driving.ca | Peter Bleakney | 08/16/2018
It wasn’t that long ago, when looking for a fuel-sipping Mercedes-Benz, you could pick from a fairly extensive selection of diesel-powered vehicles. Those days are done here in North America, as Benz makes the push towards electrification. In the case of the 2018 GLC 350e 4Matic plug-in hybrid, the keyword is more — more weight, more complexity, more power, and yes, more money. Plenty of it.
There’s a $14,000 jump from the gas-only, four-cylinder turbo GLC 300, at $45,900, to this plug-in hybrid that starts at $59,900. And that’s not including the cost for the Level 2 home charger you’ll need.
And what do we get for all this? Up to 34 kilometres of electric range, along with an additional 255 kilograms added to the GLC’s bottom line thanks to the rear-mounted 8.7 kWh lithium-ion battery, a 114-horsepower electric motor mated to the seven-speed transmission, and various other electronics.
The upside is plenty of power. Compared to the GLC 300 with its 2.0L turbo-four making 241 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque, this electrified version kicks out 315 horsepower and 413 lb.-ft. of torque. So yes, it’s swift. Mercedes pegs the zero-to-100 km/h at 5.9 seconds, versus 6.4 seconds for the gas GLC. The instant torque of the electric assist does away with any turbo lag.
However, you feel the extra weight. The GLC 350e not as lithe and nimble as its gas counterpart, and that battery eats into the cargo space. The elevated load floor means you’re losing about 155 litres of space behind the rear seats.
In all other aspects, this GLC plug-in hybrid is every inch the Mercedes, here optioned up to over $71,000 with the usual packages needed to layer on the luxurious goodies. The interior is a high class effort, showing rich materials, fine metal work and super tight tolerances. It continues the current Mercedes design theme of large circular vents and a tablet style screen plunked on the top of the dashboard.
The major gauges are clearly backlit, and I have no qualms with this SUV’s ergonomics. As with any high-end infotainment system, Benz’s COMAND takes some learning, but at least the good ol’ fashioned — am I really saying this? — nudge-and-twist rotary controller on the console allows reasonable access without the dreaded touchscreen poke-dance. Especially nice here is the $250 open-pore, dark ash wood trim that gives the impression of waves caressing a beach.
A requisite uptick with any Benz is the Premium Package, here valued at $4,500 and bestowing panoramic sunroof, GPS navigation, proximity key with push-button start and a power liftgate. This tester also sports the $2,700 Premium Plus Package, including an integrated garage door opener, active parking assist, a power tilt/telescopic steering column, a 360-degree camera, a foot-activated liftgate, illuminated door sills, multi-coloured ambient lighting, and a 115-volt outlet, along with a $1,000 audio upgrade. Finally, the $1,500 Sport Package adds AMG body styling, 19-inch alloys and sport brakes.
Out on the road, this plug-in GLC is a smooth operator, with all the power systems working together in a seamless fashion. Put your foot in it and shows an impressive turn of speed, especially in Sport or Sport+ modes. Don’t look for any backroad fun, though — the steering is numb and handling a tad ponderous.
Selectable driving modes manage the power systems. Hybrid mode has the GLC 350e running as any regular hybrid would. E-Mode is purely electric, E-Save will preserve battery power for when it is needed (like inner city driving), and Charge Mode will keep the battery topped up when driving.
And to the official fuel economy numbers. At 8.6 L/100 kilometres highway, the 350e matches the gas-only GLC, and only betters it by 1.3 L/100 kilometres in the city, posting 9.8. With the battery depleted, I was averaging about 11 while running errands around my ‘hood. Now, to play the diesel-devil’s advocate, I drove the four-pot diesel version of this GLC in Europe (it was slated for Canada), and saw 6.4 L/100 kilometres after a couple of hours of spirited mountain motoring. But we can’t say the D-word anymore.
With all its compromises, this GLC 350e is a tough sell. It only makes sense if you don’t drive much and can reap the benefits of its limited EV range on a daily basis. After that, well, it becomes an expensive, heavy, albeit beautifully rendered Mercedes SUV with a green badge. And with a big question hanging over it: How bad do you want to be “green”?