Mercedes-Benz GLC

Late to the posh-SUV party, but set to make a grand entrance

NATHAN PONCHARD

FIRST OVERSEAS DRIVE

WHEN you pay a premium price for something, you expect a premium product. Cut-above engineering combined with a high-grade interior, with a high-grade interior, cloaked in a stylistic form able to withstand any ‘driveway’ test. And if you can add a degree of X-factor to the mix, then you might just have yourself a Mercedes-Benz GLC.

That warmth of appreciation begins the moment you see it. With an almost coupe-like glasshouse and wheels pushed out to each corner, the GLC is an exceedingly handsome SUV.

AMG GT aside, the GLC is Mercedes-Benz’s best-looking car, and it’s all in those sculptural shoulders, tapering to a delicately proportioned rear that manages to house the equal-largest boot in its class (550-1600 litres).

Uniquely, even the base GLC features adaptive dampers for its steel coil springs, but you can go one step further by selecting ‘Air Body Control’ with its multi-chamber air springs and electronically controlled, continuously adjustable dampers.

And it’s this set-up, matched to massive 255/45R20 Pirelli Scorpion Verde tyres, that adorned all the GLCs we drove in Europe.

Only three engine variants will be available at launch here – 220d, 250d and 250 petrol – each tied to Mercedes’ new nine-speed automatic and transferring power through a permanent allwheel- drive system split 45/55 front/rear (or, weirdly, 31/69 on right-hand-drive 250ds).

Lesser-powered rear-drive variants will come later, but the bulk of GLC volume come from these three models, kicking off at a super-competitive $64,500 in Australia.

First thing you notice about the GLC 220d is how refined the 125kW/400Nm 2.1-litre twin-turbo diesel is. You wouldn’t call it velvety, but there’s a definite improvement in NVH over the same engine in the C-Class. Acceleration is respectable (0-100 in 8.3sec), as is efficiency (5.0L/100km), and there’s something about the 220d’s laid-back feel that we prefer over its gruntier, noisier 150kW/500Nm 250d sibling.

The sweetest of the three GLC models is undoubtedly the 250 petrol. With about 60kg less weight over the nose, it has a greater resistance to understeer, though no GLC is what you’d call inspiring to drive.

It’s competent, particularly in Sport+ mode that lowers the air suspension 15mm, yet despite having just 2.3 turns lock-to-lock, the GLC’s steering lacks the desired on-centre feel.

Far more impressive is its refinement and the absorbency of the air suspension in Comfort mode when served up big hits.

It eats that stuff up better than it does low-amplitude irregularities on the 20-inch wheels of the launch cars, though it feels a little floaty at Aussie freeway speeds.

What ultimately elevates the GLC far beyond its classmates, though, is its interior. It has a rock-star factor that none of its rivals come even remotely close to. Despite a raised driving position, you always feel like you’re part of the car, not sitting on top of it. While GLC shares its dashboard with the C-Class, its larger, airier cabin gives you an even greater appreciation for its high-quality look and feel.

The GLC isn’t the driver’s SUV a Macan is, and its engines aren’t as sweet as BMW’s, but in every other department the GLC scores.

When you’re paying $65K for a handsome wedge of tasteful SUV, you expect a quality experience and that’s something the GLC serves up on a silver platter.

Model Engine Max power Max torque Transmission Weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale Mercedes-Benz GLC 250 4matic 1991cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo 155kW @ 5500rpm 350Nm @ 1200-4000rpm 9-speed automatic 1735kg 7.3sec (claimed) 6.5L/100 (EU) $67,900 December

PLUS & MINUS

250d not as sweet as 220d; handling not as crisp as a C-Class; firm ride Styling; interior; class-leading passenger and luggage space; off-road ability

01 SIZE MATTERS

Riding on the longest wheelbase in class (2873mm), the GLC just manages to out-size its rivals in length and has a class-best 0.31 drag coefficient. Front guards, bonnet and roof are aluminium.

02 ATTENTION TO DETAIL

Front doors get dual bottleholders, while rear seat offers plenty of under-thigh support and loads of room. One-touch, fold-flat backrests underline class-leading practicality.

03 POWER UP

GLC line-up will eventually include a GLC63 AMG variant boasting the C63’s 4.0-litre twinturbo V8 producing up to 375kW (due 2017) and a lesser-powered GLC450 AMG with a twin-turbo 3.0-litre V6 (mid-2016).

Hip-hop tranny

IN THE GLC 250d we drove at launch, the high-boost diesel and nine-speed auto weren’t quite on the same page.

The odd thump from the transmission when crawling in traffic, combined with a similar result when asking for all 500Nm worth at full throttle, made the 250d the least persuasive of the three engine variants. 9G-tronic development chief Christoph Dorr said “it shouldn’t do that”, which reminded us of the old 7G-tronic’s early hiccups when it launched more than a decade ago.

Expect a prompt fix.

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BMW X3 xDrive 28i $73,400

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