As part of our recent first drive of the 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class, we scrambled up steep slopes, challenged this utility vehicle’s air suspension and traction systems, and momentarily teetered on two wheels at several different points.
Then we found out that the automaker has no plans to sell the GLC as we drove it on that trail—with the Off-Road Engineering Package—in the U.S.
That package, for other markets, includes additional a wider height range for the air suspension (with nearly two inches more max height, at around nine inches), additional terrain-based off-road modes, hill-descent control, Gemtex underbody shielding, and some other upgrades—including electronics that fully provide the benefits of a locking or limited-slip center differential.
As we found out, the GLC doesn’t have great wheel articulation; but it’s surprisingly capable in the tough stuff—and truly all that some occasional skiers, campers, or kayakers need. The stability systems can manage power delivery not just from front to rear, but from left to right, to use finesse out of slippery spots or power past terrain-oriented obstacles.
In the U.S., all GLC models, however, get what amounts to an off-road appearance package, which includes that model’s rugged bumper design (improving the approach and departure angles to 28 percent), but not the other kit.
Americans want a little bit of the rugged look, if not the ability
There’s a clear reason behind this move: Mercedes-Benz expected U.S. demand for an off-road package in the GLC to be miniscule—maybe even lower than demand for a manual gearbox. Even in the larger GLE (M-Class), demand for the Off-Road package has been in the “very low single digits,” as one spokesman put it.
While the GLC-Class heads up against a wider range of carlike crossovers such like the Audi Q5, BMW X3, and even the Lexus RX, the GLE models—which are to spawn new GLS models late this year (replacing the GL-Class) keep closer to the layout of a traditional SUV.
That's all part of the GLC's appeal. It uses C-Class sedan underpinnings as a starting point; and although it shares up to 70 percent of its components with the C-Class, that to us makes the GLC’s performance on the trail all the more impressive.
Build quality on the off-road model we were in felt great, with none of the squeaks, creaks, and groans you expect to hear out in jarring terrain. It’s all the more impressive as part of an interior that feels superbly detailed—ravishing, really.
Off-roading aside, a strong, economical diesel model is on the way next year, for the 2017 model year, and a GLC350e Plug-In Hybrid is likely for the following year.
You can find plenty more on interior accommodations, safety, and all the practical aspects in our full review of the 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLC.