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2017 Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class Test Drive Review
An impressive small luxury crossover SUV, the Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class might just be the best vehicle in its segment… for now.
Before you rush out to buy the new Mercedes-AMG GLC 43 because it is the most expensive version and therefore must be the “best” one, you need to think about how you’re actually going to use this vehicle. As a daily driver, the AMG GLC 43 is disappointing in several respects. As a performance vehicle built for driving hard and fast at all times, the AMG GLC 43 is extraordinarily satisfying.
Look and Feel
In my opinion, for the 2017 model year, Mercedes-Benz builds the best compact luxury crossover SUV you can buy. It's called the GLC-Class, a 5-passenger vehicle that replaced the boxy GLK-Class last year.
Based on the same platform as the C-Class, the 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class features similar exterior styling traits, displays nearly identical interior design themes, and shares its drivetrains, technologies, and componentry with those popular car models. It’s basically a C-Class station wagon, sitting higher on a slightly stretched wheelbase and widened track, and providing greater ground clearance.
This year, the GLC-Class lineup expands to include the new GLC Coupe, which is really a 5-door fastback with less cargo space, reduced backseat room, and a higher price tag. Another new model is the vehicle I tested, the Mercedes-AMG GLC 43. Prices start at $40,075 for a GLC 300 with rear-wheel drive (RWD) and no options and rise to as high as $81,595 for an AMG GLC 43 Coupe with every factory option.
My test vehicle rang in at $68,145. That included the $13,750 upcharge from a GLC 300 4Matic for the AMG GLC 43 treatment, plus Brilliant Blue metallic paint, Saddle Brown leather, natural grain Black Ash wood, and 21-inch wheels with summer performance tires. Add the Air Balance fragrance system, a Burmeister premium Surround Sound audio system, the Advanced Parking Assist Package, and the Premium 3 Package, and this relatively loaded exampled topped out at more than 68 grand.
Dipped in a new paint color called Brilliant Blue, by AMG GLC 43 test vehicle looked terrific, especially with its optional 21-inch wheels. The bright color, the AMG body styling, the diamond-studded grille, and the split exhaust outlets add up to plenty of visual attitude.
Mercedes also gets the GLC’s cabin exactly right, especially with my test vehicle’s lovely leather color and its natural-grain wood trim. The combination provides a high-contrast background for the cabin’s metallic jewelry and piano black detailing, and as a result this interior looks and feels special, like a luxury vehicle should.
What are you getting when you upgrade to the AMG GLC 43? For starters, this car has a twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 engine making 362 horsepower between 5,500 and 6,000 rpm and 384 lb-ft of torque between 2,000 and 4,200 rpm. That engine is connected to an AMG-tuned 9-speed automatic transmission, which powers a performance version of the automaker’s 4Matic all-wheel-drive (AWD) system. Together, these components are good for acceleration to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds, according to Mercedes.
AMG also enhances the GLC 43’s exhaust system and adaptive air suspension, and Mercedes installs performance brakes as standard equipment. This version of the GLC also has a wider track and bigger 20-inch wheels and tires, as well as a revised version of Dynamic Select. Using this technology, drivers can choose between Eco, Comfort, Sport, and Sport Plus driving modes. An Individual mode allows the owner to mix and match settings to specific preferences.
An automatic engine stop/start system is standard, designed to incrementally improve fuel economy. The EPA says the AMG GLC 43 should return 20 mpg in combined driving, and I got 18.9 mpg on my test loop. To be fair, though, I sat in 10 minutes of jammed traffic while police cleared a wreck. I also cycled through all four Dynamic Select modes on a regular basis, testing each of them.
So, is the AMG GLC 43’s performance worth its price?
If you love to drive, and if you exercise your vehicle on a regular basis, and if you need the extra ground clearance combined with the practicality and utility inherent in a crossover SUV, then I would say yes. Otherwise, my bet is that you’ll be happier with the GLC 300.
There are several reasons for this aside from having to pay so much extra money for hardware you have no intention of using. For example, at speed when you’re hustling the SUV for all its worth, the performance braking system is downright miraculous. But around town, it's grabby, making it difficult to execute smooth, seamless stops.
Here’s another example: Choose the gorgeous 21-inch wheels, and you’ll discover grip that is otherworldly. But road noise is ever-present and occasionally downright deafening.
