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[TEST DRIVE] The GLC face-lift looks good, but doesn’t deliver

Mercedes-Benz model is a local hit, yet new features disappoint

Jan 28,2020
Mercedes-Benz’s GLC 300 4MATIC SUVs ride through Gapyeong, Gyeonggi. [MERCEDES-BENZ KOREA]
GAPYEONG, Gyeonggi - The GLC 300 4MATIC is one of the models that made Mercedes-Benz the best-selling import automaker in the country last year.

Throughout 2019, Mercedes-Benz Korea sold a total of 78,133 units, far surpassing second-place BMW, which sold 44,191 units. In the same year, the GLC line-up sold 8,633 units, making it the third best-selling sold line-up of models from Mercedes-Benz, following the E-Class and C-Class sedans. The GLC was also the top-selling import SUV model in Korea last year.

The five-seater GLC’s price efficiency was the most appealing factor among Koreans. The GLC comes in way below the 100 million won ($84,900) price tag, and for families seeking luxury vehicle options, the GLC provides class, comfort and convenience all at once.

And that appeal continues with the face-lift version introduced in Korea earlier this month, even though some of the added features fail to impress compared to what was promised.

With a slightly upgraded exterior design and a digital-friendly interior, Mercedes-Benz seems to be making the right calls with how a face-lift should be done. But underwhelming upgrades to drive convenience and safety features could hinder some from remaining loyal to the Mercedes SUV option.

On Jan. 21, Mercedes-Benz Korea invited reporters to test out the partially renovated GLC 300 4MATIC and GLC 300 4MATIC Coupe for a little more than 32 miles from its showroom in Cheongdam-dong, southern Seoul, to Gapyeong, Gyeonggi.

This reporter got behind the wheels of the standard option for GLC 300 4MATIC for about an hour.

Many people in Korea associate automobile face-lifts with massive changes to the exterior, as seen by design overhauls by local automakers including Hyundai Motor’s Grandeur and Avante sedans.

The face-lifted GLC, coming in at 4.67 meters (15.32 feet) in length, 1.9 meters in width and 1.64 meters in height, doesn’t appear too different from the original version first unveiled in the country in 2016.

That’s probably because Mercedes-Benz didn’t have to make any overhauls. A large Mercedes logo remains between two bold LED headlamps - nobody can dispute that the new GLC follows Mercedes tradition.

The rear apron and tailpipe design are simple enough, and considering the boldness and elegance in front, it probably was also the right call for designers to keep the rear as simple as it could be.

A Mercedes-Benz Korea spokesperson said that an additional layer of sportiness and style usually seen in the company’s AMG line-up is found in the GLC’s premium options, but that option wasn’t available to test drive.

Circular air vents and oak trim-layered finishes throughout the interior were distinct reminders that you are sitting inside a Mercedes. A company spokesperson also emphasized that the steering wheel could be heated for winter driving, an option I was surprised to learn wasn’t already available in the original model released in 2016.

The fully digital dashboard adds a modern vibe to the new version, but that may not be a surprise for many customers who are likely to have seen plenty of models going in a similar direction. Digital displays have become increasingly popular throughout the auto industry in recent years.

After slamming on the gas pedal to start the test drive, it became evident that the GLC is a luxury SUV, not a sporty one, though it has 258 horsepower and 37.7 kilogram-meters (272.68 pound-feet) in torque thanks to its four-cylinder 1.991-liter engine.

The German SUV priced at 72.2 million won was solid enough to provide stability and comfort during the 1 hour-long drive. It hugged the road well, made turns without many trembles and cruising through speed bumps was soft enough to not cause any motion sickness.

But the car’s acceleration was a little slower than expected, responding at least one full second after pressing on the gas pedal. The steering wheel felt a little too easy to maneuver as well.

Safety features, especially the lane keeping assist, upgraded in the face-lift version was also less trustworthy than expected. While the vehicle recognized most of the lines drawn on the pavement and helped the car stay in the lane throughout the majority of the test drive course, when we entered old roads with less clearly drawn lines, the GLC had a hard time recognizing where the lines were, driving towards other lanes without warning.

Navigation was frustrating when relying on the car’s counterintuitive infotainment system. As the GLC doesn’t come with a head-up display, trying to find when to turn right into an alley proved difficult due to the small display of routes ahead.

The 10.25-inch display was probably big enough for a helpful navigation system to be installed, but Mercedes didn’t seem to make the most use of the space provided. It is probably better to use the Android Auto or Apple Car system for a better guide to your destination.

An even worse experience was trying to utilize the voice command feature of the Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX) system, which Mercedes-Benz Korea touted for 10 minutes prior to the test drive. The experience felt akin to talking to a 3-year-old - if that’s what Mercedes was going for, then it was superbly done.

The system did recognize that I was trying to make commands, but it hardly ever recognized anything I asked it to do. At one point, I told the system that I was feeling a little cold, but the system responded that it will turn up the air conditioning system. I definitely started to doubt my Korean speaking skills.

The bottom line is that the face-lifted GLC 300 4MATIC is a feasible option for those looking for an SUV option comfortable enough to house their families for a ride. The model is roomy enough and definitely has appealing exterior, interior and performance features expected from a Mercedes-Benz line-up.

But counterintuitive tech features coupled with underwhelming safety options could drive some away from spending more than 70 million won for the car.

BY KO JUN-TAE [ko.juntae@joongang.co.kr]


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