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PowerSteering: 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class Review

PowerSteering: 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class Review

By Liz Kim, July 12, 2017

Introduction
Crossovers. People can’t get enough of them. Built on a car platform but boasting a more generous cargo area and a higher seating position all wrapped up in the shell of a rugged SUV, a crossover provides a little of everything to a whole lot of people.

Luxury automakers have bought into the trend, big time, recently riding the wave of SUV popularity down market to grab younger customers. Historically, smaller vehicles conjured images of simplicity and economy, but premium brands long ago figured out that people are willing to live with petite dimensions if the price tag means that they can afford a prestige badge.

2017 Mercedes-AMG GLC43 front quarter left photoMercedes-Benz first dipped its toe into the shallower end of the economic pool with the GLK-Class. Now, the GLK is transformed into the GLC-Class, a 5-passenger crossover SUV built on the same platform and sharing many of its bits and pieces with the popular C-Class lineup.

Since the GLC-Class debuted for 2016, Mercedes has been expanding the lineup, adding a GLC Coupe with a rakish roofline and performance-tuned variants wearing AMG nomenclature.

For this review, the automaker provided a Mercedes-AMG GLC43 with metallic paint, upgraded leather and wood trim, Premium 3 package, Advanced Parking Assist package, Burmeister premium audio system, and an Air Balance cabin fragrance system. The price came to $67,955, including the $925 destination charge.



What Owners Say
Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the Mercedes GLC-Class, it’s helpful to understand who buys this SUV and what they like most and least about it.

Compared with Compact Premium SUV buyers, Mercedes GLC-Class buyers are slightly older and wealthier, with ownership leaning slightly more male than female. J.D. Power research data shows that 58% of GLC-Class buyers are men (vs. 56% for the segment), they are 58 years of age (vs. 56), and enjoy an annual household income of $158,203 (vs. $155,595).

Mercedes GLC-Class buyers are more likely to identify themselves as practical buyers (31% vs. 26% for the segment) and are less likely to prefer to buy a vehicle from a domestic company (26% vs. 31%) or to avoid vehicles that they think have high maintenance costs (73% vs. 81%). Otherwise, their sentiments align with buyers within the segment as a whole.

Buyers say their favorite things about the GLC-Class are (in descending order) the driving dynamics, seats, exterior styling, interior design, and visibility and safety. Buyers indicate their least favorite things about the GLC-Class are (in descending order) the engine/transmission, storage and space, climate system, infotainment system, and fuel economy.


What Our Expert Says
In the sections that follow, our expert provides her own assessment of how the 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class performs in each of the 10 categories that comprise the J.D. Power 2016 U.S. Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study.SM

Exterior
Mercedes may have decided to tone down the personality of its compact crossover, switching from the squat and rectangular lines of the GLK-Class to the blandly smooth GLC-Class, but at least the AMG models demonstrate a bit of individuality. The studded grille design dazzles, the body kit emboldens, the 21-in. wheels intimidate, and the split exhaust outlets broadcast the AMG GLC43’s intentions. Choose this AMG-massaged version of the SUV and it will bear little resemblance to the grocery-getters littering the parking lot at your suburban shopping center.

Interior
The test vehicle’s Brilliant Blue paint contrasted beautifully with lovely, caramel-colored premium leather upholstery, which itself stood starkly apart from the black dashboard, metallic accents, and the natural grain Black Ash wood trim.

Style rules within the GLC, and the juxtaposition of simplicity in appearance against complexity of technology is compelling. Round instrument binnacles and air vents dominate the dashboard, giving the GLC a distinctive appearance. I am not, however, a fan of the freestanding infotainment display screen. It looks like an aftermarket item that an owner tacked onto the dashboard as an afterthought rather than an integral part of a cohesive cabin design.

Overall, though, there’s no denying that the AMG GLC43 is a luxury vehicle. From the materials to the ambience, Mercedes has done a great job of creating an upscale environment throughout this SUV.

Seats
Well-bolstered front seats provide plenty of thigh support and numerous adjustments to help a driver and front passenger to find an ideal position. You just need to remember that the seat controls are located on the door panel and not on the side of the seat base.

Compared with the old GLK-Class, the GLC supplies far more generous rear-seat room. That’s the benefit of the GLC’s 4.6-in. wheelbase stretch, which added a bunch of space for back-seat drivers. While it might still be a tight fit for three full-size adults, two should find comfort with no problems.

The test vehicle had a rear 115-volt power outlet, which is appreciated but not as much as rear USB charging ports would be. Don’t forget your power brick so that anyone riding in the rear seat can power up.

Climate Control System
Aside from fuel economy and the infotainment system, GLC-Class buyers are least impressed with the climate system. One reason could be a lack of familiarity with piano key controls, which look classy and elegant and are becoming increasingly common.

Another reason could be that the heated seat buttons are located on the door panel rather than the center console where people tend to expect to find them.

Either way, it is easy to acclimate, and the silver lining is that you need not venture into the infotainment system in order to make the most common adjustments to the climate system.

Infotainment System
As with most Mercedes-Benz models, the GLC’s Comand infotainment system requires a bit of time in training before it comes anything close to natural and intuitive to use.

