Sporty but classic: Despite a few niggles, such as the digital sliders and some connectivity gremlins, the Mercedes-Benz GLC is a good option if you are after upper-echelon luxury in an SUV.
Just about every letter of the alphabet has been represented in Mercedes-Benz’s SUV lineup to denote size and grandeur. A, B, C, E, the mighty G … nowadays there’s a confusing Q popping up in its marketing material, S, and let’s not forget the R — more MPV than SUV really but 100% proof that someone wasn’t paying attention.
On this page, the C is represented, specifically, the GLC in 220d and 300d guises. Pretty much the same but also very different.
The GLC is Merc’s best-selling SUV, locally and internationally, and there’s a good reason for that.
First, it’s always had a distinctive style and character — less cookie-cutter-and-shrunken-X5 than the BMW X3 and, to some eyes, more conservatively styled than the Porsche Macan. A happy compromise of sorts.
While, financially speaking, the GLC220d Avantgarde pictured here might be considered a compromise by the word’s very definition (the dealer wants you to specify the R82 593 AMG Line and probably your heart too, not your accountant, though), I assure you it doesn’t feel it.
I’ll spare you the paragraph’s worth of extra reading telling you what you’re looking at, but simply put, it is the standard styling pack with which the GLC rolls out.
Our tester had the optional (R13 500) 19-inch, light-finished wheels, plenty of chrome inserts which, according to Merc’s marketing people, is a “simulated underride guard at the front and rear”, which, as you can guess, is just for show.
It also has polished aluminium roof railings to give it a more off-road-ready look and feel.
On the other hand, there’s the AMG Line exterior pack, which, in a nutshell, is a different, sportier front bumper, with air intakes which look as if they are ready to swallow the local wildlife.
It includes 20-inch optional black AMG alloy wheels (R26 100), which contrast beautifully with the silver exterior GLC300d AMG Line I had on test, and a solid black rear bumper sans the chrome surround found on the Avantgarde-spec GLC220d tester.
Inside, it’s as Merc as you would expect, with spaces that are a cut above that of the competition.
Mercedes gives you nine different choices of upholstery — and that’s just the Avantgarde. The AMG Line adds even more options. Ultimately, it boils down to how much you are willing to pay.
You can choose from seven options for the dashboard trim, ranging from patterned, open-pore walnut to AMG carbon-fibre trim, with a price tag of R20 300.
The standard, no-extras silver-grey, diamond-patterned dash trim on the testers projected modern elegance in that typically Mercedes way.
As for steering wheels, there are also two distinct flavours, with the more traditional winged effect around the wheel of the Avantgarde. The flat-bottomed, sports-inspired wrapped-in-Nappa-leather wheel specified in the 300d comes at no extra cost — definitely the one I’d choose.
Both steering wheels have a bothersome flaw, which brings us to the media interface and operation.
Why manufacturers insist on favouring digital sliders over traditional knobs is beyond me, but in both derivatives, the sliders were overly binary in execution.
Want to nudge the volume up or down? Be prepared for either overwhelming silence or eardrum-vibrating, rock concert-adjacent increases in sound.
Even the cruise-control speed operation has a digital slider. Trying to finesse it in small increments had no effect 70% of the time. However, a more deliberate approach would result in an over-dramatic increase or decrease in the intended speed.
Bar the over-complicated layers of digital screens and a temperamental Android Auto connection on both derivatives — something that can be corrected with a system update, I’m sure — the 11.9-inch central infotainment tablet display sits beautifully atop the front part of the centre console and offers stellar HD graphics.
Furthermore, when the inbuilt layers proved too much, I regularly called on the services of Merc’s voice assistant, MBUX, to help me do things such as switch on the heated seats and change ambient colours, of which there are a seemingly infinite number of combinations, or even tell me a joke. MBUX was clearly given a Deutsche sense of humour, though.
The engine options in the diesel siblings boil down to a single unit in the form of a 2.0-litre turbodiesel with 48V mild-hybrid assistance.
In the 220d, the maximum power is rated at 162kW, thanks to 17kW boost assistance, while in the 300d, which also has 17kW worth of boost, the maximum power takes an aggressive hike to 215kW.
In terms of torque, the 220d puts down 440Nm while the 300d turns at a rate of 550Nm with a temporary 200Nm boost available for both units.
Both models are excellent cruisers on city streets and motorways, with plenty of substance for overtaking, barely perceptible levels of wind noise and an undiesel-like soundtrack that trickles into the cabin.
Dialling the 220d into Sport mode puts an extra spring in its step, with tangibly improved throttle responses and a taut and focused approach to dynamics.
Do the same on the 300d with caution, though. Now everything is firmed up and this school run, grocery-fetching machine wants to bite.
It is unexpected, mainly since diesel is usually associated with sensibleness and that same sensibleness has been left at the last registered drive mode.
The throttle is as sensitive as a political minefield, the speed it carries feels akin to a full-fat AMG, and the soundtrack injected into the cabin is, I daresay, almost stirring, despite the thin veil of artificiality.
Stupefied, I kept rehashing, “This is diesel, how?” as it accelerated to 100km/h in Merc’s claimed 6.3 secs.
Modest by today’s standards, yes, but still, for a diesel in an age where refined oil burners have been all but outlawed, it remains impressive.
The heaps of torque and unrealised potential energy from the 48V system feel hinged on a sense of nostalgia, with a bit of help from the future.
So, the big question is price. The 220d Avantgarde comes in at R1 211 220, while the 300d AMG Line ships as standard with an R1 492 787 price tag.
You’ll gasp in horror at the news I’m about to deliver — that’s without any of the niceties I mentioned earlier. Worth it?
Considering inflation, and the fact that the world is becoming increasingly unhinged, which has an impact on our ever-weakening rand, I’d cautiously say that if it’s upper-echelon luxury you want, then yes.
The Mercedes GLC 220d and 300d in their respective trims deliver a balanced compromise between sportiness and classic refinement. The AMG Line is more dynamic in look and feel, with the Avantgarde seeking to capture that old-world Merc charm in a modern package.
The irksome digital sliders and some connectivity gremlins notwithstanding, the respective interior spaces are class-leading in their luxuriousness and tech-forward approach. However, this approach comes at a price, since these GLCs are not for the budget-conscious buyer.
My pick? It’s easy — that 300d AMG Line tugs at my heartstrings with aching desperation.