CAPE TOWN – Since its introduction in 2016, Mercedes-Benz’s midsize GLC has been the preferred choice of propulsion for many private-school parents. The roomy interior and upmarket styling appealed to many buyers, with the pull of the three-pointed star and the associated image being too strong for some.
However, stiff competition from the likes of Audi, BMW and Volvo has seen the GLC retreat into the shadows. In our 2019 SUV Shootout, the Mercedes placed last, trailing behind its rivals and even Volkswagen’s smaller Tiguan.
Recently, a facelift was bestowed upon the premium SUV, bringing with it some design changes and a raft of updates. Visually, the front end has been modernised, freshening up the already attractive styling with more compact headlamps and revisions to the grille. At the rear, the taillamps have received a similar treatment.
Along with the facelift comes a scaled-down local range. Previously, the GLC220d produced 125 kW and 400 N.m of torque from its 2,1-litre turbodiesel. The 250d utilised the same powertrain but pumped out 150 kW and a beefy 500 N.m of torque. Higher up the range was the 350d, equipped with a creamy turbodiesel V6.
Now you’ll find just two diesel offerings; the 220d and 300d. Both are equipped with a turbocharged 2,0-litre engine, with the GLC220d offering up 143 kW and 400 N.m of torque. The highlight of this oil-burner is its refinement. It’s wonderfully quiet and hums away to itself, barely audible from behind the wheel. While there is a slight clatter at idle, it’s hardly discernible from inside. Although Mercedes claims the GLC220d sips just 5,40 litres of fuel every 100 kilometres, I saw a figure closer to 7,50 litres on my 200 km drive around Cape Town’s suburbs and highways.
The interior is decidedly spacious. From behind the wheel, it’s easy to dial in a comfortable driving position. The part-electric driver’s seat adds an element of convenience, but at this price, fully electric units would be nice. Apart from a rather broad transmission tunnel, there isn’t much to complain about from the driver’s pew. Rear passengers will be able to stretch their legs in comfort, with 743 mm of legroom on offer. The boot is equally commodious, measuring 280 litres. With the rear bench folded down, a handy 1 112 litres of utility space is made available.
Inside, you’ll find the same facia as that employed by the C-Class. While elegant and rather dramatic, the overall feel and perceived quality in the pre-facelift model failed to match the ambiance. Much like the refreshed C-Class, the updated GLC220d’s cabin now feels far better screwed together, lending it a greater sense of solidity and overall luxury. Likewise carried over from the facelifted C-Class is the 10,25-inch infotainment screen. The screen provides a crisp resolution and can be controlled in a number of ways. A touchpad replaces the rotary dial that has done service in Mercedes-Benz models for over a decade; while I’m sure the new setup can be mastered with time, the now-defunct scroller was far easier to use. Other than that, everything else in the interior is logically placed. The climate controls, for example, are wonderfully simple to use, even if you are unfamiliar with modern Mercedes interiors.
If, like me, you don’t get along with the touchpad, there are two other ways to navigate the various options and menus found in the MBUX infotainment system (which can also be controlled by voice). Not only can it now be operated as a touchscreen, but the left-side touch-sensitive pad on the steering wheel can be used to wade through the numerous sub-menus. The one on the right is to navigate your way through the trip computer and optional digital dials. At R13 200, it may seem pricey, but the configurability alone makes it worth it.
Fitted with optional 20-inch AMG alloys, one would think the ride would suffer; on the contrary, the GLC rides rather nicely. While the suspension isn’t overly absorbent, it never feels harsh and manages to remain composed and smooth over uneven surfaces. With smaller wheels, the ride would undoubtedly feel even better. While nowhere near as agile as its sedan sibling, the GLC holds its own through the bends. The steering has a pleasing heft to it, adding a sense of solidity to the driving experience.
The facelift has brought the GLC back into contention. The exterior updates have managed to keep the already classy styling contemporary, while perceived interior quality has received a welcome boost. Most importantly, however, is the introduction of the superb 2,0-litre turbodiesel. Not only is it refined, but it offers spirited performance and impressive fuel economy.