I also had trouble finding a Dynamic Select mode that was fully satisfying. Comfort mode is too relaxed around town, the drivetrain taking a moment or two to respond to throttle inputs after rounding a city corner. But Sport mode introduces jackrabbit starts and more aggressive downshifting, making it harder to drive the GLC smoothly. And Sport Plus mode is just obnoxious when used in heavily populated areas, the SUV bucking and jerking and burping its way forward.
No matter where I was driving the AMG GLC 43, though, I wanted the adaptive air suspension set to Sport Plus mode in order to eliminate unwanted body motion and indecisiveness from the adaptive air suspension. Thusly tuned, the tendency toward lateral rocking that I’ve noticed in this platform is almost completely ameliorated. In Comfort mode, the GLC wallows and wiggles. In Sport mode, it seems indecisive about whether it wants to soften or stiffen. But in Sport Plus, it limits body motion and makes the AMG GLC 43 feel sporty and responsive, as you would expect.
For mountain driving, Sport mode is perfect, and it works well when the road less traveled gets kinky, too. Sport Plus is even better, delivering speedy response to throttle input, rapid-fire gear changes accompanied by a belch from the exhaust, and perfectly timed downshift rev matching. I didn’t even feel the need to use the paddle shifters.
Individual mode is included in Dynamic Select to give the AMG GLC 43’s owner a degree of control over the various settings. I chose Comfort across the board, with the suspension tuned to Sport Plus. This did not provide ideal vehicle behavior, but it was close enough. Trouble was, every time I left the GLC and then returned, the system had reset itself from Individual mode to Comfort mode, effectively defeating the purpose of using Individual in the first place.
Where the AMG GLC 43’s various performance-calibrated components came together in symphonic perfection was on my favorite mountain roads, where I drove the SUV hard and fast in Sport Plus mode. It was absolutely brilliant in this environment, which makes perfect sense, given that it is built specifically for this kind of driving.
Providing plenty of power, the drivetrain delivered nearly flawless transmission behavior, the single exception an instance where I accelerated, let up momentarily, and then accelerated again, causing the transmission to exhibit an unbecoming hiccup. The brakes, the wide and sticky tires, and the steering added to the competence demonstrated and joy delivered by the AMG GLC 43.
No matter where you’re driving this SUV, the variable-ratio, Direct Steer steering is outstanding in terms of its weight, accuracy, and response, making it easy to park, whip around city corners, and carve a favorite canyon.
At the end of the day, the AMG GLC43 is about driving joy, about traveling fast and hard on a regular basis. If that’s not how you roll, take a pass on this performance version and spend all the money you’ll save on upgrades to the GLC 300.
Form and Function
Mercedes takes an unconventional approach to the GLC’s control layout. If you’ve never owned a Benz, there is a steep learning curve.
Check out the Comand control knob and handwriting recognition pad on the center console, surrounded by various buttons and dials for doing various things. Check out how many stalks are mounted to the left side of the steering column. Check out the transmission gear selector on the opposite side of the steering column. Check out the power seat adjustments on the door panel. Check out the piano keys for the climate system. It seems as though Mercedes believes it has a better idea for everything
After a few hundred miles behind the wheel, though, most of the controls become second nature. And you’ll be comfortable in the saddle, too. Up front, the seats offer 14-way power adjustment, heating, and available ventilation, and it is easy to find the perfect driving position. Bigger people like me are likely to find the fit rather snug, though.
Snug also describes the rear seats. With the driver’s seat set to my preference, backseat knee and foot space were fine, while shin space was lacking. There’s a 12-volt power outlet and a 115-volt power outlet back there, but the GLC lacks USB charging ports in the back seat.
Pop the hatch to reveal 19.4 cubic feet of cargo space. I don’t know exactly how Mercedes measures it, but the space sure seems larger than that, especially considering the nooks and crannies located under the cargo floor. With the rear seats folded down, the GLC supplies 56.5 cubic feet of maximum volume, which looks and sounds about right.
As is true of the rest of the GLC’s controls, it takes time to acclimate to the Comand infotainment system. A row of main menu buttons on the dashboard, combined with the Comand control knob, handwriting recognition pad, and ancillary switchgear on the center console, operate the system’s various functions. Versions with navigation employ a larger, tablet-style, 8.4-inch screen that appears to be clipped to the dashboard above the air vents.
Once you’ve got everything set up the way you want it, interaction with the system’s deeper functions is relatively limited. However, occasionally you may need to access them, and when you can’t remember how to find a particular function, the potential for distraction is significant.
