Balanced beauty

BY Kelly Taylor. Mar 24 09:44 am

C. It is the third letter in the alphabet and the thirteenth most used letter in the English language. It is, arguably, also the first letter in the Mercedes-Benz alphabet.

Mercedes has cars that are less expensive than the C-Class and SUVs less expensive than the GLC — the B-Class and CLA cars and the GLA SUV come to mind — but are they true luxury? The C-Class and above? Brilliant. The GLC? Fantastic. The lesser models? Not so much.

Initially, it was hard to put my finger on why I like the GLC so much better than its smaller sibling. The power isn’t significantly more (241 horsepower, 273 lb-ft of torque vs. 208 hp and 258 lb-ft). That power shaves only three-tenths of a second off the 0-60 time (6.3 in the GLC to 6.6 in the GLA). The design inside and out, save for size, is similar.

With all apologies to GLA, it just doesn’t feel “luxury.” It’s not just the additional torque of the GLC’s engine or the greater smoothness of the GLC’s conventional automatic (the GLA features a seven-speed, dual-clutch transmission), though both of those help.

What really elevates the GLC is it’s a rear-wheel-drive vehicle that sends power forward when needed, while the GLA is a front-wheel-drive vehicle that sends power rearward when needed. What does that mean for all-wheel-drive traction? Absolutely nothing. Both are equal in traction. But what it does mean is a much more balanced weight distribution front to rear, and you can absolutely feel that in corners. A rear-driver puts the engine and transmission farther back in the engine bay, and that helps drive some of the powertrain’s weight rearward.

The true hallmarks of luxury aren’t heated seats, rich, Corinthian leather (which never really existed, sorry, Ricardo Montalban) or any number of other gadgets. No, real luxury is a balance of power and weight, balanced weight distribution, effortless power and like-it’s-on-rails handling.

After a week in the GLC, I really felt as though I wanted to own one. The GLA was not nearly so inspiring.

The GLC is a complete rework of the former GLK compact sport utility. It has a new shape, eschewing the GLK’s boxy look for more rounded corners and a sleeker overall appearance. That it’s a complete redesign also sets it apart from other SUVs in the Mercedes lineup in that it has moved to the new interior design language as seen on the C-Class. It makes the GLE (formerly the ML) look somewhat dated by comparison. The horizontal row of chrome levers for climate and seat heater controls is quite stylish, and the raked back console puts controls at hand and is dapper, to boot.

Some of the options on the tester, which pushed it to more than $62,000, are exactly that. Optional. None is really required to get the GLC experience. One option I would get, though, is the open pore wood trim. It’s wood trim that actually looks like wood. In an espresso colour, it’s quite fetching. And it certainly beats some of the wood trim that is polished so finely it’s hard to distinguish from plastic.

Your mileage may vary, but I would give up the sport package ($1,500), LED lighting package ($1,700), intelligent drive package ($2,700), premium plus package ($2,900) and premium package ($4,900) to get the GLC back below $50,000. The open-pore, dark ash wood trim is a must, but it’s only $250. I think $1,000 for the Burmester sound system is well spent (it’s excellent) and another grand for a heated steering wheel and trailer hitch is a must, what with our Winnipeg winters and snowmobile and quad.

All told, my GLC build would be just over $48,000. Starting price is $44,950.

The powertrain for the GLC starts with the 2.0-litre turbo four, which pumps out 241 horsepower at 5,500 r.p.m. and 273 ft-lbs of torque from 1,300-4,000 r.p.m. As mentioned, it’s positioned north-south and mates to a nine-speed automatic transmission.

On the road, the GLC certainly feels sporty. The ride isn’t harsh, but you can tell it’s tuned for a more performance-oriented handling, which is also excellent. When your hands turn the smallish, thickly rimmed wheel, the vehicle responds nicely. Shod with winter tires, there was rarely a winter-driving scenario that stopped it. Not that I did anything stupid, of course.

Even when it was on a frozen lake and had traction in only one wheel, the system figured it out, applied braking to the spinning wheels and allowed the GLC to get moving again.

If there’s one criticism, and this may be purely one man’s opinion, the display screen for the audio and navigation system looks as though someone brought an iPad into the car and left it on the dash. But while the bad news might be the display sticks out, it also helps keep the top of the dash down, since another design would mandate a higher dash to accommodate the screen.

While the Mercedes COMAND controller, which you can use to select radio stations, operate the navigation system (if equipped) or make phone calls, is one of the best such on the market, the voice-command system is still somewhat limited. Being able to tell the car you’re hungry or to speak the name or frequency of radio stations would be a big upgrade. But the controls, including the COMAND controller, at the bottom of the console are very handy, and it doesn’t take long at all to realize that’s where you go to change stations or adjust the volume control.

My last words on the GLC were saved for my text alerting Mercedes’ representatives I had passed the car to another journalist: “To WW at 2,395 km. Gawd, I love this car.”

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