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First drive: Mercedes GLC diesel future uncertain

Updated Mercedes-Benz GLC mid-size SUV arriving with petrol-only power

Mercedes-Benz logo13 Jun 2019

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS in FRANKFURT

MERCEDES-BENZ will release the facelifted version of its bestselling GLC wagon and Coupe range in Australia from August minus diesel engine options, due to evaporating demand for oil-burners, as it concentrates instead on the dominant petrol-powered models.
 
With the medium luxury SUV offering a four-cylinder (and later V6) turbo-diesel variants since launching late in 2015, the decision was not taken lightly and will be reappraised should enough buyers call for it, according to Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific (MBAP) media relations and product communications manager Ryan Lewis.
 
“The diesel versions of the GLC are currently being assessed on a vehicle by vehicle basis,” he said.
 
“When we launched the GLC in 2015, the diesel accounted for about 50 per cent of demand, but in recent times that has dropped to under 20 per cent.”
 
For consumers seeking performance rather than outright parsimony, December will usher in the arrival of the Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 flagship, followed by its AMG 43 little sister sometime during 2020. 
 
First seen in March internationally, the headline change for the facelifted GLC – as pertaining to the Bremen, Germany-sourced Australian-bound vehicles – are improved twin-scroll turbocharged powertrains. 
 
Most GLCs switch to the company’s latest M264 four-cylinder petrol engines with variable valve timing dubbed Camtronic, as found in other passenger-car models such as the closely-related C-Class range.
 
Whether it is the 145kW/320Nm GLC200 (a 10kW/20Nm jump over the outgoing equivalent) or the 190kW/370Nm GLC300 (usurping the discontinued GLC 250’s 155kW/350Nm and expected best-seller of the lot), all four-pot turbo petrol engines for Australia employ a 2.0-litre unit, driving the rear (200) or all four wheels (300) via a nine-speed 9G-tronic torque-converter automatic transmission. 
 
In European NEDC values, both average 7.4 litres per 100km for a carbon dioxide emissions rating of 169 grams/km, but the former is 1.7 second slower to 100km/h at 7.9s while the latter’s 240km/h top speed is 25km/h faster.
 
Key to providing greater fuel economy as well as improved performance is the introduction of a 10kW/150Nm 48-volt electric starter-generator motor called EQ Boost in Merc-speak – for a mild-hybrid boost via a belt drive. 
 
Under braking, the motor becomes a generator, recouping energy and storing it, while in sailing mode, both the engine and motor can be disengaged from the powertrain for better efficiency.
 
While the fate of the facelifted GLC 4Matic diesels, using the new OM654 2.0-litre four-pot engine family in 120kW/360Nm 200d, 143kW/400Nm 220d and 180kW/500Nm 300d guises remains in the product planners’ hands, the confirmed plug-in-hybrid GLC slated for a late-year unveiling in Europe will also move to the backburner for Australia, as MBAP assesses the demand for lower-emissions luxury SUVs in this market. 
 
Both updated GLCs also sport subtle styling changes including a wider grille, reshaped bumpers and different LED lighting elements, as well as a switch to Daimler’s more modern voice and gesture-enabled MBUX multimedia set-up featuring a redesigned central touchscreen and lower-console interface.
 
Other updates include a full-digital and multi-mode instrumentation, a new ‘Energizer Coach’ variable mood lighting and sound feature, refurbished cabin trim, and a modernised selection of options such as wireless device charging.
 
For when on the move, there are now upgraded driver-assist technologies with improved adaptive cruise, auto parking, active steering, traffic-sign recognition and self-braking capabilities, as well as a completely overhauled four-wheel drive system for the optional ‘Offroad’ versions. However, with MBAP still finalising specification, the latter may not be available in Australia.
 
Underpinning the new GLC wagon are double wishbones up front and a multi-link independent rear end. The default configuration uses steel springs and is known as ‘Agility Control’, offering revised ESC and up to seven driving modes. 
 
The GLC Coupe gains a sportier set-up with tauter dampers and springs as standard.
 
Adaptive dampers will cost extra under the ‘Dynamic Body Control’ option, while a multi-chamber air suspension system will also be made available, offering up to 15mm higher ground clearance. 
 
