Test Drive: 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLC 300 4MATIC

Remember those Happy Days episodes when Fonzie would confess that maybe he had been wrong? He stutters and can’t get the words out. The Fonz represents most men (though who among us will ever be that cool?).

Crossovers have traversed the gap and, in my opinion, earned their title.

The point? For years, I’ve been repeating that SUVs don’t feel enough like cars.

Then, inevitably, when I was driving one, I’d find plenty of good things to say about it. The condition was chronic. Yes, was chronic. The 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLC 300 4Matic was the SUV that broke the camel’s back. It either alerted me that:

  1. a) SUVs have come a long way and, without even noticing the fact, I have liked them for a while;
  2. b) I really like the M-B GLC 300 and the many others were all anomalies; or
  3. c) All along, I was wr-wr-wrong.

Let’s go with the forgiving tone of a, whose wording, like an amicable divorce, allows that mistakes were made by both parties.

SUVs and I have sorted our differences and we’re talking again.

Maybe it’s a symptom of midlife crisis? Now that I’ve turned 50, it’s kind of nice to be elevated in traffic and able see beyond the bumper sticker three feet in front of my hood. Or maybe it’s the effects of a clean pallet; I recently spent a year abroad, which entailed very little driving and currently do not own a car. Any opportunity to drive in the past 17 months has felt like a privilege, though the GLC was still especially special. (Every driver should consider a sabbatical every few years. Just a few months out of practice and you’d be astounded at how much things have evolved. This could well become the new mantra to replace my I-dislike-SUV refrain over the next few months.)

To be fair, auto manufacturers are making SUVs that drive less like trucks and more like cars. Crossovers have traversed the gap and, in my opinion, earned their title. Pretty much every one of them has adopted a squatter design ethic; between that and the assorted safety technologies, they just don’t seem tippy-trucky any more (please forgive any overly technical nomenclature and jargon).

The GLC was a prime example: On a short ski trip out of the city, icy roads were barely detectable courtesy of its squatter, downward dynamics and attentive 4Matic all-wheel-drive system. Push it in slippery corners and ‘listen’ closely to the feel of the ride. It’s simply more car than truck.

And, of course, there are the different driving modes.

The difference between the modes produces several different automobiles. Being able to modify your drive can help shrink the feel of the ride. In its stratified sport modes, Sport and Sport+, the GLC 300 drives like a dream. In Comfort and Eco modes, including start/stop technology for lights, it’s like the rest of your sleep — more of what you expect from an SUV.

The combined city/highway fuel efficiency rating is a remarkably exact 10.0 L/100 km, considering it’s the government of Canada’s liberal approach to judging gas guzzling. I was usually in the low-12 range on extended highway trips and didn’t even look while in the city (see below, re: head-up display). Still, if the price of oil continues to drop and the price of gasoline in Canada ever follows, consider putting the GLC in sport+ mode and driving there for good. This car’s guts are a marvel.

A nine-gear automatic transmission (with paddles for the pickier driver) wrings an impressive 241 hp from the four-cylinder engine. And you have plenty of firepower. A hypersensitive accelerator shoots you forward in traffic at the speed of quickening blood pressure. And while the GLC does have expensive tastes, it doesn’t drink strictly top shelf; the minimum octane rating is a silver-medalist’s 91.

The GLC is still sizeable — and well proportioned, aesthetically and practically.

The GLC may not be called big by modern SUV standards at 1,644 mm tall by 2,096 mm wide (with mirrors) and 4,656 mm long. However, the parking spot for our narrow downtown house hasn’t grown in the past century. So — for some of us — the GLC is still huge and worthy of extra care during the crucial last mile. With a wide-ish turning circle of 11.8 m, it still requires a three-point turn in my neighbourhood’s streets.

The corollary is there’s lots of space for storage. Plus the rear seats flatten almost completely. A ski pass-through door folds down.

We’ve already discussed its squatting spread — a compliment, believe it or not (just like ‘open pore’ wood trim is an enviable feature). Otherwise the exterior is pleasantly simple and understated. That is, until the sun goes down. With the LED light system package, a $1,700 upgrade this tester shamelessly showed off, the GLC 300 lights up at night like the Reeperbahn during carnival, highlighting crevices and angles you simply don’t notice during the day: behind the handles, beneath the mirrors, above the running boards.

Inside, it’s a treat for driver and passengers.

The front and back seats are heated, of course, and the fronts are almost infinitely adjustable with three memory modes — all sexily upholstered in leather. Speaking of near infinity, it’s remarkable how many controls are within centimetres of your 9 and 3 o’clock steering position, starting with phone access and stereo volume — and how well thought through the entire system is. Your eyes need never wander for long.

