2016 Mercedes-Benz GLC 300: Quick Drive

November 11, 2015

The kids use the phrase “on fleek” to describe something that’s on trend, and almost nothing fits its definition as well as the 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLC300. Any way you describe it—compact, luxury, crossover—this redesigned SUV is firing on all trendiness cylinders.

Although the GLC300’s design loses the squared-off ruggedness of the GLK350 it replaces, a strong resemblance to the mid-size GLE350 serves it well, and the new GLC300 won’t embarrass anyone with its cuteness. Like other manufacturers, Mercedes-Benz is learning how to style compact crossovers that belie their more diminutive dimensions.

It helps, of course, that the GLC300 is literally larger than the GLK350—and this also goes with the general fashion for upsizing downsized cars. The GLC300 is 4.7 inches longer and 2 inches wider. There’s a particular sense of spaciousness in the front seats, where designers enhanced the extra width by rerouting stereo components and creating a concave space in the doors that can accommodate large water bottles.

MORE: Read our 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLC review

It’s nearly as comfortable for two adults in back, with good headroom and an additional 2.2 inches of legroom—the seat doesn’t, however, slide or recline.

And then there’s the trendy, eco-conscious switch from the GLK350’s V-6 to the GLC300’s turbocharged in-line four. Paired with a nine-speed automatic transmission, the 2.0-liter engine makes 241 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque. It’s the sole powertrain on offer as the GLC300 enters the U.S. market.

Drive modes have become de rigueur, but don’t always seem to do much. The GLC300’s modes, happily, have an immediate and discernible impact on all-around performance. Choose Eco at any speed and you can feel everything dull in the service of efficiency; flipping up to Sport or Sport+ from the default Comfort mode, meanwhile, noticeably sharpens up steering feel and shift points.

The GLC300 has plenty of oomph in most situations, but—like other small crossovers we’ve tested with turbo fours—feels sluggish when accelerating from a stop, even in Sport modes, despite peak torque that develops at just 1,300 rpm. This is particularly true with optional all-wheel drive; the GLC300 feels somewhat peppier off the line with rear-wheel drive.

ALSO SEE: 2016 Chevy Colorado: V-6 Or Duramax Diesel?

A few minor irritations that seem to go with the territory these days: The transmission has some low-speed jerkiness in Sport modes, and the start-stop system is startling enough to annoy.

Handling is superb, and shows how far crossovers have come. The higher center of gravity keeps it from feeling entirely like the C-Class on which it’s based, but the GLC300 can be driven aggressively and rewardingly.

The cars on our first drive were all equipped with standard steel springs, though, and the ride on some freeways near Mercedes-Benz’s new U.S headquarters in Atlanta felt surprisingly unrefined. A superb air suspension is available, and we’d suggest trying both before making a decision.

Prices start quite reasonably in the high $30,000s, but the cars we drove had sticker prices in the mid-to-high $50,000s, and one of them didn’t even have a sunroof. On that subject, we’d absolutely pop for the $1,480 panorama roof, which creates a much airier atmosphere, particularly for rear seat passengers. It’s on fleek, after all.

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