlike rivals like the Land Rover Discovery Sport, you can’t add a third row of seats as an option, so the GLC isn't quite as versatile as it could be. However, that’s a minor niggle, in an otherwise very practical SUV.
Ride and handling
The driving characteristics of your GLC will sadly depend a little on how deep your pockets are. Fitted with the optional air suspension, it delivers a smooth cosseting ride at all speeds and tied down body movements in corners, and makes a fantastic motorway cruiser. So far we've only driven the AMG Line version in the UK, which has a firmer suspension setup than the standard SE and Sport models. It's not intolerable by any stretch, but your passengers will be jostled and jiggled around on scruffier surfaces and bumpy town roads. On the plus side, body control is pretty good, the four-wheel drive system provides a decent amount of grip, and only the numb, inconsistently weighted steering lets the side down. There is also a fair bit of road and wind noise on the motorway too, but less than you'd get in a BMW X3.
Two diesel engines are available, both 2.1-litre units with either 168bhp or 201bhp. The base 220d is not particularly fast, but it's all you really need, with enough muscle to build speed in a relaxed, easy manner. The higher-powered 250d does feel quicker in the mid-range and off the line, and does a pretty good impression of a larger V6 engine. Both engines work well with the standard nine-speed automatic gearbox, too, and most of the time it slushes through the ratios in an entirely relaxed, smooth manner. However, it can be caught out when you really nail the throttle, causing it to search around for the correct gear for that little bit too long, and it's similarly hesitant at low speed when using the steering-wheel mounted shift paddles too. One other drawback is that both the X3 and the Q5 are available with seriously powerful six-cylinder engines, and at the moment, the GLC would struggle to compete if you’re looking for an SUV with more of a sporty side. Refinement of this engine has been an issue in other Mercedes models, especially the A-Class, but apart from some agricultural clatter as you get up to speed, the GLC is fairly refined, although some vibration does still leak through the controls and up into the cabin.
Look at the purchase prices, and the GLC isn’t the cheapest option compared with a Q5 or X3, but it is competitive on price once you factor in the standard automatic gearbox and four-wheel drive system. Mid-range models are also very generously equipped. Its resale values should be as solid as its main premium competitors’, too. The pair of diesel engines – both of which return the same vital statistics for efficiency – give the GLC some of the lowest running costs in the class. Buyers of either engine can expect an official fuel return of 56.5mpg, while CO2 emissions of 129g/km put the GLC in a lower company car tax band than the other main players. Servicing from a main dealer will be an order higher than you'd pay for mainstream alternatives such as the Nissan Qashqai, but not insurmountable.
The GLC is too new for there to be any meaningful reliability data available, but look at the historical picture, and you might have cause for concern. Mercedes sits perilously close to the bottom of the manufacturer standings in Warranty Direct’s Reliability Index; and, according to the stats, Mercedes’ SUVs have been some of the company's worst performers. However, part of that poor performance is down to the expense of any repair work you need to stump up for, rather than its regularity. That being said, the GLC shares its platform with the latest C-Class, which has traditionally been one of the firm’s strongest performers when it comes to durability. We're inclined to give the GLC the benefit of the doubt for now, and on the plus side its engines and four-wheel drive system are both tried and tested units that have featured in plenty of other models in the line-up.
Every GLC comes with seven airbags and stability control, but the standard safety roster also includes a system that detects fatigue in the driver and advises them to take a break, as well as another that applies the brakes automatically if an impending collision is detected and the driver takes no action. A whole host of other clever driver aids are also available from the options list. These include a head-up display, 360 degree parking camera, and a pack of bundled driver assistance systems for total peace of mind. The car has been crash tested by Euro NCAP, and like every Mercedes tested since 2009, it achieved the full five-star rating. An impressive record that the brand has every right to be proud of.
Even the most humble of the three trim choices provides an impressive amount of standard equipment. The SE has keyless go, leather-effect upholstery, a powered tailgate and an infotainment system that incorporates five speakers, a DAB radio and a reversing camera. Sport trim adds a parking assistant, heated front seats, sat-nav, a mirror package, a lighting package and a different interior trim, but you can add the best of those bits to SE trim by adding the SE Premium package, which costs half the price of the upgrade in spec. Go for the range-topping AMG Line trim, and you’ll also get sportier styling inside and out, along with sports suspension. The GLC compares well to its rivals in this area, but the options that you might want, such as the bigger screen and upgraded sat-nav system, are only available as part of an expensive package, and not individually, so quickly push the overall price up.
Because you’re a fan of the luxury and practicality that a prestige compact 4x4 gives you, but you’re bored to tears with the string of Audi Q5s and BMW X3s you’ve had on your driveway. For the first time, Mercedes has a genuinely compelling rival to both those big-selling models and the Land Rover Discovery Sport, in the shape of the GLC.