It might have taken Mercedes 13 years to give us a proper rival to the big-selling BMW X3, but the GLC has so far proved a worthy contender. We’ve already sampled the more potent 250 d variant in the UK, and now it’s time to try the entry-level 220 d engine.
While both have the same basic 2.1 diesel motor under their bonnets, the 220 d has less power and less torque than the 250 d. Despite this, CO2 emissions remain the same at 129g/km with official fuel economy also identical at 56.5mpg. Is the drop in performance worth a saving of around £1200?
This is also our first chance to try the GLC's 'Agility Control' suspension (standard on SE and Sport suspension), which should theoretical bring a more comfortable ride than the Sport suspension fitted to AMG Line models.
What is the 2016 Mercedes GLC 220 d like to drive?
As you might expect given the 33bhp deficit, the 220 d is noticeably slower than the 250 d. You need a fair bit more throttle application to get it up to motorway speeds and overtaking requires more planning.
That’s not to say it's slow, a 0-62mph time of 8.3sec is good in isolation, but the 220 d just doesn’t feel as eager pulling from low revs as the 250 d. Even if you’re not interested in going fast, you’ll certainly notice that progress isn’t as relaxed as in its bigger brother because the engine is working that bit harder.
At least, it’s still a hushed motor for the most part. There’s little in the way of coarseness or volume at idle and while cruising. Pushed hard, you do hear some diesel droning, but it never sounds outright agricultural – even though you can feel some vibration through the steering wheel and pedals.
Helping this greatly is the standard fit nine-speed automatic gearbox. Left in Eco or Comfort mode, it’ll quickly and smoothly shuffle up to as high a gear as it can. As a result, at 70mph, the engine is only turning at 1500rpm. Sport and Sport+ mode will cause the 'box to hold onto gears for longer, or alternatively you can use the steering wheel paddles to shift gears yourself.
Changing to Sport mode also adds weight to the steering, which is no bad thing as it feels too light in Comfort mode. One thing you won’t get, though, is any feedback, and because the steering is variable (it gets progressively quicker as you apply lock) it's hard to corner precisely.
It may not engage, but the GLC can cover ground pretty briskly. Even with comfort suspension (standard on SE and Sport trim) there isn't too much body roll and the GLC can change direction with little fuss. However, the stiffer sports suspension than AMG Line trim brings makes the GLC feel sharper when turning in to bends.
We had expected the relatively small 18in wheels and comfort suspension to offer a more pillowy ride than the AMG version on 20in wheels we tried previously.
Surprisingly, though, the softer suspension is actually less comfortable because what you gain in forgiveness over big lumps, such as speeds bumps, you lose in control. There's too much side-to-side movement along any road that isn't perfectly smooth, so you notice your head tossing left then right continually.
Potholes also flummox the suspension a little too easily, particularly when cornering forces are involved, which can cause the GLC to skip and shudder nervously.
There's plenty of road noise, too, so the GLC isn't the most peaceful cruiser. Then again, the rival BMW X3 generates a bit more wind noise at motorway speeds.
What is the 2016 Mercedes GLC 220 d like inside?
Unsurprisingly, there’s no way you’d tell which engine is under the bonnet from looking inside – both the 220 d and 250 d are available in all three trim levels. Our mid-range Sport test car came well equipped: standard kit includes a powered tailgate, active park assist, auto lights and wipers, a DAB radio, satellite navigation, climate control and cruise control.
While that’s probably everything you’d actually need, there are a number of tempting options available including an upgraded infotainment system. While the standard 7.0in unit works well enough, it proves laggy at times with graphics that appear dated. An 8.4in system with better graphics and snappier responses is available, but only as part of a near £3000 Premium Plus package.
The rest of interior remains a thoroughly pleasant place to spend time. There are plenty of soft plastics spread liberally across the cabin and controls that work with an admirable precision. Everything is also well laid out and easy to find.
Drivers will find plenty of adjustment in both the seat and steering wheel, so getting comfy is easy. Passengers are also unlikely to complain; even those in the back seats have plenty of leg and head room although all occupants may find the seats a touch firm. The boot is also impressive, matching the BMW X3 for outright capacity.
Should I buy one?
In the right form, there's plenty to like about the GLC. We reckon the more powerful 250 d is worth the relatively small premium over this 220 d, but the latter is still punchy enough to satisfy the wants of most SUV buyers.
The crucial decision concerns trim level because, if you go for SE or Sport, you get the less-than-impressive Agility Control suspension option. Choose range-topping AMG Line and this is replaced by the firmer but altogether more settled Sport suspension – and as a by-product you'll also benefit from sharper handling.
An even better option may well be the optional Airmatic air suspension, but we've yet to sample that on UK roads.
What Car? says...
Land Rover Discovery Sport
Mercedes GLC 220 d Engine size 2.1-litre diesel Price from £34,950 Power 168bhp Torque 295lb ft 0-62mph 8.3 seconds Top speed 130mph Fuel economy 56.5mpg CO2 129g/km