Mercedes-Benz’s recently adopted renaming strategy aligns each of its crossovers and SUVs more closely with the brand’s sedan models in terms of marketing, although some are more closely related mechanically than others. The CLA- and GLA-classes, for example, are very similar, while the GLE- and E-class models are rather more different. The relationship between this vehicle, the all-new 2016 GLC-class, and the sweet new C-class is more like the former than the latter, so you can think of it as a C-class on stilts.
As the replacement for the aged GLK-class, which itself was crafted from the mechanical rib of a prior C-class model, the new GLC could not be more important to Mercedes-Benz, with the compact-crossover market more popular than ever. Previewed in “coupe” form earlier this spring, the more conventional GLC SUV adopts the winsome “Sensual Purity” styling elements that have spread across the Mercedes lineup. When sales start this November, the GLC-class lineup for the U.S. will consist of just the GLC300 SUV in rear-wheel-drive and 4MATIC all-wheel-drive forms. Coupe models are set to join the party at some point next year.
Bigger, Prettier, Lighter
Next to the GLK, the GLC is 4.7 inches longer, 2.0 inches wider, and 0.3 inch taller. It rides on a wheelbase stretched by 4.6 inches, while the tracks are up by 1.9 inches in front and 0.8 inch in back. The long nose and short front overhang hint at this vehicle’s longitudinal engine layout—a trump card in a segment full of transverse-engine, front-wheel-drive-based entries—and all U.S.-spec GLC models will receive standard off-road bumpers that give it 28-degree approach and departure angles. Ground clearance increases by nearly an inch.
Up front, the GLC features a two-slat grille flanking a prominent three-pointed star—no stand-up hood ornament here—and as with the C-class, the headlamps can be optionally lit fully by LEDs. Farther back, the sculpted body sides, arching roofline, and rear three-quarter views are clearly evocative of other Benzes yet also have overtones of the Jeep Grand Cherokee, the Acura RDX, and the Porsche Macan, depending on whom you ask. An extended rear spoiler, active grille shutters, and other aero tuning lower the coefficient of drag, says Mercedes. It all comes together quite tastefully, and no matter what vantage point you take, the slippery GLC makes the old GLK look like a chuck wagon.
The growth spurt has yielded an additional 2.2 inches of rear legroom, 2.2 inches of front elbow and shoulder room, a tad more cargo space, and even a 1.3-inch-wider rear-door opening at foot level to facilitate ingress/egress. Even so, the use of aluminum, high- and ultra-high strength steel, and plastic render the body structure some 110 pounds lighter. Further weight-reduction measures in the suspension, the transmission casing, and elsewhere contribute to an overall loss of 176 pounds compared with the GLK, according to Mercedes.
The interior design is virtually identical to that of the C-class—and hence represents a radical departure from the boxy confines of the GLK. The waterfall-style dashboard design with its stand-up 7.0-inch infotainment screen and touchpad COMAND controller is taken almost directly from the C—which is no bad thing, given how much we like that interior. Brown linear-grain linden wood trim is standard fare, while piano black, burl walnut, or black open-pore ash is optional. MB-Tex faux leather is the standard upholstery, while two grades of leather are optional; two Designo decors are available for fancier tastes.Oh So C-classy Inside
Also appearing on the GLC’s standard and available features list are multicolor ambient lighting, fragrance atomization, a heated steering wheel, heated rear seats, a head-up display, a panoramic sunroof, an active parking system with steering assist, a 360-degree parking camera with front- and rear cross-path visualization, radar cruise control with semiautonomous steering, and a tailgate one can open by waving one’s foot under the bumper.
Bye-bye V-6, For Now
The GLC300 is powered by the C300’s 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, producing 241 horsepower at 5500 rpm and 273 lb-ft of torque from 1300 to 4000 rpm and here paired with Benz's new nine-speed automatic transmission. On vehicles equipped with 4MATIC, the default torque split is 45/55 front to rear.
Performance and fuel-economy numbers were not provided at this time, but given the weight reduction, the improved aerodynamics, and the additional forward gears, we expect the GLC to sip considerably less fuel than the GLK350 with its thirsty, 302-hp V-6. More engine options will follow in 2016, says Mercedes—they will include a plug-in hybrid (called GLC350e, producing 320 horsepower, and offering 21 miles of electric-only range) and probably also a diesel and something with a potent AMG V-8.
On the safety front, we find up to nine airbags, including a driver’s-knee airbag, and the front passenger seat is equipped with automatic child-seat recognition that uses a weight mat, not a transponder, to deactivate the airbag when a child seat is installed. Another safety-related nicety is an off-road lighting setting that offers broader illumination of the terrain ahead, and as with most other Benzes, the GLC will be offered with collision-prevention assist, blind-spot warning, lane-keeping assist, and more.The standard GLC multilink front and rear suspension setups include variable dampers, while active air springs are also available. As with many other Benzes so equipped, the firmness of the shocks can be adjusted via a dial-type controller on the center console.
The addition of the CLA-class allowed Mercedes-Benz to raise the price and stature of the C-class. Despite the existence of the GLA, however, we’re told that the GLC will be priced about the same as the outgoing GLK. Thus, we’ll see prices start at less than $40K, with loaded models rising toward $60,000—and even higher once additional powertrains and the possible AMG-branded model join the family. Regardless of what’s under the hood, however, the GLC-class should allow Mercedes to make a splash in the compact luxo-ute market. Based on what we’ve experienced with the C-class sedan, it looks to be very promising.