There’s one lever to the right of the steering column for shifting, but three others to the left. The shortest, which you’ll use least, controls the telescopic steering wheel’s movements in four directions, and switches the three levels of heat into the steering wheel (warm, warmer and spa). It resides in the middle, least accessibly, which again makes sense because you’ll rarely use it. The lever beneath is for cruise control and the last one, above, controls the front and rear wipers. You don’t need to look down.

Just to the left of all these are a series of lighting options and safety features.

And speaking of eyes not straying from the road, the COMAND infotainment system is something I have not admired enough in the past. Between its puck–shaped rotary dial and touchpad, so much information is in your hands, literally. You needn’t take your eyes from the road sometimes at all — certainly rarely for longer than a fraction of a second. COMAND takes just a few minutes to understand. Assorted hand movements connote different commands, making navigating through immense amounts of information surprisingly easy and fast: click and select; even basic writing!

Warning: The following is definitely a first-world problem. If you have ever used the gear selector on a Range Rover or Land Rover, then you might be confused by the COMAND system’s rotary controller, at first. They’re almost identically shaped — puckish, so to speak — but for the COMAND’s overhanging touchpad (which itself imbues several other sightless controls). I recently drove an LR4 and Range Rover Evoque before testing the GLC. Long story short: the first I was trying to reverse, I inadvertently switched from Elvis’s 24/7 satellite radio station to Ozzie’s Boneyard — which some would argue is just a different move backwards.

Any other complaints?

Well, my beard’s grown in gray; my lower back is chronically sore; and don’t get me started about the music the kids are listening to these days! Oh, wait a second.

Other complaints about the Mercedes-Benz GLC 300? Just minor ones.

1) Odd that a setup so bent on putting everything at a driver’s fingertips to keep her eyes on the road has no head-up display. Such a feature would make the already excellent human/machine interface even better.

2) Be careful fiddling with the light switches. There are “parking lights”, which illuminate either side of the car, front or back, not something we use in North America much. If you turn one on, inadvertently or not, you need to turn it back off too. It has no timer because some Europeans like to leave the parking light on, so that other drivers can see them (presumably, they don’t use headlights?) and don’t drive into them. The manual says the car extinguishes any lights left on before the battery drains, but I didn’t test the claim’s veracity.

Maybe such nitpicking deserves a thrown bone. Let’s talk a bit about the manufacturer’s online retail experience.

Did you know about the Mercedes-Benz OnlineCode System?

The specific car you buy, from its colour to the assorted upgrades, has its own customized ‘brochure’. This tester’s code is M9311384, which you enter in the top right corner of the company’s Canadian website. See below for the many extras you’ll find there, not included in the base model. Fortunately, even with none of these add-ons, the 2016 GLC 300 4Matic still drives like a very r-r-responsive car.

Warranty:
4 years/80,000 km; 4 years/80,000 km powertrain; 5 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 4 years/unlimited distance roadside assistance

Competitors:
Acura RDX
Audi Q5
BMW X3
Cadillac XT5
Infiniti QX50
Lexus NX
Lincoln MKC
Land Rover Discovery Sport
Land Rover Range Rover Evoque
Volvo XC60

2016 Mercedes-Benz GLC 300 4MATIC
2016 Mercedes-Benz GLC 300 4MATIC
Base Price $44,950
Optional Equipment Premium Package $4,900 – Easy-Pack Power Tailgate, COMAND Online Navigation w/MB Apps, Panoramic Sunroof, Illuminated Door Sill Panels, Ambient lighting, Rear View Camera, DVD Drive; Premium Plus Package $2,900 – 115V Power Socket, Parking Package, Memory Package w/ Power Steering Column, Power Adjustable Passenger's Seat, Integrated Garage Door Opener, Heated Rear Seats, PARKTRONIC w / Active Parking Assist, KEYLESS-GO; Intelligent Drive Package $2,700 – Active Blind Spot Assist, Active Lane Keeping Assist, DISTRONIC PLUS with Steering Assist, BAS PLUS with Cross-Traffic Assist, PRE-SAFE Brake (Autonomous emergency braking), PRE-SAFE PLUS for rear-end collision; Sport Package $1,500 – AMG Exterior Package, AMG Styling Package, 19" AMG 5-twin-spoke light-alloy wheels; LED Light System $1,700 – Adaptive Highbeam Assist (AHA), LED Intelligent Light System; running boards $750, Burmeister sound system $1,000, Sirius satellite radio $475, 360-degree Surround View camera $595, trailer hitch $675, heated steering wheel $250, open pore dark ash wood trim $250.
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $2,495
Price as Tested $62,640
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 8.8
10 Comfort
8 Fuel Economy
8 Performance
10 Interior
8 Exterior Styling