THE BOFFINS in Stuttgart definitely underestimated the worth of a decent SUV spin-off first time out.
Four years behind BMW’s inaugural X3 and hobbled with left-hand-drive only, the 2008-15 Mercedes-Benz GLK is now widely recognised as “a mistake” by the company’s top brass. But that’s all finally about to change.
Sharing its platform and drivetrains with the lauded W205 C-Class, the GLK’s all-new GLC replacement is Mercedes’ apology to the world. And, in particular, right-hook markets like Australia.
Yet the GLC is hardly begging forgiveness. It’s too good for that.
Beneath its tastefully sculpted sheetmetal – some of which is aluminium – the GLC offers several advances over the C-Class from which it’s derived.
Its slightly longer wheelbase liberates 30mm of rear legroom, while its increase in height achieves additional headroom (another 30mm). In conjunction with a rear-seat cushion mounted 30mm higher from the floor, the GLC is actually 60mm better off for back-seat passengers, as well as 20mm wider for crucial extra kiddy-seat room. Yet while the GLC’s 550-1600 litre boot sits at the top of its class, in reality a C-Class Estate is more cargo friendly.
The GLC’s passenger-car stablemates are also sweeter to drive, though this SUV is respectably accomplished.
While the GLCs we drove at the international launch were all fitted with optional ‘Air Body Control’ suspension, the local launch cars were steel-sprung with fixed-rate dampers. The adaptive dampers we were told would be part of the steel-sprung set-up was misinformation.
On the multi-faceted roads of Victoria’s Yarra Ranges, the GLC impressed with its quietness and generally plush and absorbent ride, even on the 255/45R20s worn by both 250 variants.
But big hits see the standard suspension kiss its bump stops – as do speed humps, even when taken slowly – pointing to the lack of damping resistance as the pace gets serious. Selecting Sport mode removes any inconsistency to the steering’s weighting, making the stock GLC point with greater cohesion, but anyone who truly values dynamics should head straight for Air Body Control ($2490 extra). Or at least the AMG Line package ($2990) that brings sports suspension (but not ABC), as well as multispoke 20s, a subtle bodykit, privacy glass, sports pedals and a flat-bottomed steering wheel.
Thankfully, the body’s irritating sidesteps are a delete option.
While performance enthusiasts should wait for the 270kW 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 to arrive in mid-2016, the 220d, 250 and 250d variants perform well.
The base 125kW/400Nm diesel is a fairly sweet thing, if lacking the sportier zest of the 155kW/350Nm 2.0-litre turbo-petrol, while the 150kW/500Nm 250d felt smoother and more polished than the example we drove in Europe.
Benz’s 9G-tronic nine-speed auto also performed flawlessly.
But it’s the GLC’s premium interior, and its superb forward view, that is guaranteed to make this SUV the one to have. About the only thing the base $64,500 220d is lacking is genuine leather, though its seats are among the best in GLC’s competitor set.
And if you have a play with the tempting options packages (such as the Comand pack with premium multimedia and centre screen, plus internet and a fabulous 13-speaker Burmester stereo for $2990), then the GLC stretches into super-luxe territory.
Talk about all good things coming to those who wait.
Standard suspension damping; intrusive and ugly sidesteps Class-leading interior; drivetrains and efficiency; equipment
The latest generation of Benz’s revered ‘Airmatic’ suspension system is called Air Body Control. A $2490 option, it uses multi-chamber air springs, interconnected by valves, to enable multiple springing rates, controlled by a continuously adjustable damping system.
Even the base Aussie GLC220d sports all-wheel-drive, 19s, nine airbags, electric front seats, a 360-degree parking camera and cross-wind assist. The GLC250s get 20s, keyless entry, leather, privacy glass, and Driver Assistance Package Plus (active cruise, full AEB, lane assist etc.)
You may be surprised to learn that the GLC shares its dashboard architecture with the C-Class, if only because it seems to ‘breathe’ better in the SUV. The over-sized air vents and ‘aeronautical’ design cues are more suited to the GLC’s airier cabin. And, my, what a splendid view!
While some premium manufacturers offer ‘stripper’ mid-sized SUVs with two-wheeldrive, Mercedes-Benz is in no hurry to go there. A rear-drive 135kW/300Nm GLC200 petrol is a possibility, but not the upmarket GLC350 Hybrid (for now, at least).
Instead, M-B Oz will be concentrating on hero variants – the 270kW GLC450 AMG (due later this year) and the ballsout GLC63 twin-turbo V8 (likely to land early 2017). Given Australia’s infatuation with all things AMG, it’s a smart strategy.
A serious performer for a fairly serious price, the 190kW/560Nm six-cylinder turbo-diesel X3 is currently the performance pick for posh mid-sized SUVs, but it can’t hold a candle to the GLC’s class, comfort and quality of finish.
One of the oldest SUVs in its class (an all-new one should surface late this year), the Q5 continues to surprise with its driveability and quality. Its TDI V6 is stronger than the GLC’s four, but the Benz buries the Audi for driveway razzle-dazzle.