ARVIDSJAUR, Sweden – It’s been almost seven years since the first-generation GLC SUV first appeared in U.S. showrooms as a replacement for the GLK. In that time, the high-riding Audi Q5 and BMW X3 rival has established itself as one of Mercedes-Benz’s strongest-selling models.
In 2021, over 270,000 GLCs were sold worldwide, making it the German automaker’s single best-selling model for the year, placing it ahead of the C-Class sedan in units sold.
Given its popularity, it is no surprise to learn the second-generation model, driven here in prototype for the first time off the back of cold weather development testing in northern Sweden, adopts the same fundamentals as its predecessor.
As with the latest C-Class, alongside which it will be produced at assembly operations in Germany, China and Finland, the GLC continues to be based on Mercedes-Benz’s MRA platform – a predominantly steel and aluminum structure that has been further developed for improvements in overall rigidity and weight.
Given the heavy camouflage of the latest development mules, we’ll have to wait until we can make a call on the exterior styling of the new Mercedes-Benz model, which also will be produced in both SUV and Coupe body styles. However, Peter Kolb, head of overall vehicle testing for the GLC model line, tells us this model is 2.4 ins. (61 mm) longer than its predecessor at 185.7 ins. (4,717 mm).
The 2024-model-year GLC also adopts a 0.6-in. (15-mm) longer wheelbase than before, giving it slightly longer overhangs front and rear.
The increased dimensions, subtle as they are, are put to good use inside. Rear-seat accommodation, never one of the GLC’s strong points, offers greater legroom. Trunk space in conventional gasoline and diesel models is claimed to have increased by 0.5 cu.-ft. (14 L) to 21.2 cu.-ft. (600 L) underneath the cargo cover at the rear when the adjustable rear seat is set all the way forward.
The cabin of the prototype is covered in cloth (below left, with Kable at wheel). But we can reveal there is a higher-set dash designed to provide the GLC with a more SUV-like feeling.
A revised multi-function steering wheel has a combination of touch-sensitive pads and traditional button-based controls, as well as digital instruments and portrait-style information displays similar to those found on the latest C-Class.
Together, they give the GLC a significantly more contemporary look inside.
The front seats feature new construction and cushioning materials for added comfort, says Kolb.
Set for production by year-end, the GLC SUV will kick off with a range of 4-cyl. engines boasting EQ Boost-branded mild-hybrid properties via a new 48V integrated starter-generator. Included are the gasoline-powered GLC200 and GLC300 as well as the GLC220d and GLC 300d on the diesel side.
Also planned is the GLC400d – the sole new GLC model to feature a 6-cyl. engine. As with the smaller 4-cyls., it benefits from the new 48V starter-generator, which provides a momentary boost of 22 hp and 147 lb.-ft. (199 Nm) of torque for enhanced accelerative ability and functions such as engine-off coasting for added efficiency.
Details of the engines to be made available in the North American market are yet to be revealed, though Mercedes-Benz says there will continue to be a combination of both rear- and all-wheel drive GLC models.
There is also a trio of newly developed plug-in hybrid drivelines in the gasoline-electric 300e and 400e as well as the 300de. Using a liquid-cooled battery with an energy content of 25.4 kWh and 108 individual cells, they are claimed to provide a significantly improved electric range of over 62 miles (100 km).
The electrification measures reflect the adoption of a more advanced electric architecture. It not only improves the efficiency and refinement of the GLC SUV’s drivelines but also provides the basis for a new NTG7 operating system with a “Hey Mercedes” command prompt as well as a wider range of standard driver-assistant systems, including more advanced semi-autonomous driving functionality.
As before, there’s a standard steel suspension with adaptive damping. It’s similar to that used by the C-class with a four-link double-wishbone system at the front and a multi-link arrangement at the rear. An AirMatic air suspension with self-leveling and variable ride height is optional.
Additionally, the GLC becomes the first car in its class to offer rear-wheel steering. It is the same system used by the C-Class, but with 4.5 degrees of rear-steer instead of 2.5 degrees, providing for a turning circle of under 36 ft. (11 m).
Here in Sweden we are in the less powerful of the mild-hybrid diesels – the European-market GLC220d 4Matic. Official figures are yet to be revealed, though going by those of the latest C220d, it is expected to boast around 217 hp at 4,200 rpm and 324 lb.-ft. (439 Nm) of torque on a band of revs between 1,800 and 2,800 rpm.
The delivery and performance are quite strong. Mercedes-Benz has succeeded in providing the most popular of all GLC diesel models with added levels of refinement. We’re on a mixture of snow and ice, but the SUV feels responsive and flexible, with a keenness to rev and subdued acoustic qualities with impressive vibration isolation.
The result is a more effortless driving experience than ever at the moderate speeds we are limited to by the wintry conditions. As with all engines planned for the new GLC, the turbocharged 2.0L 4-cyl. diesel is mated to a 9-speed automatic gearbox. Shifting is exceptionally smooth.
The traction that stands out above all else. The distribution of drive remains at 45:55 front to rear. However, the new electric architecture allows a faster and more finely managed braking effect via a newly calibrated ESP system when a spinning wheel is detected.
The GLC’s on-road character feels measured and mature, at least in GLC220d guise. It is even more highly polished than its predecessor in this regard. The handling, aided by direct and communicative electromechanical steering, is gratifyingly fluid, providing newfound levels of agility.
The new model is eager and wieldy at lower speeds where the all-wheel-steer system works to enhance maneuverability, but also an abiding sense of stability and security when speed increases. There is a greater spread to the overall dynamic ability of the midrange Mercedes-Benz SUV than ever before. Above all, it is intuitive and easy to drive. This should maintain its appeal to a wide range of customers.
The ride, on the standard steel suspension in comfort mode, is exceptionally compliant. We’ll need to drive it in more representative conditions than those found in northern Sweden at this time of year to be absolutely sure, but the overall comfort and isolation of road noise are improved, aided again by the more rigid platform as well as faster-acting adaptive damping control.
A competitive showing, then. We’ll wait to confirm the second-generation GLC’s status in what is a tough market segment for premium-brand SUVs until we’ve driven a production version in more representative conditions and with an engine that is planned for the U.S. market. Still, there is substance here, and it makes for a very agreeable car on many levels.