Mercedes GLC 250 Review 1

As noted in recent SUV reviews, the shift towards SUVs and crossovers from the traditional sedan and hatchback is real, and very strong. Not endemic to a particular region, it’s a worldwide phenomenon, from China to the USA. Mass and premium brands that latched on early to the trend have profited greatly.

None more than BMW, which came out with the X3 way back in 2003. The E83 had challenging looks, but together with the original X1 (which wasn’t a looker either) that surfaced in 2009, the duo enjoyed a lion’s share of the mid-size and compact SUV market for the best part of a decade. Audi hopped on the gravy train in 2008 with the Q5, and the successful model still looks pretty fresh for a seven-year old design. The second-gen Q5 and third instalment of the X3 are just around the corner.

Where was Mercedes-Benz in all of this? It wasn’t absent. Stuttgart had the GLK, a boxy SUV based on the previous-gen W204 C-Class. The reason we’re unfamiliar with the Geländewagen Luxus Kompaktklasse is because it was never made in right-hand drive due to technical reasons. But even if it was, this writer suspects that the GLK wouldn’t have had the upper hand against its German rivals.

Enter the Mercedes-Benz GLC, launched this week in Malaysia. Armed with a new name, newfound curves and riding on the three-pointed star’s purple patch; the X253 is gunning for the title from the get go. We get acquainted with the segment’s fresh face over a weekend.

While the GLK looks as if it was drawn solely by ruler, the GLC is all curves. The design is unmistakably modern Mercedes-Benz, a look that has won new fans for the core sedan range of C, E and S; as well as the compact A-Class family. The GLC’s face could be mistaken for any of the above, but items such as the hollowed two-a-side louvres and the four chrome “teeth” below the bumper distinguish the SUV.

Mercedes-Benz Malaysia (MBM) has elected to sell the GLC exclusively in AMG Line, and the chrome bits on the “sump guard” are part of this trim level. That’s mirrored in the rear apron, sandwiched by pipes on each side, but without chrome and in a pack of three.

The AMG Line also brings an aggressive front bumper with prominent finned side “air intakes” (no holes, for aesthetics) and just a light dose of chrome. To these eyes, it looks significantly better than the standard car, which has rounder edges and liberal portions of the shiny stuff. Ditto the rear bumper, which gets a slim chrome strip as accent. MBM added one item that’s not on the AMG menu; the side running boards beef up the profile and visually link the front and rear chrome strips.

The GLC wears eye-catching jewellery in the form of LED headlamps, C-Class-style single-stroke LED daytime running lights and positioning lamps seemingly made up of many tiny light studs. The rear lamps get two LED bars each.

A special mention for the lovely 20-inch AMG alloys that contribute greatly to the GLC’s appearance. The multi-spoke rims, the largest available for this model, fill the arches nicely and is a dead ringer for the wheels on the W204 C 63 AMG in our office carpark.

Matches perfectly with our grey tester, which in my opinion looks a lot better (classier, lines stand out more) than the white example displayed at the launch event, but I could be biased. Equipped as such, the GLC is a good looking SUV with a sporty character, although the rear end – like the C-Class Coupe’s – is too organic and pear-shaped for my liking – Audi’s Q SUVs do a better job of emphasising width.

Mercedes GLC 250 Review 2

Speaking of which, the GLC is 8 mm narrower than a Q5, and wider than the X3 by the same margin. At 4,656 mm, the Merc is as long as the BMW, but we’re not looking at big footprint differences here. What’s significant is the GLC’s height of 1,639 mm, which is 16 mm lower than the Q5 and 39 mm lower than the X3.

The lower roofline, combined with a long wheelbase (33 mm longer than the W205 C-Class at 2,873 mm; X3 2,810 mm, Q5 2,807 mm) and minimal overhangs could be what gives the GLC its sleek profile. Combine the dimensions with the styling direction and you get a nett effect that’s rather distanced from the X3, which is more upright and rugged in image. Your pick.

The GLC looks pretty slippery for its kind, and Mercedes says that its Cd value of 0.31 and total aerodynamic drag of 0.794 is best in class. Shape aside, measures to improve aero include the sealing of the radiator and headlamp surrounds, a radiator shutter, the extended roof spoiler and a smoothened underbody.

Reducing weight was also on the agenda. The use of hot-formed high-strength steel in the structure and aluminium for the front wings, roof, bonnet and suspension has cut mass by 80 kg over the GLK, which was smaller in size. The use of a new compact transfer case as an add-on module and magnesium transmission housing saved 12 kg over the previous model.

Although Mercedes has done a good job in making the GLC look like a stand-alone model, it’s based on the C-Class, like how the GLA is related to the A-Class. This is effectively the C-Class of the newly-named SUV range, which includes the GLA, GLE and the flagship GLS, with Coupe variants to take on even-numbered BMW X models with sloping roofs.

Under the GLC 250’s long hood sits the M274 2.0 litre engine with 211 hp at 5,500 rpm and 350 Nm of torque available from 1,200 to 4,000 rpm. This turbocharged four-cylinder is the same unit powering the C 250 AMG sold in Malaysia. But unlike the sedan, which has seven forward gears, the GLC uses a nine-speed 9G-Tronic torque converter automatic transmission.

