You know that thing where we're calling things coupes, when they're not? Lay that at the feet of Mercedes-Benz.
Back in 2006, Benz started the "four-door coupe" trend with the original CLS-Class sedan. Things quickly got out of hand. All sorts of brands, from Land Rover to Mazda, started using "coupe-like" to describe the sleek styling themes of new vehicles.
Then BMW went nuclear by applying "coupe" to SUVs, when it christened the X6 and X4.
This year, the whole trend swallows its own tail. Mercedes-Benz is going after the X4 with a compact companion to its GLC-Class SUV, in the form of the GLC Coupe.
Just a refresher on what coupes are: shorter, two-door hardtop versions of sedans.
Even though it is most assuredly not a coupe, the GLC300 Coupe is what the Chopped judges would call nicely composed. It pitches the same style/substance trade-off as BMW's sex-UVs, with a better balanced shape and a more relaxed road feel.
I drove the GLC Coupe in Italy last week, with the Matterhorn looming in the background, stunning alpine vistas serving as set dressing--and nary a real coupe in sight.
Let's not make too much of the whole coupe, though. It just means a better-looking, less roomy version of the GLC. It's at least a better design trade-off than the one made by the X4. Let's even go so far to say the GLC Coupe is the best-looking coupe-like SUV so far.
Of course, the GLC Coupe closely resembles the GLE Coupe, but more than a few of the writers gathered for this first drive agreed that the GLC does a better job fending off its BMW rival than the GLE does.
Most of the shape ahead of the front doors is common to the standard GLC, save for a grille with only a single blade and wide, straked air intakes. The glass sits a bit more upright on the Coupe, but the roofline starts its taper right over the driver's head, and it doesn't stop until it hits the rear fenders just ahead of the tail.
Elaborate details gloss over any rugged intentions the GLC Coupe might ever have. It's impossible to imagine the available perforated step rails in an off-roading scenario when they look more like a Hugo Boss sample sale.
2016 BMW X4 M40iEnlarge Photo
Where it bests the BMW is in the balance of styling elements down the side. The Benz's roofline is lower, the roofline falls more gracefully, and the glass sits far enough off the tail to create the illusion of a short decklid, just enough to play up the "coupe" aspect. The GLC's surfacing is softer, and the wheelbase is long enough to play out the shape, where the X4 appears a bit more stubby and angular.
The GLC Coupe's cabin is more of the same soothing, stylish stuff found in the latest generation of Mercedes cars. It's clearly drawn from the latest C-Class and GLC, with the low dash intersecting a wide center console, the center stack banded by a row of round vents.
A sport trim package fits the cabin with a flat-bottom steering wheel, studded pedals and AMG floormats. Trimmed in metal, wood, and leather, the cabin's one flaw is the infotainment display that rests on the dash with the aplomb of a mid-priced hotel's flat-screen TV.
A softer stance
Though it'll be available in GLC43 AMG and eventually a GLC63 AMG version, I drove the version closest to what we'll see here in the U.S--a GLC300 Coupe with all-wheel drive and a turbocharged 4-cylinder.
It's close but not identical: my car was tuned to European ride-height standard, while U.S. versions will ride a few inches higher, mostly to conform to EPA truck-classification rules. My impressions of handling were generally good, but they're bound to change with ride height and tire specifications distinct to American versions.
Hustling through Italy's Aosta Valley is no easy task for an SUV, but the GLC Coupe turns it into easy work. Oxygen is thin, the roads are narrow, the drop-offs are huge, the elevation changes are spectacular, and the GLC Coupe doesn't feel like a clumsy utility vehicle.
It's no AMG GT, either, but with its frisky drivetrain and quickened steering, the GLC Coupe softens our stance on the C-word, at least a little.
The core of the Mercedes lineup these days is its latest 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4. Here it's good for the same 241 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque it makes in the GLC, C-Class, and the new E-Class. It has all the torque accessible at a diesel-like 1,300 rpm, and hooks up well with the 9-speed automatic.
Acceleration, by the seat of the pants, is mid-7s strong, via an all-wheel-drive system with a 45:55 torque split front to rear. The powertrain is responsive and gutsy, and the 9-speed doesn't rummage around through its gears as much as we've found in other 9-speed applications. But the GLC Coupe's 4-cylinder is gruff under full throttle, and the stop/start that helps it save fuel can restart the SUV abruptly.
Playing with the rocker switches on the gorgeous console yields some useful alternatives. The transmission and throttle can be spun from Eco to Comfort, Sport, Sport+, and Individual modes. Sport+ cracks the whip on shift speed and throttle, turning the paddle shift controls into useful little cattle prods, while Eco mode lightens the consumption by letting the car coast briefly.
The EPA hasn't yet rated the GLC300 Coupe, but last year's equivalent GLC was pegged at 21 mpg city, 28 highway, and 24 combined.