When Mercedes brought its GLK to the mid sized crossover souq back in 2008, it was in a market place crowded with buyers and only a limited number of stall holders. But the GLK’s angular styling divided opinion and though it sold in reasonable numbers, by 2015 Mercedes realised that with global crossover sales still showing growth and ever more SUV competition, it needed a stronger offering. Enter the GLC which, with its slightly more curved panel lines and stronger family resemblance to larger Mercedes SUVs, immediately began to sell in greater volumes.
Four years and one and a half million GLC sales later, it’s time for a model ‘refresh’ with this, the 2020 model year GLC, featuring revised bumpers, grille and headlamps on the outside, along with a host of new features and hardware within. Available in both standard and Coupé format, the 2020 model comes with a wide range of new engine options but, ignoring the diesel variants, the choice really boils down to the ‘300’, a two litre, four cylinder twin scroll turbo, putting out 255bhp and 370 Nm, or the four litre V8 twin turbo fitted to the AMG GLC 63 S. The latter kicks out a mightily impressive 510 horsepower and 700 Nm, perfect for those days when you should have should have been at a board meeting 15 minutes before you left the house.
Both engines are mated to nine speed gearboxes, the four cylinder to a ‘9G Tronic’, the V8 to the AMG Speedshift MCT 9G. Interestingly, the four cylinder is fitted with a 48 volt system and EQ Boost belt drive combined starter / alternator. This recoups kinetic energy when decelerating or coasting, using that energy to boost the engine’s power by up to 14hp at moments when the turbo is still spinning up to speed. Naturally, when testing an AMG in Germany, on an unrestricted autobahn, it is sometimes necessary to validate the manufacturer’s claims of power and performance. It’s not, you understand, that I personally want to accelerate to 250kmh in the time it takes to say “oh my goodness that’s quick!” but rather, a duty to my readers.
At those speeds you’ll certainly be taking advantage of the AMG’s adaptive air suspension, all wheel drive, electronically controlled limited slip differential, selectable drive dynamics settings and speed sensitive steering, all combining to deliver a rock steady and confidence inspiring, stable SUV. Writing in detail about all of these technologies would fill a book but the AMG engineers at Mercedes have had decades of experience making cars both fast and safe and they’re very, very good at it. The GLC is no exception, and whilst the ride is naturally firmer than less sporty models, it’s never uncomfortable, and there’s plenty of choices for softer damper settings when not in a high performance driving mode. The exhaust note is selectable of course between noisy and obnoxious, the latter being more fun.
Sat behind the wheel, I found the pedals very slightly offset to my right, which in the base model GLCs I hadn’t noticed, but the sports seats in the AMG naturally hold you more firmly so you’re less able to align yourself to suit the pedals. The flat bottomed steering wheel itself probably contains more computing power than launched the Saturn V rockets, with touch controls, integrated LCD screen, configurable display buttons and thankfully, the ability to also turn the front wheels. However even that function can be largely automated, since with Driving Assistance mode engaged, the GLC’s smart technologies replace much of the driver’s input.
Now things like speed limit sign recognition and lane assist are hardly novel, but with each new generation of car comes improvements, added functionality and greater accuracy, and in the GLC, switching on Driving Assistance makes for a very impressive experience. In heavy traffic in the pouring rain, there was no need to touch the brakes or throttle for a distance of over 30 kilometres along an autobahn, the car simply took over. Stop / start traffic was no problem, the GLC waiting patiently for the car ahead to move off, allowing for a safe gap and then slowly pulling away. Regardless of how leisurely or suddenly the traffic stopped again, the GLC always had the brakes covered, and whilst no driver should ever actually take their hands off the wheel when driving, the cameras and lane assist combined to accurately follow the cars / lanes in front without any driver input.
As I passed 100kph speed limit signs, up from the 80kph zone in which I’d been traveling, off went the GLC, accelerating smoothly though I had not touched the throttle. Gradually I learned to trust the system and thereafter, enjoyed autobahn, A and B road driving with the car ensuring no speeding tickets were issued. But it was when the system took to controlling my speeds along a flowing, twisting mountain road, that I was left wondering just how soon we will enjoy autonomous driving – if enjoy is really the right word.
The first time the car subtly slowed for a bend then accelerated out again, I thought I’d imagined it, that somehow the slope of the road had caused it to slow. But as it began to happen for every corner, with the car never misjudging an entry speed, I was enormously impressed. The problem is, when you introduce so many controls between the driver and the machine, it can also make for an artificial driving experience and away from the autobahn, the car’s lane assist function was far too intrusive, regularly nudging the car left or right, with the steering wheel seemingly following a fraction of a second later. Personally I’d be tempted to disengage Driver Assist on byways, but make full use of it on highways.
Talking of man and machine interfaces, the MBUX or Mercedes Benz User eXperience describes the exceptionally powerful infotainment / navigation / communication management system centred around an 18cm or optional 26cm centre screen and optional 31cm digital instrument panel. The quality of the GPS is quite outstanding, using images from the on board cameras to show live ‘augmented guidance’ which highlights house numbers or difficult to spot turns. The Head Up Display speed warnings and navigation were clear and accurate too, and genuinely useful when exploring an area for the first time. There’s voice control, touch screen control, centre console touch pad and more, so plenty of choices for the driver to make selections.
The interior of the car is, despite the abundance of on board systems and controls, not overly fussy in appearance and clearly put together with the attention to detail you’d expect from Mercedes. The dashboard of the AMG models have a very smart looking artificial leather with contrasting stitching, which sets off the interior nicely. When driving the GLC 300 4Matic I found the interior bright and airy enough with the full length sunroof exposed, though the granite coloured roof lining was a little dark for my taste. The seats in all models are adjustable in a dozen different ways, the optional Multicontour seats coming with inflatable air chambers in the lower backrest and in the side bolsters for tailored lumbar support. Taking to the back seat, taller passengers will be more comfortable in the standard GLC, since the lower rear roofline of the Coupé reduces head clearance. At 184cm I could sit in the Coupé with my head upright, but only just, and on long journeys I know I’d rather be in the regular model.
An offroad package is available on the 4Matic models only, featuring adjustable raised ground clearance, downhill speed reduction and additional ‘Offroad” and “Offroad+” driving modes, along with increased underbody protection. Selecting Offroad prepares the car for use in sand, gravel or snow, whilst Offroad+ is for rocky terrain. A short drive on a moderately challenging off road course proved entertaining, since heavy rain had made the surface very slippery, but the GLC dealt with the terrain and obstacles rather better than I’d anticipated.
Mercedes have gone all out to fit the new GLC with a dazzling array of high tech electronic driver aids, which combined with the new engines and several choices of suspension set up, offer a tempting package for those in the market for a luxury mid sized crossover. The implementation of the Driver Assist functions is generally extremely impressive and likely to ensure the GLC sells well in the Gulf.