Given the somewhat bewildering alphabet-soup world that Mercedes-Benz cars inhabit, it can be a little difficult to keep up with all the models in the portfolio; I know I have a hard time remembering what is what. However, here’s the simple version – this is the new GLC, a 5-seater SUV that you buy if you want a C-Class on stilts. It’s right there in the name, actually – the ‘G’ is for geländewagen (German for off-road vehicle), the ‘L’ hangs around as a sort of connecting alphabet and the ‘C’ indicates that it’s the SUV version of the sedan. The previous model did very well for Mercedes-Benz both in India and abroad, and the new one’s taken a while to show itself here, having been unveiled just over a year ago. What’s the fuss about, you ask? Indeed, is there anything worth fussing about? Let’s find out.
As an automotive manufacturer, if you’re going to organise a drive for media, it always helps to pick a top-notch location for it – and MB India smashed it out of the park in this regard. The spectacular environs of Hampi formed the backdrop for the drive, and I’m here to tell you that if you haven’t visited yet, put it at the top of your list. The GLC doesn’t look quite as mind-blowing as the architecture there, but it doesn’t look out of place either, which is an achievement.
It’s not an unfamiliar design, but it does look more modern in every aspect than the older car. The headlights integrate very well with the wider grille, with the bonnet receiving some power bumps. A huge chrome section under the grille brings the bling factor, and there are two Merc badges up front, one on the grille and one on the bonnet (just in case one isn’t enough). The lengthened wheelbase and increased width give it some proper heft, with the fancy 19-inch alloys keeping the wheel arches honest; in profile, the long bonnet adds some grandeur. The sides are otherwise clean and unfussy, with silver-grey running boards and roof rails for contrast. The rear gets a chunky bumper and some very tasty tail lamps, which look smashing in the dark; there’s another swathe of chrome under the hatch door, with some faux exhaust tips. All told, the GLC pulls off the familiar Mercedes trick of looking elegant, with some flash mixed in.
On to the cabin, to which your reaction will depend on your level of gizmo attraction. Now, I’m no Luddite, and far be it from me to insist on manual window winders and cassette players, but I do think technology in cars needs to make your life noticeably easier, not more fiddly – and with the GLC going virtually all-touch, this is the case. The usual caveats about ‘you’ll get used it it’ apply, but again, tech in cars isn’t something that should grow on you over time. What’s the problem, exactly? Strap in while I get the demerits out of the way.
The GLC’s cabin-showstopper is the giant touchscreen infotainment system, with the latest MBUX software, conveniently angled towards the driver. It looks great in terms of its resolution and is crammed with features – too many, perhaps. The A/C controls are fully touch-based, for example, and adjusting them on the fly requires taking your eyes off the road. There’s no physical dial for volume control either, which means you have to use rather small touch-based sliders either on the steering wheel or under the main touchscreen – and neither is terribly precise. The sunroof controller is also a touch slider, although it seemed to work better than the other two. I imagine Merc wants you to use the touch controls in conjunction with voice controls, but the problem is that those aren’t very accurate either. Just give us some proper switches, dials and buttons, please.
Some of the other not-so-good things I noticed were the hard plastic bits near the door handles and door panels, the lack of seat cooling (baffling in a car in this price bracket), the cramming of the wireless smartphone charger, USB-C ports and cupholders into the small-ish centre console and the narrow rear-door exit/entry spaces.
Other than these, it’s mostly good news. There’s no doubt that the cabin looks upmarket, and the seats are superbly finished in faux leather front and rear and are very comfortable; the front seats are fully powered and have memory settings, and the drover’s seat features a party trick – if you enter your height in cm into the infotainment system, the seat adjusts to the position it thinks is best for you. There’s enough head, elbow and leg room at the back for three adults, although two is the preferred number. The hi-res digital instruments looks fantastic and are configurable in a variety of ways, and the chunky 3-spoke steering wheel feels substantial to hold. There’s a tremendous Burmester audio system on offer, too, for those concert-hall occasions. Other notable features include a panoramic sunroof, wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, ambient lighting, powered tailgate, a massive 600-litre boot and a cool ‘transparent bonnet’ – essentially a front camera that streams a series of images of the underside of the car to the infotainment screen up to 8 kph, so you can see what’s under you. It’s all very Mercedes-Benz, in other words – stately, easy on the eye and plush.
In the internal combustion department, the GLC offers two options – a 2-litre turbo-petrol with 255 bhp and 40.7 kgm and a 2-litre turbo-diesel with 194 bhp and 45 kgm; 4MATIC is now offered as standard, as is a 48-volt mild-hybrid starter generator. I drove the petrol version throughout, and it’s an engine that’s in keeping with the overall character of the car, which is to say that it’s very refined but not thrilling. The starter generator does aid quick forward movement in a noticeable manner, so getting off the line quickly is never an issue, especially in Sport+ mode.
Acceleration is linear and smooth, with the 9-speed automatic (with paddles) playing along as long as you’re not overly aggressive with it, in which case it tends to become a little confused. The paddle shifters feel sharper, but overall, this isn’t a car in which to play boy-racer (probably a good thing, since you’re likely to have family members sitting in it). The engine feels like it’s been tuned specifically for efficiency, and the gearbox, although refined, tries to select as high a cruising gear as possible even in Sport mode, which isn’t best suited for corner carving work. It’s superb for the highway, however, and at a genteel velocity of around 120 kph, the engine/gearbox combination work very effectively, which is likely all that most buyers will want.
In the handling department, again, it becomes clear pretty quickly that the GLC is best used sedately. Sport and Sport+ modes don’t make much difference to body control, and the car tends to wallow around corners – and there’s not much connection from the steering wheel or the brakes, which feel a bit soft. The car’s default setting is predictable understeer, which is par for the course for this category.
Straight-line stability is top-notch, however, and the ride quality is excellent even with the 19-inch wheels; the non-adaptive suspension is supple, and there’s enough ground clearance to take it clambering over some decent off-road territory, with the ‘transparent bonnet’ feature coming into its own here. The AWD system is quietly efficient at distributing power to the wheels that require it, too. I’m willing to bet that less than 1 per cent of GLC owners will take it within a 100 km of an off-road section, and the car will live the majority of its life in the city and on highways – which is what it’s been built for. In terms of safety, you can rest easy, because the active safety feature suite is comprehensive.
If you’re already a Mercedes-Benz fan, the GLC is as close to a no-brainer as you can get – it offers everything you could want in a rock-solid family car, and at a price of Rs 74.5 lakh it’s as well-priced as a car in this segment can be. If you want more driving involvement, the BMW X3 is the one, and the Lexus NX and Range Rover Evoque are other options.
AUTODATAMercedes-Benz GLC 300 4MATIC/ 220d 4MATIC
1999cc turbo-petrol/ 1993cc turbo-diesel
255 bhp/ 194 bhp
40.7 kgm/ 45 kgm
F/R: 235/55 R19 / 235/55 R19
1945 kg/ 2014 kg
Rs 73.5 lakh/Rs 74.5 lakh (ex-showroom)