Those searching for a compact luxury SUV should put the 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class on their test-drive list. This impressively engineered, ultra-refined and stylishly rendered compact luxury SUV looks and feels like a step above the pack. It puts literal meaning to the words "luxury sport-utility" and earns a resounding "A" rating from our editors.
What Is It?
The Mercedes-Benz GLC is the brand's entry in the compact luxury SUV segment that also features the Acura RDX, Audi Q5, BMW X3, Lexus NX and Volvo XC60. The GLC replaces the previous GLK and is larger, 176 pounds lighter, more elegant and more capable than the outgoing GLK it replaces.
The new GLC name serves a dual purpose: to provide separation between the all-new SUV and its predecessor, while aligning it with the latest Mercedes-Benz naming convention. To put it simply, the "GL" part of the name indicates that it's an SUV. The "C" indicates that it's based off the C-Class sedan: hence GLC.
Presently, there is only a GLC300 model available, but a GLC350e plug-in hybrid and GLC 450 AMG sport-tuned model are expected in future model years. A diesel model is also likely. The MSRP of a GLC300 4Matic (all-wheel drive) begins at $40,950, with the rear-drive GLC300 starting at $38,950. Most examples that we've seen at Mercedes dealerships have been in the mid-to-upper $40Ks, while our well-equipped GLC300 test car hit the register at $54,255.
How Does It Feel Behind the Wheel?
During our initial drive on straight and silky thick asphalt in Europe, the GLC felt like a bullet train at high speeds: smooth, stable, vaultlike. This was reinforced back home on a windy stretch of anything-but-silky highway in Southern California. Not only does the GLC feel resolutely planted, but the ultra-quiet cabin means easier conversation or better enjoyment of the premium Burmester surround-sound system ($850) for non-chatty types.
The ride quality is especially impressive. Though our test car's optional 20-inch wheels added some impact harshness, it was rarely objectionable, and the damping and control exhibited by the suspension resulted in a ride well within the realm of what we'd deem comfortable. With smaller wheels, it would be even better.
Yet, it can get better still. This is the first SUV in the segment to be offered with an adjustable suspension, or what Mercedes-Benz calls Air Body Control. The GLC literally rides on cushions of air in place of the standard steel springs. It's paired with a selective damper system that's constantly softening and firming up the ride and handling to best suit driving conditions. It can also raise the ride height for a little bit of extra ground clearance.
As with so many luxury cars, exactly how the GLC drives depends on you. Dynamic Select, which comes standard, allows for five different driving programs tailoring engine, transmission, steering and suspension (if equipped with Air Body Control) responses to each specific mode. Eco and Comfort provide more relaxed settings, with light steering effort and throttle response tuned for maximum fuel efficiency. Sport and Sport+ modes create a more heightened sense of feel and, if equipped with Air Body Control, stiffen the suspension for better response to quick inputs and even lower the ride height. This makes the GLC surprisingly effective at attacking corners. The fifth setting called Individual allows you to mix and match your preferences like a kid at a soda fountain. For instance, if you prefer light Comfort steering effort with Sport+ everything else, you can have it.
However, be it in Comfort or Sport, there isn't a wealth of feedback from the steering wheel. The electric power assist preserves enough road sensation to avoid that detached video game feel, and Sport's extra dollop of weighting makes a noteworthy difference. Still, you'll find even more feedback and engagement at the helm of a BMW X3 or Porsche Macan.
The GLC's brakes deliver fantastic stopping power (with the Sport package's summer tires and bigger brakes, our test car stopped from 60 mph in 116 feet). Our rear-wheel-drive GLC300 test car definitely had the more lithe feeling of a car whose front wheels were unencumbered with the task of propulsion. It added to the general driving sensation of the GLC feeling more like a slightly tall sport wagon than a bulky SUV. Nevertheless, the permanent 4Matic all-wheel-drive system that represents a $2,000 upgrade still sends slightly more power to the rear (55 percent) for a sportier feel.
What Level of Autonomous Driving Does It Offer?
An increasing number of cars are available with adaptive cruise control systems that automatically slow the car to match the speed of a vehicle ahead. The Mercedes system is called Distronic Plus, and it's one of the better systems available today. Distronic Plus will automatically and smoothly bring the car to a complete stop and start up again as needed to keep up with traffic. This can be done at full highway speeds or when stuck in traffic, meaning you don't really need to touch the pedals. This, too, is becoming more common, but Distronic's rare addition of Steering Assist means the car can also do the steering for you. It just asks that you keep a hand on the wheel.
Distronic Plus certainly makes a case for autonomous driving, as we found that it reduces fatigue on long highway journeys and slogs through gridlock. In the GLC, it is included in the $2,800 Driver Assistance package that also includes enhanced blind-spot and forward-collision warning systems, as well as lane-keeping assist.
What Is Under the Hood?
Though additional options are on the horizon, for now, there is only one engine option. Luckily, it's a good one. The GLC300's 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine produces 241 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, which amounts to suitably authoritative passing power. Also, unlike those of some rivals, Benz's turbo-4 doesn't sound any less refined than the more common six-cylinder engines typically found in luxury SUVs.
At our test track, the GLC300 went from zero to 60 mph in 6.7 seconds, which is about average for the segment. Quicker exceptions include the Acura RDX and BMW X3 xDrive28i (a few tenths quicker) and the far more powerful Porsche Macan S (a full second swifter).
