Mercedes GLC – common as mud?

It’s been a while since I’ve updated this blog, for which I apologise, but hopefully I’m able to dedicate a bit more time to writing about my favourite subject – I have lots of ideas for articles, of which this is one which has stuck out for a little while.

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As a fan of all things SUV, I’ve found it hard to ignore the sheer numbers of new Mercedes GLC models which are being parked up all over my little corner of North London. Perhaps not surprising given the ever-increasing popularity of this type of vehicle, but the GLC seems to be the sole bright spot in an otherwise uninspiring SUV line-up from Mercedes (G-Wagen excluded, of course).

UK readers may be surprised to learn that the GLC is not Mercedes’ first effort at a mid-sized luxury SUV, as the German giant sold a model called the GLK in left-hand drive markets from 2008 until 2015. Based on the C-Class of the era, the GLK was a decent car which borrowed some boxy design cues from the the G-Wagen – the apparent in difficultly in reengineering the 4WD system for right-hand drive markets prevented Mercedes from bringing the car here to compete with Q5s and X3s.

The importance of this market was obviously something that Mercedes underestimated, so when it came to a second generation car they changed tact. Out went the boxy look and in came a curvier new design language which shares a lot with the current (and very successful) C-Class. The name changed too, to fit in with a new naming strategy built around A, B, C, E and S families – I remember in one of my early blog posts I complained about the mess which Mercedes made with their model names.

Exterior

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Personally I have mixed feelings about the GLC’s appearance; it’s generally a cohesive design and is undoubtedly in-keeping with Mercedes’ design language, but the rear lighting seems a little squashed, and the front LED running lights do not look that smart – they remind me of the original pre-facelift Audi Q5.  Apparently the GLC is about to get a mid-life facelift, so I think that the headlights at least will get sorted out.

The GLC is also a car which is very trim sensitive; Mercedes has apparently discontinued SE model cars, but these came on 17 inch alloy wheels which were overwhelmed by the sheer size of the car (4.65m long – the same as my X5!). Sport cars come with slightly better 18 inch wheels, but lack the bodykit of the ubiquitous AMG-Line models, which come with nicer 19 inch wheels and a more aggressive lower grille – 20’s are an option, too.

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A special mention has to be made in regards to the specific AMG models which Mercedes offer – two in the case of the GLC (or four if you really want to be fussy). The 43 AMG gets a different mesh grille, while the beserk 63 AMG gets vertical grille bars, standard 20 inch wheels and a different air splitter. ‘S’ versions of the 63 AMG get 21 inch wheels, while the First Edition cars get a garish paint job with lots of orange accents. There’s also a Coupe version of the GLC, but I will refrain from commenting in this review (it’s basically the same with a coupe-like rear end!).

Interior

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Just in case you didn’t know, the current Mercedes C-Class is regularly within the top 10 best selling cars in the UK – outselling the likes of the once mighty Ford Mondeo, as well as rivals like the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4. Part of this success is attributable to the interior design language of the C-Class – it apes the larger S-Class saloon with circular air vents and minimal buttons, and was also one of the first cars to position its navigation screen like a tablet stuck to the dashboard (to the chagrin of many car fans).

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As you may expect, the GLC copies this arrangement in full, essentially, so most drivers will feel like they are driving a slightly taller C-Class – sharing all that car’s positives and negatives. I’ve already covered the positives (it generally looks pretty and quality is decent), but in terms of negatives the COMAND infotainment system is probably the poorest amongst rivals’, and the COMAND Online navigation is a pricey (and necessary) option. The non-LCD instrument panel is also looking a bit dated, as is the small infotainment screen; both should be upgraded with next year’s mid-life facelift.

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In terms of practicality, the GLC is generally impressive; there are some decent cubby spaces around the car and the boot itself is 550 litres with the rear seats up, and 1600 litres with them folded down – this is almost identical to rivals, and enough for most buyer’s needs. However the GLC does lack the sliding/reclining rear seats that the Q5 and X3 offer, and in general the rear seat does seem quite cramped. I’ve sat in a GLC several times and have always felt that they lack the cabin space of my X5, despite the very similar dimensions; a rear transmission tunnel and large front seats don’t help things, though admittedly you can level the same complaints at the Q5 in particular.

Engines

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Mercedes has blessed the GLC with a surprisingly comprehensive engine range, especially considering that when the car launched back in 2016 there was only a choice of one diesel engine, in two states of power. It’s this engine which still forms the bulk of GLC sales, but in all honesty it’s a little lacklustre in this segment. It’s a 2.1 litre diesel which is found in the 220d (170hp) and 250d (204hp) models – taking 8.3 or 7.6 seconds respectively to reach 62mph from standstill, with power transmitted through a 9-speed automatic gearbox with column mounted shifter.

There’s nothing wrong with this engine in terms of power or fuel economy, but it’s very unrefined and doesn’t measure up well against engines in rivals. A new 2.0 litre diesel should arrive next year, and judging from its application in the E-Class signs are promising. Fans of powerful diesel cars will much prefer the 350d, which is a 3.0 litre V6 engine with 258hp; it does the 0-62mph sprint in 6.2 seconds and is a lot more refined, although again this engine is quite old and should be replaced next year.