Rather than provide familiar buttons and knobs combined with a touch-sensing display screen, Mercedes instead supplies intimidatingly specific and confusingly unorthodox controls to access all of the technology that the GLC offers. There is a primary control knob mounted to the center console, a touch pad that can recognize handwriting, and a few buttons for accessing main system menus. Alternatively, you can use voice prompts or steering wheel controls to make certain adjustments to the system.

It definitely takes some getting used to, and new owners are advised to read the owner’s manual and learn all of the system’s capabilities. Once you get used to it, it does start making sense, but Comand does represent a steep learning curve for people new to a Mercedes-Benz.

While we’re on the subject of the infotainment system, I’m no audiophile, but the sound quality flowing from the distinctive speaker grilles of the upgraded Burmeister audio system was extraordinary.

Storage and Space
Although Mercedes characterizes the GLC-Class as a midsize SUV, it actually competes with smaller models such as the Audi Q5, BMW X3, Cadillac XT5, and Lexus NX. And while cargo space is improved compared with the old GLK-Class, the GLC’s 20.5 cu. ft. of luggage volume behind the rear seats is conservative. Fold the seats down for 56.5 cu. ft. of space, but even that might prove to be too tight for some people.

At first glance, it appears that cabin storage space is nearly non-existent. Open the bin forward of the Comand controller and it, combined with the center console storage area and the generously sized door panel storage bins, provides ample space. Room for improvement on this front remains, but for smaller items there is plenty of space.

Visibility and Safety
Outward visibility in the GLC is fine, and the SUV’s available driver-assistance systems come in handy, from the standard reversing camera to the optional surround-view camera and active park-assist system that will steer the GLC into street and lot parking while you operate the transmission and pedals.

My test vehicle was also equipped with the Premium 3 package, which contains a long list of safety-related technologies. Among them, the most unusual is the Pre-Safe Plus system, which uses rear-mounted radar that can sense when a vehicle behind the GLC might potentially collide with it. In response, Pre-Safe Plus illuminates the GLC’s hazard flashers to get the other motorist’s attention, tightens the seat belts in anticipation of the impact, and locks the brakes to help prevent secondary collisions.

Given this SUV’s popularity, you would think the federal government and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) would have completed a full round of crash testing on it. But that is not the case. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administartion (NHTSA) hasn’t tested the GLC-Class at all, and the IIHS has assessed its performance in only two of its eight tests.

Engine/Transmission
In J.D. Power studies, GLC buyers name the engine/transmission as one of the things they are less satisfied with. My advice to solve for that is to pay extra for this AMG-massaged version of the vehicle.

The 362-horsepower, twin-turbocharged, 3.0-liter V-6 engine feels pretty close to a rocket and is able to move this 4,145-lb. SUV from 0 to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds, according to Mercedes.

Power is sent to the 4Matic all-wheel-drive (AWD) system through a 9-speed automatic transmission, and while gear changes don’t bonk your head into the restraints like they might in more powerful AMG variants, this unit feels terrifically snappy across the tachometer. Better yet, there is no discernable turbo lag to speak of.

If there is a reason to complain, drivetrain smoothness at lower residential and city speeds could be improved. This AMG GLC43 wants to run, so it takes some effort to drive it without herks and jerks when all you’re seeking is a parking space or your child at the school pick-up line.

Fuel Economy
Impressively—and despite my regular visits to the thick of its power band—the AMG GLC43 returned 19.4 mpg over the course of a week of mixed driving. That’s only a smidge below the EPA-stated estimate of 20 mpg (18 city/24 highway), and represents a noteworthy number for a performance-tuned twin-turbo engine powering a 2-plus-ton AWD vehicle.

Driving Dynamics
In addition to the herky jerky nature of the drivetrain at lower speeds, the AMG GLC43 is a loud, obnoxious creature around town, the massive performance tires generating plenty of road noise, occupants suffering through excess suspension stiffness over bumps, the SUV’s exhaust belching with each transmission upshift. Grabby brakes don’t help to make this version of the SUV any smoother to drive.

All is forgiven, however, when the AMG GLC43 is introduced to a long, unmolested straightaway followed by tangled ribbons of asphalt.

Stab the accelerator and this SUV instantly roars to speed. Mash the brake pedal and it bears down into a corner. Wrestle the heavy but direct and accurate steering and it exits carrying an impressive amount of speed. And all of the components can take this abuse for an extended period of time.

Kudos to Mercedes-AMG for building such an impressive performance SUV. Just know that it comes at a literal and figurative price.


Final Impressions
Irrationally or not, these are exuberant times for luxury carmakers. Especially for Mercedes-Benz, with a seemingly endless supply of shoots and offshoots of the star-wearing cars to enflame the desires of those with ample credit.

The 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class gives you the luxurious amenities and image boost that Benzes usually confer, while providing a good amount of utility. By slapping the AMG badge on it, Mercedes transforms it into a bit of a savage while still maintaining its polished manners.

Those seeking more savagery might want to wait for the 469-horsepower GLC63, which will be released in 2018. Those seeking more Zen will want to stick with the GLC300 with or without 4Matic.

Mercedes-Benz USA supplied the vehicle used for this 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class review.



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