Making star sense

This new Mercedes-Benz may be the one to knock some sense into those who have been resisting SUVs.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

This new Mercedes-Benz may be the one to knock some sense into those who have been resisting SUVs.


GERMAN automaker Mercedes-Benz has introduced a slew of SUVs lately – a logical move considering the momentum at which SUVs are gaining popularity. The company’s latest offering in this fastest-growing segment of the market is the GLC, a crossover based on the W205 C-Class. It succeeds the GLK, which was only ever produced in left-hand-drive.

The renaming strategy makes perfect sense because Mercedes sports utility vehicles are now more closely associated with their saloon siblings. We now know in an instant that the GLA is the A-Class in compact crossover form and the GLC is the C-Class on stilts.

As a mid-size SUV, the new GLC is a more convincing package than the old GLK. It’s 120mm longer and 50mm wider, with more interior space for people and cargo. Yet it’s 80kg lighter, thanks to the use of aluminium and ultra-high-strength steel.

Being able to handle off - road driving conditions doesn’t mean that the car has to look like it just got run off the road. The GLC possesses the right curves in the right places, yet it is able to rough it out if the situation requires.

The vehicle’s shell is a pleasing medley of curves and lines, all sculpted by appropriate nips and tucks. The slightly tapering roofline, most evident from the side view, actually gives it a coupe-like silhouette.

I get the impression that every inch of the exterior surface is working its magic and appealing to my inner senses. But the best part about the car’s styling is it doesn’t look overly ostentatious.

The dashboard is almost identical to that of the C-Class. It exudes the same sophistication, with just the correct dose of sportiness from the round aircon vents and piano black trim. Features such as the steering-column- mounted gearlever and door-mounted electric seat adjusters make so much sense that I wonder why other German car manufacturers haven’t followed suit.

The optional Comand Online system takes care of all your motoring, navigation, entertainment, communication and climate control needs.

I would go with the rotary pushbutton instead of the touchpad, though, especially when on the move, because the latter requires superhuman dexterity that may or may not be achieved with practice.

Since the W204 C-Class, I have liked Mercedes seats the most. I cannot pinpoint exactly what it is about them that I like, but I just know that they soothe my backaches and allow me to drive for extended periods of time without my back protesting. Thankfully, the GLC’s seats retain these orthopedic properties.

The C in GLC refers to the C-Class, whose cockpit is “raised” and repurposed for this application.
The C in GLC refers to the C-Class, whose cockpit is “raised” and repurposed for this application.

This automobile behaves like a modern Mercedes – refined, self-assured and orderly. It may not ignite driving enthusiasm, though.

The GLC250 comes with 4Matic permanent four-wheel- drive as standard, and it definitely helps the vehicle to maintain its composure under all driving conditions.

For me, the most impressive part of the drive is the new 9G-Tronic transmission, which also comes as standard.

While the previous 7G-Tronic is a marked improvement over the old 5-speed gearbox, the indecisiveness during rapid downshifts is hard to ignore. With the new 9-speed automatic, the shifts are so seamless, especially in Sport or Sport+ mode, that I can forgive the slightly more perceptible gearchanges in Comfort mode.

The GLC’s driving position feels car-like, with both driver and vehicle “sitting” almost shoulder to shoulder.

It’s so car-like from behind the wheel that I sometimes forget that I’m in a sports utility vehicle. And the torque kicks in relatively early, which is always a good thing.

Dynamic Select allows the driver to choose one of five driving programs according to her/his driving style and mood. Eco mode maximises efficiency, while Comfort is for smooth driving. In Sport and Sport+ modes, the car is awakened – lowering its chassis, modifying its gearchange points and stiffening its damping (if specified with the Air Body Control suspension option).

The fifth mode, Individual, allows the driver to customise various parameters as desired. When specified in conjunction with the Off road Engineering package, Dynamic Select offers up to five more off - road drive programs.

In terms of practicality, this car proves to be the sensible sibling to the C-Class. The rear seats are accommodating, while the squarish boot with its 550-litre capacity is very functional, and the 40:20:40 folding backseats enhance the practicality. The hands-free boot access is, well, handy when you have your hands full.

A comfortable ride and good sound insulation are typical Mercedes qualities, and these have not been compromised in the GLC. It may be a jungle (concrete or otherwise) out there, but the last thing you want is to hear the cacophony.

The GLC250 is a sensible proposition. By keeping its wits about it, the newcomer may just trump its key competitors, the BMW X3 and Audi Q5, in a local sports utility vehicle showdown

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