Mercedes GLC: Exuding class and substance

The Mercedes GLC has been the best-selling Benz globally for the last two years. Which means all eyes are on whether the firm can keep the GLC a family favourite with this new one.

It’ll go toe-to-toe with the Audi Q5, BMW X3 and Range Rover Evoque for the title of the best SUV for Europe’s well-heeled customers. If you’re wondering where the Mercedes GLC sits in the brand’s model hierarchy, the clue is in the last letter. The GLC is the large SUV equivalent of the C-Class saloon, and it’s bigger than two other Mercedes SUVs, the GLA and GLB.

This latest version is slightly larger than the first-generation GLC, with modified underpinnings that give the driver and up to four passengers more interior space (it’s not available as a seven-seater, as some big 4x4s are). The new 2023 GLC swaps the charismatic six- and eight-cylinder engines for a bunch of hybridised four cylinders. Now, last time we looked, premium was synonymous with more cylinders, more displacement, more power and more bling.

But the times are changing, and so are the priorities which define modern luxury. Key factors on the up-and-coming list are sustainable efficiency, concealed rather than ostentatious opulence and social acceptance.

The new GLC also adopts a 15mm longer wheelbase than before, giving it slightly longer overhangs front and rear.

The increased dimensions, subtle as they are, are put to good use inside. Rear seat accommodation, never one of the GLC’s strong points, has been improved with greater legroom. Boot space in conventional petrol and diesel models is also claimed to have increased by 15-litres to a class-leading 600-litres underneath the cargo blind at the rear when the adjustable rear seat is set all the way forward.

The GLC interior delivers attractive materials, wonderful build quality, and comfortable passenger accommodations. The cabin has been heavily reworked with a new higher set dashboard that aims to provide the GLC with a more SUV like feeling. It leans heavily on that of the Mercedes C-Class for overall style, albeit with its own uniquely styled ventilation units and higher qualities materials throughout.

The GLC’s interior is dominated by two large digital displays. Along with the crisp 12.3in driver’s display, there’s a large portrait-oriented 11.9in central infotainment screen that can be operated by touch, voice or using the touch-sensitive controls on the steering wheel. The central touchscreen is mounted high up on the dashboard and is within close reach, responding quickly to inputs and displaying super-sharp graphics. The shortcut keys and rotary controller of BMW’s iDrive system are still less distracting to use on the move, but Voice control is included on all trim levels and is surprisingly good at recognising your requests. It can be used for many functions, from changing the interior temperature to programming a location into the nav.

For sheer visual wow factor, the GLC’s interior beats all the rivals. The top of the dash and doors on AMG Line models are covered in soft-touch material, and the large panels of gloss black and matt wood trim finishers contrast well with the silver highlights dotted around the cabin. You’d have to look lower down on the dashboard to find hard scratchy plastics and some of the buttons don’t feel as robust or as well-damped as those you’d find in some rivals.

The Mercedes GLC’s front seats slide back a very long way, so even seriously tall drivers won’t complain about the amount of leg room on offer. There’s plenty of front head room to accommodate anyone long in the body, too, even when a panoramic glass sunroof is fitted. Storage space is suitably generous, with wide door pockets that are easily big enough to swallow a large bottle of water. There’s also a covered storage area in the centre front armrest, two cupholders and a tray tucked away with wireless phone-charging.

Despite its sporty styling, the GLC has enough space in the back to accommodate a couple of six footers relatively comfortably. There’s plenty of legroom for a passenger sitting behind a six-foot adult, and rear head room is impressive. There’s plenty of space for feet beneath the front seats to let you stretch out that bit further.

As in many rivals, middle-seat passengers will have to straddle a chunky transmission tunnel on the floor, so the GLC isn’t the best choice if you regularly carry three adults in the back. If you need to carry more people, look at the seven-seater Land Rover Discovery Sport and Mercedes GLB.

Rear storage is good, with door cubbies big enough for a couple of small bottles of water, map pockets on the backs of the front seats and a narrow pop-out tray for pens or to slot a phone in.

Folding down the GLC’s rear seats is really easy: you flick a switch in the boot (or another in the rear passenger compartment) and the seatbacks drop down automatically.

Comfort, safety and quality are among the main Mercedes brand values. And we have to admit, the exceptional noise insulation does indeed almost match the S-Class. The advanced parking aid automatically straightens the trailer when reversing, the steering self-actingly forms or follows an emergency lane to let recovery vehicles pass, the headlamps project warning symbols and sat nav markings onto the road ahead, active cruise control knows how to swerve to the hard shoulder where the vehicle will stop, hazards flashing.

The optional off-road pack features 20mm more ground clearance, a 50mm ride height variation, a scalable hill descent speed limiter and a so-called transparent bonnet which mimics the solution first introduced in the Land Rover Defender. Even without low-range

All versions have four-wheel drive, and you can have a petrol or diesel engine with mild-hybrid (MHEV) or plug-in hybrid (PHEV) technology. The Mercedes GLC engine range is made up of a mild-hybrid (MHEV) diesel, two MHEV petrols, a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) petrol and a PHEV diesel.. Flat-out acceleration is hardly exciting, but there’s enough performance for most buyers’ needs. The GLC 300 petrol develops 255bhp and, on paper, is the quickest to accelerate from 0-100km/h.

The new model is eager and wieldy at lower speeds where the new four-wheel steer system works to enhance manoeuvrability, but also an abiding sense of stability and security when speed increases. There is a greater spread to the overall dynamic ability of the mid-range Mercedes-Benz SUV ever before. Above all, it is intuitive and easy to drive. The ride, on the standard steel suspension in comfort mode, is absorbent and exceptionally compliant. 

The new GLC is a transformation tool designated to build a bridge from the old-school Mercedes world to the software and clean-air driven future. In this particular case, transformation stands for more power and torque in combination with reduced energy consumption, enhanced passive safety thanks to more sophisticated assistance systems and more functional varieties accessed via less complex ergonomics. The supple ride and classy interior alone are enough to make the GLC a good case for the SUV. It is roomy and nicely appointed, its ride is certainly best in class and the driving pleasure is more C-Class inspiring than SUV-like ponderous.

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