Opinionated at any speed . . . Silvio Calabi

Mercedes-Benz GLC 300 4Matic

Tue, 10/24/2023 - 4:30pm

As an old-school motorhead, I am much less impressed by car-borne over-the-air Web magic than younger generations of drivers seem to be. However, when my car says to me, as I switch off the ignition and swing open the door to get out, “Wait a sec—you’ve forgotten your phone!” ... I have to admit I’m charmed. Because I always leave my phone in the car charger and then have to go back out to retrieve it later.

It isn’t just a recording of the same sentence, either; next time, she—the car, in a female voice—said, “Excuse me, don’t forget your phone.” So this is AI, artificial intelligence, doing something useful instead of deep-faking political speeches or term papers. “She” has a name, too: Mercedes. As in, “Hey, Mercedes, call Sarah—it’s her birthday.” Mercedes scrolls wirelessly through my smartphone directory, finds my daughter’s number, sees that, yes, it is her birthday, and rings her up through the car’s speakers.

It took me a while to get used to dealing with Siri (on my iPhone) and Alexa (on the speakers in my house), but Mercedes and I became friends quickly back in June, when I was driving the electric EQS 580 and needed help coping with that vehicle’s complexities. In fact, Mercedes is so assistive, in Web-speak, that I’m almost willing to overlook some of her foibles, such as the vague sliding volume adjuster instead of a beautifully knurled alloy knob that clicks precisely from one setting to the next.

I should ask her how it is that this GLC 300 has a starting price of just $49,100 but an out-the-door price of $64,770. That’s quite a jump. But she would surely just refer me to the window sticker that lists the extras on this vehicle. From the Sierra Brown/Black Leather to the DA2 Driver Assistance Package, the DC1 Night Package and the DG1 AMG and DX2 Pinnacle trim packages—plus the Panorama Roof, 20-inch wheels, Nautical Blue Metallic paint, 4Matic all-wheel-drive and so on and so forth—these are the things that help set Mercedes-Benzes apart from the riff-raff.

Yes, I get that. But do we get what we pay for? I believe we do. The GLC 300 was revamped for 2023 and the result is an emphatically luxurious vehicle (at least with $15,000 worth of options). It is also more serene, more spacious and yet more fuel-efficient than before.

Like everything in the M-B lineup that isn’t fully electric, the GLC has been mildly hybridized with an ISG, an integrated starter-generator. This is an electric motor (inside the 9-speed automatic transmission) that is connected to the crankshaft. It turns the engine over, to start it, and then feeds electric power to it, especially when starting off. While braking or coasting, the ISG works in reverse—now the gas engine spins it, to generate electricity, which is stored in a 48-volt battery.

The ISG can momentarily add up to 23 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque to the 4-cylinder gas engine’s 255 horsepower and 295 torques. The power delivery feels almost electric, and the EPA now projects 31 highway miles per gallon, three more than the previous GLC 300. That’s a praiseworthy improvement for a two-ton-plus wagon.

At least in comfort mode, any transitions while driving—from one gear to the next and from gas to electric, starter to generator and even the stop-start function—are seamless. In truth everything on this vehicle is seamless and almost startlingly low-effort (including the steering, which is just plain lifeless). Combine this with the GLC 300’s elegant cabin and we have a small SUV that gives no ground away to its larger, more costly Mercedes-Benz siblings.