Atlanta, Georgia – The answer was simple: "Because that’s where our new headquarters are located!" The question? Why Atlanta for the launch of the new Mercedes-Benz GLC? That’s right, Atlanta, Georgia is where the headquarters of Mercedes-Benz USA has been relocated to. Apparently more tax friendly and less expensive than their previous home in New Jersey.
Many, including myself were a little confused at the loss of the diesel engine in the lineup, especially when that engine represented 80 percent of sales.
Once our curiosity was satisfied at why the seeming odd location for a first drive, business was directed at the all-new-for-2016 Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class. This is Mercedes-Benz’s new compact crossover model replacing the previously popular and distinct GLK model. The naming convention is easier to understand: the GLC is equivalent to the C-Class in terms of product placement in the Mercedes-Benz lineup.
What might make less sense though is the design of the vehicle, especially for those that admired the GLK as a vehicle that was different in a segment of sameness. The GLK was bold, upright and boxy. The huge pointed star on the grille ensured that everyone knew what brand of vehicle you were driving as you arrived on the scene – the new GLC moves in a different direction.
Rounded out on all corners, the GLC looks very similar to its closest competitor in the market, the Audi Q5. Remove the badging, put these vehicles side-by-side and pick a hundred luxury car shoppers at random and it would be anybody’s guess at which vehicle is the Mercedes-Benz and which is the Audi. That is unfortunate from where I stand.
The utility and size of the GLK was always called into question and this is where Mercedes-Benz has greatly improved the GLC. The GLC has grown in every dimension both inside and out, offering a larger cargo capacity, more passenger volume and a more airy feel on the inside.
The GLK was offered with two engines, a 3.0L V6 and a four-cylinder diesel – surprisingly the diesel engine was less expensive than the V6 and of course offered better fuel economy. The base price for a GLK 250 4MATIC was $48,600 and in terms of sales the Bluetec diesel–equipped GLK represented 80 percent of GLK sales in Canada.
For 2016 the GLC is offered only with a new direct injection turbo 2.0L four-cylinder gasoline engine that produces 241 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque. Its base price is actually lower than that of the outgoing GLK with a starting price of just $44,950. Many, including myself, were a little confused at the loss of the diesel engine in the lineup, especially when that engine represented 80 percent of sales. But when you sit back and look at the numbers the omission is not as bad as it looks.
This new 2.0L gas engine offers more power than the diesel, is nearly four thousand dollars less expensive than the diesel was and it is estimated it will be very close to the diesel in efficiency – much more efficient than the outgoing V6 gas engine. We were assured that the Bluetec engine will be offered next model year and that most likely pricing will be held in line. Based on this information I’d venture to guess the 2017 GLC 250 (BlueTEC Diesel) will have a starting price of around $49,000.
The 2.0L is mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission and with the new lower drag coefficient (0.31 vs the old 0.34) the new GLC should be much more fuel efficient than the outgoing model – unfortunately at this time the fuel economy figures have not yet been released.
In terms of interior appointments the GLC is very well equipped. As standard customers have a choice of wood or aluminum trim, keyless start, heated front seats, ARTICO leather upholstery, 40/20/20 split-folding rear seats and much more. Mercedes-Benz offers a few packages for the GLC including a Premium Package for $4,900, a Premium Plus Package for $2,900, an AMG Sport package, LED lighting package and their Intelligent Drive package which adds features like PRE-SAFE Brake (Autonomous braking), PRE-SAFE Plus for Rear-end collision avoidance, active blind spot monitoring.
The packaged pricing seems fair, with the exception that you are required to spend near $8,000 extra to get something that is very common these days such as proximity key entry and an integrated garage door opener. Thankfully Mercedes-Benz does offer some a la carte options like a heated steering wheel for only $250 and Air Body Control (air suspension) for $1,800 or even a trailer hitch for $650.
The GLC exemplifies what you expect from a Mercedes-Benz product and follows on the same design language that the rest of the lineup has established. The interior is well laid out, simple and sophisticated. The COMAND system is the heart of the control centre with both a dial and touchpad surface for control. This system does take some getting used to and is certainly not the most intuitive system on the market, but the screen is sharp and clear and when you finally do figure it out it is very responsive.
The rest of the interior is well appointed; the leather seating is comfortable and feels of quality as one would expect of a Mercedes-Benz product. The only complaint I have about the interior is the Dark Ash Wood trim on the centre stack blends in too much with the black rubberized dash material. Due to the lack of contrast the wood grain is lost and the centre stack simply looks like black plastic that is dirty. The Brown Ash Wood trim solves this problem and looks great – this is from someone that isn’t really a fan of brown wood trims.
The roads of Atlanta are pretty nondescript. For the most part they are flat, smooth and boring. As a result of the American love for the interstate we spent a lot of time on them and during this time it became obvious that the GLC loves this type of travel. It is extremely quiet with zero wind noise even during a windy day and road noise was for all intents and purposes also approaching zero. A full day of driving and not once did we feel we needed the radio to drown out any noise in the cabin.
Just north of Atlanta between Blue Ridge and the Monteluce Winery just outside of the Amicalola Fall State Park is a wonderful highway that could challenge the best of proper driver’s cars. The road is a series of switchbacks, tight turns, on-camber sweepers and more on near perfect asphalt. The GLC may not be the vehicle best suited for this drive, but was easily able to hold its own. With a posted speed limit of 35 mph the road was difficult to travel at the posted rate with its many curves, moist weather and fall leaves strewn about. Pushed hard, the GLC was always surefooted and when pushed beyond its limits with the tires howling it stayed neutral with little understeer.
The steering itself is very responsive and direct, switching modes between comfort and sport revealed little difference in steering feel but a difference in the amount of dead space before the steering responses. I felt the steering was perhaps a little too direct for the driving most drivers shopping this category are expecting.
The nine-speed transmission programming is excellent and it seamlessly chose the proper gear. In sport mode the transmission would downshift aggressively when called upon and stay in a higher gear longer. The one notable here was the rate at which the GLC was able to keep its speed on flat surfaces without additional throttle and how it gained speed on downhill sections suggests a very low drag coefficient as reported and low overall friction losses.
Due to the low drag the brakes come into play significantly on those twisty roads and although the brakes performed well I found that as the pedal travel increased, so did the amount of force required to slow the vehicle. This meant hard braking also translated to hard pedal pressure; that works wonderfully in a sports car, but in a compact crossover I would expect a little less effort to be required.
Despite the departure from the bold, distinctive design and lack of initial offering of a diesel engine, I have a feeling the GLC will still be a great seller for Mercedes-Benz. The exterior and interior design flow well together and offer a more mainstream appeal. The 2.0L gasoline engine is powerful and smooth while offering good fuel economy (we averaged around 8 L/100 km during our ride and drive program.
The GLC pricing structure is fairly aggressive, staring at under $45,000 for a well-equipped luxury crossover and in the end that may bring more new customers to the brand than bold styling or a diesel engine.