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There was a time, not that long ago, when Mercedes-Benz India literally had their heads in their hands. Somebody at headquarters had decided that the GLK SUV didn’t need to be engineered for right-hand drive and so Merc’s best-selling SUV couldn’t be launched in India to take on Audi’s hot-selling Q5, and BMW’s lukewarm-selling X3.
All that changes now. From having just two SUVs, Mercedes-Benz India now finds itself in the amazing situation of having more SUVs than its rivals (more SUVs that anybody else in the country actually!). Book-ending the range is the GLA to take on the Q3 and X1 and GLS that goes up against the Q7 and X5. In between that there’s the GLE that’s half a step up from the Q5 and now there’s the GLC that’s half a step below the Q5. And I’m not talking about the AMGs – the GLE 450AMG Coupe and G 63 AMG. That’s six SUVs, with the promise of more to come (non-AMG GLE Coupe, GLS AMG, GLE AMG).
C-Class of SUVs
The GLS that was launched earlier this month was billed as the S-Class of SUVs. Well it is not – that’s just some smart marketing guy playing copywriter. The GLC though, it is the C-Class of SUVs.
For starters it is based on the C-Class platform with the wheelbase stretched out by 33mm (the GLS isn’t on the S-Class platform, if you’re asking). More to the point though, and especially from the front, it looks like a raised C-Class. And that’s a good thing. The C-Class is one of the best looking cars in its segment and the GLC similarly looks really good – there’s the wide grille with the three-pointed star taking pride of place and it is flanked by LED headlights (standard on the Edition 1) with the signature swoosh of the LED DRLs. The profile has a hint of coupe in it (that’s not to say there won’t be a GLC Coupe, expect it in India next year) while the horizontally stretched out taillamps do a fair job of reminding you of the AMG GT. This is a very attractive SUV, quite possibly the nicest in its class and definitely the best-looking Merc SUV in the country (barring the GLE Coupe, for those of that bent).
One thing that I must point out though is that all India-spec GLCs get the off-road package as standard, which comes with an additional 20mm of ground clearance. That’s great for our roads but it also leaves an ungainly gap between the 18-inch wheel and arches while also compromising the damping finesse.
Step inside and you’re greeted by a cabin lifted straight out of the C-Class. The fascia is a little taller but otherwise everything here is from the C-Class – ’wheel, clocks, dash, vents, infotainment screen, touchpad, everything. But if it sounds like I am complaining, well, I am definitely not. Without question the C-Class (that, itself, has been inspired by the S-Class) has the best cabin in its class and, by extension, it gives the GLC’s cabin a clear edge over its rivals. Quality is fantastic, materials feel very high quality, everything operates with a brilliant tactile touch and it excels at making you feel good about spending the(estimated) fifty lakh rupees.
With the longer wheelbase there’s more space for rear seat passengers with ample knee and leg room. And with the seat positioned lower there’s enough head room too. However the large transmission tunnel and protruding air-con vents do eat into the centre space and a third passenger will not be happy.
Unlike the Edition 1 C-Class this launch-edition GLC doesn’t get the Burmester stereo (which, more than the sound quality, gets those beautifully detailed speaker and tweeter grilles). However on the equipment front it does get the off-road package that includes hill descent control and two more off-road driving modes to go with the 5 modes already included in the Dynamic Mode controller. The suspension is via steel springs so Sport + mode only sharpens engine and gearbox responses, slackens the electronic stability net and makes the steering heavier – the suspension settings remain unchanged.
On the safety front the GLC gets seven airbags including a knee bag for the driver and it has scored a full five stars in the Euro-NCAP crash test ratings.
The twisties of Coorg
The launch event of the GLC was held at the fantastic Taj Vivanta in Coorg and the drive down to Mangalore took in some beautifully winding roads that the GLC absolutely revelled in. From the minute you turn the wheel you can feel the genes of the C-Class: the responses are slick and quick, there is a decent amount of feel through the helm and there is an eagerness that is unexpected of an SUV. All India-spec GLCs get 4Matic all-wheel drive so there’s no tail-wagging to be had like in an aggressively driven C-Class. What you do get is a sure-footedness that allowed one to drive it harder over roads that had just been subject to a spell of rain; harder than you would in a RWD sedan. There’s also very good bite from the front end and though the Pirelli Scorpion tyres do start to squeal early you can push them surprisingly harder before understeer sets in.
What you will also notice is a fair bit more body roll than in the C-Class. It’s to be expected, after all this is an SUV, but it is also a factor of the 20mm additional ground clearance thanks to the off-road package. Compared to its rivals, the Q5 would have similar levels of body roll though the X3, like all BMWs, does have tighter body control.
As for the ride, it is a fair bit more compliant than the C-Class, and you will love it for that. It does feel plush, luxurious and the polished damping makes it feel like an expensive SUV. However there’s also a slightly firmer edge than the Q5, in keeping with Mercedes’ new-found love for sharp handling and run-flat tyres (and because there’s no spare wheel well the space-saver spare is strapped into the boot taking away a worryingly large amount of space.) This is all the more evident at slower speeds where it can crash into sharp bumps and ridges and feel a touch unsettled over indifferently surfaced roads. The GLC will tell you about stuff that the bigger GLE would just glide over. It, by no means, feels harsh and uncomfortable and the faster you go the better the compliance gets to go with the rock-solid stability.
The diesel is still banned in the NCR
And now Kerala. And shortly, they say, Maharashtra too. What’s going on?
Merc’s new small diesel that will internationally debut in the new E-Class dips under two litres but for now the GLC makes do with the 2143cc diesel that falls foul of our courts. It makes 170bhp and 400Nm of torque and, mated to the new 9-speed automatic transmission, it does deliver brisk performance with a claimed 0-100kmph time of 8.9 seconds. It’s actually the gearbox with its two additional ratios that ensure the engine doesn’t feel underpowered and delivers brisk changes (both up and down), quick acceleration and a relaxed cruise with better efficiency.
The 9-speed auto is also standard on the GLC 300 that gets the 2-litre direct-injection petrol. In keeping with evo India’s traditions this was the variant that we spent the most time in and with 245bhp of power and 370Nm of torque it makes full use of the chassis’ dynamic brilliance. The claimed 0-100kmph time is 6.9 seconds and it feels that fast with very quick sprints thanks to the shorter initial gearing. As is the way with all these modern turbo-petrols you also get great bottom-end grunt, almost diesel-like in its depth and punch, while being exceptionally refined and noiseless. It made the drive down to Mangalore a joy, I can tell you that much.
Where will it be positioned?
Now that is Mercedes’ trump card. With the GLE slotting in between the Q5 and Q7 it leaves the GLC to slot in between the Q5 and Q3. The final pricing will only be known at its launch on June 2 but I suspect it will be closer to the Q5 than the Q3 (at Rs 45 lakh). And Mercedes can afford to price it there.
The Q5 is now long in the tooth and BMW doesn’t do exceptional numbers with the X3 either. The only really solid competitor is the Discovery Sport, with its option of seven seats, but the GLC should under cut it on price. It leaves the field wide open for the GLC, and with its lovely styling, fantastic interiors and accomplished road manners, Mercedes-Benz is on to a clear winner.
evo India rating