So here’s a little trick to remember when you’re feeling lost: Push the star button on the handwriting recognition pad, and a handy menu of the system’s primary functions will appear on the infotainment screen. If you know specifically what menu you require, choose from the row of discreet buttons mounted on the dashboard beneath the climate controls.
My test vehicle’s Comand system was paired with the optional Burmeister Surround Sound system, which installs spiffy metallic speaker grilles that look terrific. The system does an excellent job of rendering bass-heavy music. I had a harder time dialing in some of the modern rock I tend to prefer.
Mercedes also supplies a free 3-month trial of its Mbrace subscription services, which include everything from Tune In global radio service and a Wi-Fi hotspot to a personal concierge. The Mbrace Secure subscription package is free for 6 months, providing numerous safety-related services. Mbrace Connect is complimentary for 5 years, supplying remote access to specific vehicle functions, a quick connection to roadside assistance service, several safe teen-driver programs, and more.
My test car also had the optional surround-view camera system, which is packaged with an Active Parking Assist system and a hands-free power rear liftgate. Given the wide, expensive wheel-and-tire package, it came in particularly handy when parking next to curbs. I suppose I could have engaged the Active Parking Assist system, but in my experience these systems are helpful only in situations where you won’t cause traffic back-ups while it autonomously steers the vehicle into an open space.
Finally, the Air Balance cabin fragrance and air-purification system is designed to keep the GLC’s interior smelling as fresh and clean as a field full of lilies. Or whatever scent you choose to use.
As standard equipment, every GLC-Class is equipped with a forward-collision warning system with automatic emergency braking, a drowsy-driver monitoring system, a reversing camera, and a Pre-Safe system that prepares the interior and the SUV’s occupants for a collision should sensors determine that one is imminent. In addition to these features, the AMG GLC 43 is equipped with a standard blind-spot warning system.
If you’re looking for a longer list of driver-assistance and collision-avoidance technologies, you will want the pricey Premium 3 option package. It adds adaptive cruise control with full-stop capability, a pedestrian detection system, active lane-centering steering assist, active lane-keeping and blind-spot assist, rear cross-traffic alert, rear-impact Pre-Safe preparation, and active LED headlights with automatic high-beam activation.
During testing, the driver-assistance technologies worked as I expected them to, given available travel conditions and situations. I did note, though, while driving after dark on a winding and dimly lit boulevard, that the headlights switched to high beams and blinded a driver in a Jeep Grand Cherokee who was waiting for traffic to clear in order to enter the road from a side street. That’s not ideal.
Neither the federal government nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has conducted crash tests on this SUV.
Perhaps the most aspirational automotive brand on the planet, Mercedes is able to command a premium for its products because people want to buy them. Therefore, even in comparison to other luxury marques, buying a Mercedes-Benz is not a particularly cost-effective use of your money.
For example, as this review is written, Mercedes will lease the AMG GLC 43 for the equivalent of $825.47 per month with no money out of pocket at signing. That’s for the base model, with no options, and before tax is applied to the payment. Plus, you can drive only 10,000 miles each year.
That’s no bargain.
Everything is relative, though. Simply parking a Mercedes in your driveway might represent fulfillment of a life-long dream, and there is genuine value in that sense of personal achievement and satisfaction.
Plus, when it comes to most modern Mercedes products, there is no question that the vehicles are engineered to high standards, even if some shortcuts are taken with regard to the quality and finish of certain interior bits and pieces.
Furthermore, I cannot deny that the more time I spent with the Mercedes-AMG GLC 43, the more I liked it.
As you get acclimated to the control layout and get all of the features and functions set up to your liking and understand how all the on-board technology works, the GLC becomes more satisfying to drive. Additionally, this specific version of the SUV looks terrific inside and out and is a real thrill ride under the right conditions.
However, the performance-tuned AMG hardware likely represents overkill for most people. My bet is that you’re not going to want this version unless you’re planning to spend the majority of your time behind the wheel going fast and having fun.
Christian Wardlaw has nearly two decades of experience reviewing cars, and has served in editorial leadership roles with Edmunds, Autobytel, and J.D. Power and Associates. Chris prefers to focus on the cars people actually buy rather than the cars about which people dream, and emphasizes the importance of fuel economy and safety as much as how much fun a car is to drive. Chris is married to an automotive journalist, is the father of four daughters, and lives in Southern California.
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