The powertrain combo is good for a 0-100 km/h sprint time of 7.3 seconds and a top speed of 223 km/h, predictably slower than the lighter saloon, which does 6.6 seconds and a capped 250 km/h. The GLC’s acceleration time beats the X3 xDrive 20i’s (184 hp, 270 Nm, 8.2 seconds), but not the 225 hp/350 Nm Q5 2.0 TFSI’s 7.1 seconds.

The brand’s 4Matic permanent all-wheel drive system is standard, with a basic drive torque split of 33:67 front-rear. It works together with ESP, ASR and 4ETS dynamic handling control systems, with a multiple-disc clutch in the centre differential assisting in very low grip situations, such as on snow or ice. A basic locking force of 50 Nm between the axles provides a significant increase in traction with the same high level of stability, Mercedes says.

The GLC is certainly fast and grippy enough, and I suspect that its reserves will be deeper than most typical owners would probe. Unlike the stereotypical Malaysian GLC, Merc’s GLC is agile and the standard sports suspension keeps a tight control on proceedings. It corners flatly and resists understeer well, which surprised me the first time around.

Ride comfort on the sports suspension is on the firm side in big bump absorption with not a lot of travel – you’d want to avoid those potholes and slow down for speed bumps, but it never gets uncomfortable or jarring. Very decent actually, when one considers that it rides on 20-inch wheels. No heavy price to pay for those fancy shoes.

The GLC’s steering is quick and direct, if ultimately lacking in road feel compared to the X3. Not a deal-breaker in any case, and most SUV shoppers would not even notice, this writer suspects.

The SUV’s Dynamic Select system has a couple of preset modes – Eco, Comfort, Sport, Sport+ and Individual – that one can tweak and customise (Individual). I don’t have a fetish for heavy steering and usually avoid Sport in selectable systems, but the GLC’s Sport steering mode is friendly enough at low urban speeds while adding a dollop of weight at speed. Good enough as a default, whether in C or S. Note that Dynamic Select does not alter damper settings.

Mercedes GLC 250 Review 3

The 2.0 litre turbo engine is a known quantity, and it performs as expected to give the GLC a decent turn of speed. M274 has a new partner in 9G-Tronic, but the experience isn’t worlds apart from the old combo, save for perhaps cruising economy, which we did not measure.

What we can tell you is that the GLC is a great cruiser thanks to a well-insulated and refined drivetrain. It’s even possible to waft around in town and flow with traffic off-boost. Driven in such a manner, in Comfort mode, the gearbox is similarly relaxed with delayed response.

The drivetrain’s Sport mode hurries things up but isn’t too aggressive – shifts are fast and overlap smoothly. Nine speeds is a bit of an overkill if you ask this dinosaur, but you don’t really feel it in practice, which is good.

Mercedes GLC 250 Review 28

Good as the GLC’s drivetrain is, it doesn’t expose the X3 and Q5 as slow and clumsy old geezers. That’s where the Merc’s cabin comes in. It’s all C-Class in here, which is no bad thing. The dashboard layout is typical modern Mercedes, characterised by three central round AC vents and an iPad-style screen in the middle.

An AMG interior styling package has been specified, and it includes Artico leather, a flat-bottomed three-spoke steering wheel and open-pore black ash wood trim. The latter looks fabulous and brings about a warm, rich feel to the cabin; the opposite effect of tacky piano black. Go ahead and touch it, just don’t tap it, as the hollow sound response will be anticlimactic. Audi, in the B9 A4, does dark wood much better.

Yours truly is pretty much a “free size” guy when it comes to cars and rarely have issues with ergonomics, but I found the GLC’s centre stack intrusive, restricting my left knee. Could be just me, though, as colleagues who took the car for short spins did not report the same. The driver’s seat could do with more thigh support, but the extendable seat base is good.

Nitpicking aside, the cabin is a classy effort, highlighted by details such as the texture of the AC buttons and the 13-speaker Burmester surround sound system’s elaborate speaker grilles. Even if you’re not an audiophile, it’s sure to impress your mates.

What won’t is the basic Audio 20 system and its 7.0-inch screen with thick bezel, plus the lack of a touchpad controller. The C 250 has the latter, linked to a COMAND Online multimedia system and a larger 8.4-inch screen. Audio 20 is packaged with a Garmin Map Pilot navigation system, which doesn’t look the sleekest.

That aside, the GLC 250 is very well-equipped. In addition to the above-mentioned AMG exterior and interior packages, and Burmester audio, MBM’s mid-size SUV also comes with a panoramic glass roof, three-zone air con (rear vents with fan speed and temp control), Active Parking Assist and a 360-degree camera with bird’s eye aerial view. The latter stitches together images from cameras located below the wing mirrors, under the front three-pointed star and above the rear license plate, to further aid parking.

There’s more convenience in the form of an electric tailgate with Hands-Free Access, which lets one open the tailgate by swiping his/her foot under the rear bumper. That, and the push button folding rear seats – which expands the boot capacity from 550 litres to 1,600 litres – are practical features for weekend trips to Ikea. Stylish it may be, but the GLC is a good family SUV as well.

The Mercedes-Benz GLC may have been late to the party, but it arrives at an opportune time, riding on the brand’s fantastic current form. Despite the age of the BMW X3 and Audi Q5, the GLC doesn’t quite obliterate them in the driving department like a young athlete would – but the Merc’s repertoire of refinement, style, a classy interior and showroom appeal puts it ahead of the pack. And if you’re not entirely convinced, the attractive price of RM328,888 should help with the decision making.