Nearly every worthwhile letter of the alphabet has been represented in Merc’s SUV lineup to denote size and grandeur. A, B, C, E, the mighty G, nowadays there’s an infinitely confusing Q popping up in its marketing material, S, and let’s not forget the R; more MPV than SUV really but 100% proof that someone wasn’t paying attention.
Right here, on your screen, the C is represented, specifically, the GLC in 220d and 300d guises. Pretty much the same but also very, very different. The GLC is Merc’s best-selling SUV, locally and internationally, and there’s a good reason for that. Firstly, it’s always had a distinctive stylistic character; less cookie-cutter-and-shrunken-X5 than the BMW X3 and, to some eyes, more conservatively styled than the Porsche Macan. A happy compromise of sorts.
While financially speaking, the GLC220d Avantgarde may be considered a compromise by the word’s very definition (the dealer wants you to specify the R82,593 AMG Line and probably your heart, not your accountant, though), I assure you it doesn’t feel it.
I’ll spare you the paragraphs worth of extra reading telling you what you’re looking at, but it’s, simply put, the standardised styling pack with which the GLC rolls out. Our tester had the optional (R13,500) 19-inch light-finished wheels, plenty of chrome inserts which, according to Merc’s marketing people, is a “simulated underride guard at the front and rear”, which, as you can guess, is just for show. It also has polished aluminium roof railings to give it a more off-road-ready look and feel.
On the other hand, there’s the AMG Line exterior pack, which, in a nutshell, is a different, sportier front bumper with air intakes looking ready to swallow local wildlife, 20-inch optional black AMG alloys (the R26,100 wheels cast a beautiful contrast with the silver exterior GLC300d AMG Line I had on test) and a solid black rear bumper sans the chrome surround as found on the Avantgarde-spec GLC220d tester.
Inside, it’s as Merc as you’d expect with interior spaces that are, in my opinion, a cut above that of the competition. There are nine different ways in which Merc gives you a say for speccing your upholstery – and that’s just the Avantgarde. The AMG Line adds even more options. Ultimately, it boils down to how much you are willing to pay.
You can choose from seven options for the dashboard trim, ranging from patterned, open-pore walnut to full-fat AMG carbon fibre trim, with an asking price of R20,300. The standardised, no extras Silver grey diamond-patterned dash trim on the testers in question projected modern elegance in that typically Mercedes way.
As for steering wheels, there are also two distinct flavours with the more traditional winged effect round wheel of the Avantgarde and the flat-bottomed sports-inspired wrapped in Nappa leather wheel specified in the 300d that comes at no extra cost – definitely the one I’d spec. Both wheels also have a bothersome flaw that brings us to the media interface and operation.
Why manufacturers insist on favouring digital sliders over and above traditional knobs is beyond me, but in both derivatives, the digital sliders were overly-binary in execution. Want to nudge the volume up or down? Be prepared for overwhelming silence or eardrum-vibrating rock concert-adjacent increases in volume. Even the cruise control speed operation is integrated with a digital slider, and trying to finesse it in small increments had no effect 70% of the time. However, a more deliberate approach would result in an over-dramatic increase or decrease of the intended speed.
Bar the overcomplicated layers of digital screens and a temperamental Android Auto connection on both derivatives (something that can be corrected with a system update, I’m sure), the 11.9-inch central infotainment tablet display sits beautifully atop the front part of the centre console and offers stellar HD graphics. Furthermore, when the inbuilt layers proved too much, I regularly called on the services of Merc’s voice assistant, MBUX, to help me switch on the heated seats and change ambient colours, of which there are a seemingly infinite amount of combinations, or even tell me a joke: MBUX was clearly infused with a Deutsche sense of humour, though.
The engine options in the diesel siblings boil down to a single unit in the form of a 2.0-litre turbodiesel with 48V mild-hybrid assistance. In the 220d, the maximum power is rated at 162kW thanks to 17kW boost assistance, while in the 300d, which also has 17kW worth of boost, the maximum power takes an aggressive hike to 215kW. In terms of torque, the 220d puts down 440Nm while the 300d turns at a rate of 550Nm with a temporary 200Nm boost available for both units.
Both models are excellent cruisers on city streets and motorways with plenty of substance for overtaking, levels of wind noise that’s hardly perceptible and an undiesel-like soundtrack that trickles into the cabin. Dialling the 220d into Sport mode, it gets an extra spring in its step with tangibly improved throttle responses and a taut and focused approach to dynamics. Do the same on the 300d with a hint of caution, though. Now everything is firmed up, and this school-run-and-grocery-fetching machine wants to bite. It’s unexpected, mainly since diesel is usually associated with sensibility, and that same sensibility has been left at the last registered drive mode. The throttle is as sensitive as a political minefield, the speed it carries feels akin to a full-fat AMG, and the soundtrack injected into the cabin is, I daresay, almost stirring, despite the thin veil of artificiality. Stupefied, I kept rehashing, “This is diesel, how?” as it accelerated to 100km/h in Merc’s claimed 6.3 secs. Modest by today’s standards, yes, but still, for a diesel in an age where refined oil burners have been nearly outlawed, remains impressive. That heaps of torque and unrealised potential energy from the 48V system feels almost hinged on a sense of nostalgia with just a bit of help from the future.
So, the big question is pricing… Hardly any nostalgia at bygone prices here as the 220d Avantgarde is priced at R1,211,220 while the 300d AMG Line ships as standard with an R1,492,787 price tag. Gasp in horror now for the news I’m about to deliver, but that price tag is bereft of any niceties I mentioned earlier. Worth it? Considering inflation and the fact that the world is going off its hinges which has a further impact on our ever-weakening rand, I’d cautiously say that if it’s upper-echelon luxury you want, then yes.
The Mercedes GLC 220d and 300d in their respective trims deliver a balanced compromise between sportiness and classic refinement; the AMG Line is more dynamic in look and feel, with the Avantgarde looking to capture that old-world Merc charm in a modern package. Notwithstanding the digital sliders’ irksome operation and some connectivity gremlins, the respective interior spaces are, as it stands, class-leading in their luxury- and tech-forward approach. However, this approach comes at a price, since these GLCs are not for the budget-conscious buyer. My pick? It’s easy; that 300d AMG Line tugs at my heartstrings in aching desperation.
Photos: Deon van der Walt