Given that petrol engines have seen somewhat of a resurgence in the past year, perhaps it’s not surprising that Mercedes offer a choice of four in the GLC, and that’s excluding what’s offered in other markets. In the UK, the petrol range starts with the GLC 250, which is a 2.0 litre turbo engine that produces 211hp and gets from 0-62mph in 7.3 seconds; I haven’t heard many opinions on this engine in the GLC but I imagine it’s perfectly adequate, even if it misses out on the low end torque of the diesel alternatives.

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However what’s really exciting are the AMG variants; the 43 AMG has a 3.0 litre V6 twin turbo petrol engine, creates 367hp and does 0-62mph in just 4.9 seconds, which seems about as fast as you’d want to go in something that weighs two tonnes and seats five. However who those who crave more, Mercedes offer the 63 AMG and 63 S AMG – both are based around a 4.0 litre V8 twin turbo petrol engine, which creates 476hp and 510hp respectively. The 0-62mph times are a somewhat insane 4.0 seconds for the regular 63 and 3.8 seconds for the AMG S –  the latter of which is quicker than the last-generation Porsche 911 Turbo.

Driving

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Although I’ve driven some Mercedes models, the GLC is unfortunately not one of them. However having read lots of reviews of the car, it’s clear that Mercedes have continued to tune their cars to provide a comfortable and relaxing driving experience rather than focusing on sharp handling and a sporty ride. Although this may not always result in the best reviews from car magazines, I’d argue that it’s what most car buyers are after; something that will insulate against potholes and speed bumps, sits quietly on the motorway and doesn’t disgrace itself on a B-road.

Quite a lot of cars that have decent ride comfort are then ruined by the fitting or large alloy wheels, but this doesn’t appear to be the case with the GLC. Even AMG Line cars with the standard 19 inch wheels ride smoothly on all but the roughest roads, and even the optional 20 inch wheels are ok – if you compare that to many Audis and BMWs you will find that this is not the case. Optional air suspension improves this even further.

The only fly in the GLC’s ointment appears to be an issue where the wheels are susceptible to ‘crabbing’ when the steering is turned to full lock, particularly cars with the larger alloy wheels and in colder weather. I’m not too sure what the issue entails, but it means that the wheels judder during low speed manoeuvres, potentially resulting in tyre wear. Those interested in buying a GLC would do well to Google the issue.

Value and costs

Mercedes currently offers the GLC in two trim levels for the UK; Sport and AMG-Line. All cars come with a Garmin-based navigation system, reversing camera, electric boot, electric/heated front seats, Bluetooth, parking assist, cruise control, automatic city braking and LED headlights – AMG Line only adds to this with different body kit and alloy wheels.

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The cheaper navigation system needs an upgrade

Unfortunately, the options list is long and extensive; the Premium Plus package is £3k and adds a much improved COMAND Online system with better navigation, a panoramic sunroof, memory seats and a fancy audio system. You can also get various driver aids and safety features, real (not fake) leather seats, air-suspension, a heads-up display and 360 degree camera. Not all of these are strictly necessary, but the Premium Plus is definitely worth having if you can afford it.

In terms of pricing, even the cheapest GLC starts at around £38k (for the 250 Sport or 220d Sport) – adding the AMG Line package to either costs around £1.5k. The 250d Sport starts at £39k, while the 350d Sport starts at just over £43k – the jump isn’t too bad if you’d prefer some performance in your GLC. The AMG models start at £48k for the 43, £67k for the 63, £74k for the 63 S and £89k for the 63 S First Edition; clearly these are enthusiast vehicles, but given the performance and practicality on offer I guess the standard models are not too expensive – the GLE 63 S AMG starts at £99k and is slower without being much more practical. Used GLCs are not that common but they have held their value very well.

Running costs aren’t too bad for most people, although you will find that almost all GLCs will cost more than £40k and therefore attract a higher rate of road tax in the UK. The two lower powered diesels officially return 56.5mpg, but mid 40’s is probably more realistic, with the 350d officially returning 44.1mpg, with mid-to-high 30’s being likely. The base petrol engine should get 43.5mpg, but I think that low-to-mid 30’s is probably going to be the case; the 43 AMG officially gets 34mpg, but most drivers won’t crack 30mpg if they regularly use the car’s performance, and the less said about the 63 AMG cars the better (26/27mpg in lab conditions – more like 20 day-to-day).

Verdict

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Mercedes did a pretty stellar job when pulling together the GLC – it took the things which people liked most about the C-Class, made it a bit bigger and taller, and pretty much left it there it feels like. Audi have done something similar with the Q5 and that also seems to have paid off – people can’t get enough of these practical vehicles with a premium badge on the front.

But why does it seem like Mercedes are winning the sales race? Well in part this may be down to brand preference, and Mercedes’ other SUV options lag a fair way behind rivals, so it wouldn’t be hard to be persuaded into a GLC if you were in the showroom – the GLA is merely a pumped up A-Class, and the GLE doesn’t offer anything much in terms other than a little more space; both cars are also very dated, with the GLE being on sale since 2011 in one form or another.

More important, however, is the fact that Mercedes are offering some very aggressive finance deals at the moment, making the GLC much more affordable on a monthly basis than the Q5 or X3, its main rivals. Even on Mercedes’ own website they are offering a £4k deposit contribution for PCP customers, with brokers like carwow offering a staggering £8k off on average – this makes the GLC cheaper than smaller models like the BMW X1 and Volkswagen Tiguan. If i was in the market for this type of car I would find it very hard to overlook the value proposition that Mercedes offers.

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