Mercedes-Benz says it wants to "raise the bar" on the luxury SUV. But the German automaker has already brought a lot of high-end appointments to these high-profile vehicles. The bar's pretty high.
The 2016 GLC 300 4Matic sits near the bottom of Mercedes' six-vehicle stable of SUVs, in terms of price and amenities. It's a little dressier than the entry-level GLA, but it costs less and offers less than the alphabet soup of offerings called GLE, GLE-Coupe, GL SUV and G-Class SUV.
Compared with almost anything, made by anyone, it's a lovely piece of machinery.
The 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged engine pumps out a hearty 241 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque — producing enough pep to make this relatively light four-door SUV jump when it's prodded.
A new model for 2016, the GLC is wider, longer and taller than the GLK it replaces. Also new for this model are the standard power lift gate and nine-speed automatic transmission as well as an optional head-up display.
The interior is capacious and quiet. The front seats are adjustable in multiple dimensions — position, temperature, lumbar support and more. They do everything but start a movie and send out for pizza.
The back seats, also heated on the model I drove, offer plenty of leg room and head room. Four full-sized adults — or five slender ones — could tour comfortably without feeling as if they're flying coach.
The suspension is set up for comfort too. Around town or on the highway, the ride is gentle without feeling mushy. As an SUV, the GLC sits tall, but it only feels top-heavy and unstable when it's pushed hard into a corner.
In Los Angeles, this SUV is going to be an upper-crust family van, operated by a driver who is busy balancing the iPhone and the Blue Bottle, asking Siri to play Pink Martini, and shouting "Don't make me come back there."
But the GLC offers a lot of distractions.
I counted more than 60 buttons and switches, controlling everything from seat warmers to climate control to overhead lighting. There are the requisite knobs for adjusting the mirrors and opening the sun roof. But there are also myriad other dials and doodads for more obscure amenities, like the heated steering wheel.
In fact, I hit that number without counting the levers for gear selection, turn signals, cruise control or the patented Mercedes COMAND center — the touch pad and dial combo — that can be used to make audio, communications and navigation selections as well as control things like the vehicle's ambient lighting.
It's nice to know you can operate all those options with the touch of a button or switch, but considering them as a whole I felt as if I were at the helm of a nuclear submarine — or, like the early motorists who never went driving without their mechanics, as if I needed a co-pilot. Turn up the music! Turn down the AC! Make me a latte!
Mercedes has already spoiled us as automotive consumers by making their affordably elegant cars feel so good, work so well and come standard with so many amenities. Even though this is a relatively inexpensive vehicle from the Mercedes collection — the 4Matic starts at about $40,000 — some prospective buyers may feel disappointed by what the car doesn't do — parallel park without driver input, for example, or go to the car wash by itself.
They'd be wrong to turn away from this SUV. It's absurd to call a $40,000 car a bargain, but this isn't just a car. It's a Mercedes. Even with the ups and extras, it's a lot of Mercedes for the money.