Meanwhile, the GLC63 4Matic due at the end of the year brings a carryover 4.0-litre biturbo V8 in two states of tune – the regular 350kW/650Nm or ‘S’ with 375kW/700Nm.
 
Armed with an AMG Speedshift nine-speed 9G multi-clutch transmission, both return 12.4L/100km, but the latter is 0.2s faster at 3.8s to 100km and features a 30km/h faster top speed at 280km/h thanks to the deletion of a speed limiter.
 
Of course, it gains the aforementioned updates, as well as AMG-specific upgrades such as an electronically controlled locking differential, variable torque distribution for the AWD system, air suspension with adaptive dampers and a compound braking system. 
 
Changes over its predecessor include a new AMG-specific grille, headlights and bumpers, wheels, MBUX displays and functionality, steering wheel, upholstery, a ‘Slippery’ program in the AMG Dynamic Select mode, Trailer Manoeuvring Assist and a ‘Driver’s Package’ on the 63 S.
 
Next year the as-yet unseen GLC43 4Matic is also likely to surface Down Under, though no details have yet been released about this variant. Expect it to be faster than the existing, 270kW/520Nm 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6.
 
So much for the facts, as they stand. On the move, the facelifted GLC is proof that Daimler can listen and act upon criticism when it needs to, such as they have been since the first GLC vehicles surfaced three and a half years ago – though there are a few provisos at play here.
 
For starters, all models we sampled included the optional adaptive dampers, meaning that the Benz SUV’s biggest bugbear – a ride that borders on punishingly hard when fitted with the largest wheel and tyre package – has all the rough edges taken off it with the Dynamic Body Control option. 
 
No, it doesn’t turn the GLC into a 1960s Citroen DS in terms of ride softness and isolation, and, yes, the GLC63 S we sampled was pretty unyielding over some of the surfaces we drove upon in and around Frankfurt, but now the Mercedes is no longer an uncomfortable experience on anything other than the smoothest roads. 
 
Of course, we’ll have to wait until we sample a standard steel spring example in Australia, but there’s definitely progress made here anyway, for even in the Sport+ driving mode setting, the suspension remained tolerable.
 
Most buyers, of course, will be more interested in how the uprated four-pot turbo petrol engines behave. 
 
The 190kW/370Nm GLC300 4Matic we were behind the wheel of for most of the time delivered ample acceleration and overtaking oomph, given this variant’s station in life as an upmarket family hauler, and its smoothness is certainly impressive given the modest capacity. 
 
However, as with the preceding GLC250, the engine noise is about as far from rousing as you can get this side of a diesel. Not unpleasant, but just not appealing. Benz ought to synthesise some sort of V6-esque purr. 
 
Being international launch vehicles, the lack of noises or rattles from the GLC’s cabin came as no shock. And the updated MBUX system proved less glitchy than the old Comand set-up, though the sat-nav did freeze and then fail a couple of times in two vehicles, while the ‘Hey, Mercedes’ voice activation interrupted our conversation mid-sentence even though nobody had summoned it. A number of times.
 
We’re also disappointed that Daimler did not do more in terms of updating the dashboard architecture, since the newly-fitted rectangular touchscreen is still a whole generation behind the vast multi-screen display as fitted to the later Benz models, even if it does score MBUX, such as the E-Class and new A-Class. 
 
Given how vital the GLC is in terms of sales for the Germans, you’d expect a more thorough refresh of the SUV – inside and out. Maybe an all-new version is not too far away? Nobody was saying.
 
Lastly, onto the AMG63 S. Still unfathomably fast, still a solid, taut and a terrorising machine in the hands of an angry driver looking at giving other SUVs a thorough thrashing out on the autobahn, and still in-your-face loud when you need it to be. 
 
This is why people buy such boisterous behemoths. And that supernatural ability to defy its two-plus tonnes of twin-turbo V8 fury with remarkably deft dynamics needs to be felt to be believed. 
 
Nothing much has changed here then, with the flagship mid-sizer remaining a formidable experience indeed.
 
All in all, then, the GLC facelift equals incremental improvements in most areas, and hopefully a more comforting way to travel on more compliant suspension on Australian roads. 
 
The signs are promising, so look out for our first local drive of Merc’s bestseller sometime in August. 

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