Mercedes-Benz GLC (2015) First Drive

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Mercedes-Benz’s X3 and Q5 fighter is now on African soil. We headed to the testing conditions of Namibia to try out this new mid-size offering.

Highlights
– All models offer 4Matic all-wheel drive
– Competitively priced
– Surprisingly competent off road

The Mercedes-Benz GLC is a replacement for the GLK – a vehicle that was never manufactured in right-hand drive and therefore never offered in South Africa. This missed opportunity allowed the likes of the BMW X3 and Audi Q5 to gain significant market share in the medium-size SUV segment. The Mercedes-Benz GLC is the first step the German brand’s fight back. At launch there are four models to choose from in the GLC line-up. Two are petrol, and two are diesel, and all offer 4Matic, meaning all-wheel drive. The vehicle also comes with the new Mercedes-Benz 9G-Tronic transmission.

During the launch, we had the opportunity to drive both diesel models. The GLC 22od and GLC 250d both use the trusty 2.1-litre diesel motor that’s been in service for many years. Not only is it fairly economical, it can be tuned to deliver varying amounts of power and torque. In this application and mated to the new 9G-Tronic gearbox, the GLC offers a relaxed drive. At times however it could be almost too relaxed, as it displayed a desire to shift to a higher gear as quickly as possible, thus putting you out of the powerband when the need to accelerate arises.

Inside the Mercedes-Benz GLC

The interior of the GLC is a great place to be. It shares many parts with and is based upon the Mercedes-Benz C-Class. This is a good thing as that cabin is a luxurious techfest. Rear legroom is to be commended and tall adults will find adequate space when sitting in the back. The boot offers generous space too.

Mercedes-Benz had specified the cars generously and you get a good amount of kit as standard. The most important feature is arguably Dynamic Select which allows the driver the option to adjust the driving modes. For general driving the more comfort oriented mode is best and also prioritises low fuel consumption. For some fun, hit the Sport or Sport+ modes for a more involving and entertaining experience.

Off-road Competency

The Mercedes-Benz GLC is marketed as a mid-size luxury SUV. While it does boast 4Matic all-wheel drive and reasonable ground clearance, it’s not intended to be a serious off-roader, just like its rivals from Audi and BMW. Sure, you can specify the Off-Road Line which gives it a hardcore off-road appearance, but your best bet is to get the Off-Road Engineering Package, which gives you five off-road modes as well as raised suspension. You get 20mm extra ground clearance to play with, but if you have Air Body Control as much as 50mm extra clearance is gained. When it’s in full attack mode, there’s 227mm of ground clearance which is certainly very useful.

Our off-road testing of the GLC put it in situations where many serious off-roaders would struggle, but the car coped admirably. The thick beach sand was a killer and the 40 degree temperatures ensured the sand was loose. The one time we got stuck we were thankful for the lumbering G-Class, which towed us out. The reality is that few owners would be willing to get their GLCs this dirty and we doubt that the cars pictured here will ever go this far off the beaten track again.

On-Road Manners

While we didn’t spend much time driving the new Mercedes-Benz GLC on tarmac, the few kilometres behind the wheel gave us some great feedback. See, the GLC rides on varying wheel sizes – all of which offer reasonable high profile rubber. Our GLC 250d was fitted with generous 19-inch alloys and imperfect roads such as those between Swakopmund and Walvis Bay were effortlessly soaked up. The reality is that the GLC rides well, something which the younger generation of Mercedes-Benz products like the pre-facelifted A-Class battled with.The new A-Class thankfully rides a lot better.

Mercedes-Benz SUV Onslaught

The launch of the new Mercedes-Benz GLC was part of a bigger new product experience. The GLE range has been expanded to now include the non-coupe models and this is the anticipated replacement for the ML, while the lumbering G-Class which we drove not so long ago in Austria and Germany, also came along to play in the sand.

We had a brief stint in the fire-breathing GLE 63 AMG S model, which offers a tremendous amount of power from its biturbo V8 engine. Snarling engine and brisk performance aside, the GLE 63 AMG S is a fine place to be, both from a driver and a passenger’s perspective. That sound is mesmerising and given the right set of wheels, it looks massively intimidating, which is core to its appeal. Inside, features are of the highest order in terms of quality, which is something you’d expect from a vehicle costing close on R2-million.

Summary

The Mercedes-Benz GLC acquits itself rather well and despite what we (and Namibia) threw at it, it performed capably. We’d argue that these testing conditions were hardly what your average GLC owner would be facing, but it’s reassuring that the vehicle can cope in even the harshest terrain.

The GLC is a good product and we expect it will steal substantial sales from Audi’s Q5, which is due to be replaced, as well as the BMW X3. Pricing is on par with its German rivals and the levels of specification count heavily in its favour, plus the looks are substantially fresher. We also think it’ll dip into Range Rover Evoque sales. Brand prestige also comes into play here and we think the three-pointed star on the nose offers significant snob value. Nevertheless, brand value and other intangible qualities aside, the GLC will do well in South Africa and we look forward to digging deeper and getting to know it better, far away from the dust and sand of Namibia.

Mercedes-Benz GLC Price in South Africa

The new Mercedes-Benz GLC pricing and engine outputs are as follows:

GLC 220 d 4MATIC 125 kW – 400 Nm R599 900
GLC 250 d 4MATIC 150 kW – 500 Nm R619 900
GLC 250 4MATIC 155 kW – 350 Nm R604 900
GLC 300 4MATIC 180 kW – 370 Nm R654 900

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