First Drive: 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLC300

We drive Mercedes-Benz\'s GLK replacement on the roads of northern Georgia.

Mercedes-Benz is on a quest to reinvigorate and re-brand its crossover lineup. The most recent product of that campaign is the all-new GLC-Class. With the trees turning and the temperatures cooling, Daimler's American luxury arm invited us down to its new corporate stomping ground in Atlanta to give it a whirl.

Of walk-ups and corporate suitesIt would be disingenuous to suggest any meaningful parallel exists between the overhaul of Mercedes-Benz's small SUV and its new and different corporate presence in America. Neither was planned with the other specifically in mind. But the timing of the GLC's launch along with its newer, less-SUV-like styling does provoke some superficial analysis.

The GLK-Class stepped into the spotlight as an automotive extra in the theatrical adaptation of Sex and the City. The GLC? Well, let's just say that Piedmont Street is a long way from Madison Avenue, and while Buckhead may have no shortage of wealth, the attitude toward ostentation and excess here is different. Look no further than the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium complex as evidence of that (and rest assured that their marketing team made sure we did a lot of looking).

So what is it?The GLC-Class embraces the modern crossover convention in a way the GLK did not. It is a D-segment five door with additional ground clearance. Put another way, it's a C-Class wagon on stilts. Gone are the styling cues meant to imply burliness and truck-like proportions. It's still a two-box family hauler, mind you, but it's softer and more car-like than its predecessor. It's not meant to be imposing, but it still cuts a relatively handsome figure.

The GLC's C-Class roots show in the cabin too. That may not have been the warmest of praise a few years ago, when the C-Class's interior wasn't quite setting the world on fire, but things are different. The interior of the GLC-Class is a wonderful place to be, with leather and wood options in varying colors and finishes topping off a tech-laden and comfortable cabin. Clever packaging allows for lots of storage space, especially in the front, where the woofers have been moved out of the doors and into the front frame rails, adding more bump to your bass line and making space in the doors for additional, larger cubbies.

In the rear, we found the swept roof line did not infringe substantially on headroom. Passengers up to 6' could easily sit in the back seat, even in models equipped with a rather intrusive panoramic sunroof. Interior volume is up quite a bit over the old model too, thanks to a nearly five-inch bump in wheelbase.

The launch model is the GLC300. As many have gone, so too has Mercedes-Benz: The "300" no longer denotes an engine displacement. The only offering at launch is a turbocharged, 2.0L four-cylinder producing 241 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque. It's mated exclusively to a nine-speed automatic transmission, and power can go to the ground via the rear wheels or a 4Matic all-wheel-drive system. EPA testing has not yet been certified, but Mercedes-Benz was aiming for a 20% improvement in fuel economy over the V6 in the old GLK, and between downsizing the engine and cutting nearly 176lbs from the car, the company's engineers are confident those numbers will be confirmed.

The GLC300 will also be available with Air Body Control, which is the branded term for the company's air suspension. Vehicles so equipped have dynamically adjustable height (up to 2" of lift for off-road scenarios; half an inch of drop for high-speed highway runs) and a rear height adjust to allow for ease of loading cargo into the hatch. This feature was not available on any of the models Mercedes-Benz brought out for our evaluation, so our impressions of that will have to come from a later loan.

Running the numbersSo we know it's a smaller engine than what was found in the GLK, even if it does produce just as much torque. We know the GLC300 is also lighter, and we know it's a rear-wheel-drive sport sedan under all the crossover window dressing. But is it sporty?

Keep in mind a few things. For one, while it is lighter than the GLK, it's not exactly svelte. Rear-drive models tip the scales at 3,891lbs. 4Matic bumps that to 4,001. That's a lot of metal for a four-cylinder to move, but we were more than pleased with the gusto it exhibited. Some quick-and-dirty, hand-timed calculations put the 0-60 time under 8 seconds without any driveline abuse.

Running the roadsThe realities of fall foliage and ill-timed rainstorms combined for roads covered in piles of slick arboreal cast-off. In places, the pavement looked more like a giant pumpkin-spice oil slick. Appropriate, since the average GLC driver will likely feel right at home in Lululemon.

Our 4Matic tester felt right at home in these conditions, comfortably being hustled through bend after greasy bend, tracking through decaying plant matter like it wasn't even there. Reckless mid-corner speeds would bring on understeer right when one would expect it, but we came away quite impressed with its flat, unruffled cornering manners and rock-steady power delivery.

The "Dynamic Select" feature allows drivers to select throttle and transmission mapping for differing conditions (Air Body Control models will also tie suspension firmness to this selector) and, like other automakers' similar systems, allows for individual customization of the various properties it can adjust. Two of the options, aptly named Sport and Sport+, are geared toward high-performance driving. We found Sport to be the best balance on he road, with Sport+ proving a tad too intrusive and aggressive for the type of spirited driving in which one would expect to engage behind the wheel of such a vehicle.

When we switched to the rear-drive model, we found those roads a hair more treacherous than we had with the 4Matic. Trying to put power down out of the corners resulted in intervention from the traction and stability control systems occasionally, but predictably. As the roads dried out and straightened, the rear-driver again became a confidence-inspiring driving partner. A word of caution, though: this is the sort of car where one can lose the sensation of speed. 70 MPH in a GLC300 feels suspiciously similar to 45 MPH in a lot of other vehicles. We know it. You'll know it. The cop, on the other hand, probably won't buy it.

Leftlane's bottom lineMercedes-Benz's reboot of its small CUV is an excellent platform in search of more attractive powertrain options. The GLC300 is an excellent platform on which a new family of crossovers can be built, and we expect all of its future variants will be pleasing, dynamically satisfying premium cars.

2016 Mercedes-Benz GLC300, base price: $38,950 As-tested: 4Matic with Sport package, Premium package, 20" AMG wheels, Driver Assistance package, Night package, Interior package and Lighting package (and other individual options): $54,3402WD with designo interior leather upholstery, Sport package, Premium package, 20" AMG wheels, Driver Assistance package, Night package, Interior package and Lighting package (and other individual options): $57,140

Exterior photos by Byron Hurd. Interior photos courtesy of Mercedes-Benz USA.

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