Sending its power to either the rear wheels or all four is a nine-speed automatic, which manages to avoid the infernal gear hunting and pokey responses we've experienced with transmissions with this many gears. It just feels normal. Should your pace quicken, we didn't find the gearchanges in Sport+ mode to be as intelligent as those in sportier Benz models, but this is still a compact SUV we're talking about, and at the same time, there are manual-shift paddles if you ever feel the need to choose gears yourself.
The EPA estimates the GLC300 will return 24 mpg combined regardless of whether it has front- or all-wheel drive. We achieved 24.1 mpg on our 116-mile evaluation route, which is 4 mpg better than we managed with the BMW X3 xDrive28i.
What Kind of Utility Does This SUV Offer?
Compared to the previous GLK, the GLC is bigger in nearly every dimension. The interior has gone from one of the most cramped in the segment to one of the most usefully spacious. The GLK wasn't a good choice for families, but the GLC can accommodate them just fine. The most dramatic increases appear in rear legroom (plus 2.2 inches), rear elbow/shoulder room (plus 1.3/1.1 inches) and front elbow/shoulder room (plus 2.2/2.1 inches). Headroom is also ample. A 6-footer can now easily sit behind another 6-footer, and indeed, we found that there was effectively just as much legroom in back as in the larger GLE-Class.
Mercedes-Benz lists total cargo capacity as 56.5 cubic feet, which is unremarkable compared to other SUVs in the class, but cargo capacity measurement standards differ from brand to brand, making comparisons difficult. Regardless of numbers, we can report that the GLC has one of the more useful cargo areas in the segment. Depth is typical, but it's wider than many, allowing a full set of golf clubs to fit widthwise (many other compact SUVs require diagonal placement). The roof line also isn't radically raked as in such competitors like the Lexus NX 200t, making it more likely that you can carry a large box without folding the rear seat.
Should you need to do that, though, it can be accomplished by pressing buttons in either the trunk or on the seats themselves. A nice touch is that the front seats will automatically motor forward should they get in the way of the folding rear head restraints.
How Does the Cabin Look and Function?
If there's a more elegant-looking cabin in the compact SUV segment, we haven't seen it. The large piece of wood trim in the center console makes a strong statement, accented by lovely metal air vents and switchgear that looks as if they came from a pricier car.
Really, this level of design and quality is present regardless of what options boxes you select (an exception is the MBTex simulated leather dash covering, available separately or within the Interior package). Even the MBTex seat upholstery that you'll find on the vast majority of GLCs at dealer lots is as close a simulation to the real cow-sourced stuff as you'll find. It'll also breathe better and wear less over time.
The seats it adorns are of the typical firm variety Mercedes is known for, boasting a degree of long-distance comfort that had us free of aches and fatigue despite three consecutive days of five or more hours in the saddle. This, along with the ride, the hushed cabin and Distronic Plus, makes the GLC a supreme highway cruiser. We would recommend opting for the available "14-way" power seats that in particular add a welcome power thigh adjustment feature.
Another prominent cabin element is the COMAND electronics interface, with its large central display screen and unique knob/touchpad control combo. Frankly, we've found this revised system to be more confusing than the one found in the GLK and other, older Benzes. A user of that system will find similarities, but the removal of physical preset buttons and the change of certain menu functions to accommodate the largely redundant touchpad have made the system a bit confusing.
What Optional Features Should You Consider?
Aside from the aforementioned Interior ($2,500) and Driver Assistance ($2,800) packages, the Advanced Parking Assistance package ($1,540) adds highly useful 360-degree cameras as well as hands-free liftgate operation, initiated with a foot swipe under the rear bumper. An automatic parking function is also included, though we've yet to find a system that does a better job than a well-practiced driver.
For those desiring a more aggressive-looking GLC, à la the beautiful Cardinal Red example you see in the attached pictures, the Night package adds gloss-black exterior trim instead of the standard silver alloy, while the Sport package ($2,950) adds AMG body styling front and rear, and bumps you up to 19-inch AMG-specific dual five-spoke wheels. The as-equipped 20-inch wheels are also available for an additional $1,050.
Full LED headlamps are also offered with Active Curve Illumination and High-Beam Assist ($1,390), and a COMAND navigation system is the primary component of the Multimedia package ($2,330).
What Competing Models Should You Also Consider?
The Audi Q5 is getting on in years and is starting to feel it. Yet this wonderfully constructed, well-rounded small SUV still offers plenty of appeal. It no longer stands out as it once did, but it's relatively vice-free.
The BMW X3 is perhaps the GLC's closest competitor in terms of price, interior space and driving experience. It's not quite as elegant in appearance (especially inside) as the GLC, but it does offer more efficient and more powerful engine options.
The Lexus NX 200t is another new kid on the block, with a well-balanced driving experience and an interior built to a standard that challenges the lovely GLC. It offers less in the way of cargo capacity, however.
And should price be less of a concern, there's the Porsche Macan. It, too, doesn't provide much in the way of utility, but its interior is lovely in its own right, and nothing drives better.
Why Should You Consider This Car?
It leads the segment in terms of interior elegance, while also being one of the more functional examples. There's an impressive balance between comfort and driver engagement that gives it a refined feel that few other vehicles in the segment can match.
Why Should You Think Twice About This Car?
Apart from the Porsche Macan, the GLC is one of the more expensive vehicles in the compact luxury segment. If you're looking for more features for less money, this is probably not the best way to go.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report. The manufacturer also provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.