2016 Mercedes-Benz GLC 300 feels weighty, but in a luxurious way

Despite being about 200 pounds lighter than the previous generation, 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLC feels heavier. Heavier in a good way, like the way you might like an expensive watch to have a nice heft to it. A well-made thing should feel a bit weighty, and the GLC feels solid.

But that's not the first thing I noticed when approaching the 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLC 300 4MATIC. The first thing that struck me about the GLC is just how much larger it is than the GLK that precedes it. The new SUV is 5-inches longer than the old car, 2-inches wider and significantly more curvaceous than the angular and upright GLK (Where the old model reminded me of a scaled down G-Wagon, the new design has more in common with the C-Class sedan).

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Mercedes-Benz claims the 2016 GLC has more room on the inside.

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The extra size on the outside translates almost directly into more space on the inside; Benz claims 2 more inches of elbow room, 2.2 inches more legroom on the second row and 17 percent more storage space behind the second row with a 15 percent larger load floor. It's not just bigger, the GLC also boasts a much more luxurious cabin with a longer list of standard amenities, which we'll get back to shortly.

Under the hood, the North American GLC 300 is powered by a twin-turbocharged 2.0-liter, direct injected four-cylinder gasoline engine. The engine is good for a stated 241 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of peak torque, which is sent via a new 9-speed automatic transmission to either the rear wheels or the automaker's 4MATIC all-wheel drive system. The new 9-speed is physically about the same size as the 7-speed gearbox you'd find in the outgoing GLK, but is both lighter and features a wider gear ratio split.

Fuel economy has not yet been announced by Mercedes-Benz or the EPA, but my miles per gallon averaged in the low 20s during a testing cycle consisting mostly of flowing, steady speed driving in the North Georgia mountains.

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The GLC 300 is powered by a twin-turbocharged 2.0-liter, direct injected four-cylinder gasoline engine.

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Standard on all GLC models is Mercedes-Benz's Drive mode selector which allows the driver to adjust the behavior of the SUV, toggling between Eco, Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus modes with a flick. Relative to the baseline Comfort mode, Eco slightly reduces the response of the throttle response and climate controls for a boost in fuel efficiency. Sport sharpens the steering, throttle response and transmission program to emphasize performance and disables the anti-idling system. Sport Plus further sharpens the engine and transmission performance.

If the GLC is equipped with the optional Airmatic suspension, these settings will also adjust the performance of the suspension. However, my GLC 300 was not so equipped.

The Airmatic system uses air springs to alter the ride height of the SUV on demand, lowering the body at speed to boost economy and stability or raising the suspension when offroad for better ground clearance. The owner can also lower the rear end by 1.6 inches at the touch of a button for easier loading and have the body automatically level when the GLC is loaded up with cargo.

From the driver's seat, the GLC feels weighty. The ride is grounded in a way that feels confident; you just know that the chassis won't be upset by a pothole or railroad crossing. The fixed suspension soaks up bumps with next to no drama. The steering has a nice hefty feel to it, even though it's lacking in road feel.

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The ride is grounded in a way that feels confident.

Antuan Goodwin/CNET

The acceleration also has a weight to it, which is slightly less desirable for sporty driving. The GLC is a highway cruiser, not a sprinter, built for the Autobahn or America's wide and straight interstate highways, though it also feels in its element on the broadly sweeping, serpentine highways where the majority of our testing took place -- and less so on tighter back roads.

Overall, I enjoyed my time in the GLC being pampered by its quiet cabin, confident ride and fantastic Burmester audiophile speaker system. Of the models in this midsized luxury SUV class that I've driven, the Benz feels the most like a luxury product. BMW's X3 feels sportier, Audi's Q5 feels more high-tech and Lincoln's MKX is plainly outclassed, but the GLC 300 raises the bar for austerity.

The GLC is available with the full might of Mercedes-Benz's Intelligent Drive driver aid features, active and passive. There's standard crosswind assist which helps keep the SUV from being blown around at highway speeds, a forward collision prevention system that can automatically brake and keyless entry as well as start. My example was also equipped with the optional lane departure prevention system, adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring, adaptive LED high beams with curve illumination and rear collision prevention among other features.

The 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLC 300 starts at $38,950 for the base rear-drive version. The 4MATIC system bumps the starting price to $40,950 plus $925 destination charges. However, the price can spiral wildly upwards from there. My close-to-fully-loaded example rolled in at $64,570 with its Designo Magno Dakota Brown paint and complimentary Designo Black Leather interior, COMAND infotainment and navigation, lighting package, driver assistance package and more. Other examples on hand all hovered around the $54,000 mark.

The GLC 300's turbocharged 2.0-liter is unique to the US market. In the UK, the GLC is offered in 220 d 4MATIC and 250 d 4MATIC trims -- both powered by diesel engines -- with a starting price of £34,280 before adding options. The Australian market will offer the diesels alongside a naturally aspirated GLC 250 4MATIC model, but pricing for this region has not yet been announced.

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