New Mercedes GLC Coupe 2023 review: compromised but refined

The Mercedes GLC Coupe’s efficient mild hybrid powertrain is impressive, but it’s let down by its price and the lack of space

Overall Auto Express Rating

3.5 out of 5

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If this was a review based solely on a powertrain, it’d be pretty close to full marks for the Mercedes GLC Coupe, but as an overall package it’s let down by too many compromises. When push comes to shove, the GLC is uncomfortable, cramped in the rear and prohibitively expensive, even if it’s packing one of the best diesel engines in the business.

This really is a car of two halves. On the one hand, the new Mercedes GLC Coupe flies so high that it absolutely shines with the inherited engineering expertise you’d expect from a company such as Mercedes. Yet on the other it’s let down by seemingly simple things.

By far and away the most impressive element is its brilliant mild-hybrid powertrain. The GLC’s 2.0-litre diesel engine is a great all-rounder and especially well suited to its role as a long-distance cruiser. Supported by a very effective mild-hybrid system, the engine is superbly refined, has a wide-ranging and flexible power delivery, and works brilliantly with the nine-speed automatic transmission.

Being the entry-level engine, the car’s on-paper performance figures look a little conservative, reaching 0-62mph in 8.1 seconds. However, thanks to the e-motor’s timely boosts of torque, it feels significantly more potent than those numbers suggest.

It does this all while offering some truly staggering efficiency figures, too; we were closing in on 60mpg on longer journeys, despite on-paper numbers in the low 50s.

The car’s CO2 rating is also impressively low, at 141g/km, and when combined, these figures speak volumes about Mercedes’s command of diesel engine technology – a shame considering the unfair image diesels have accrued.

The GLC’s powertrain is undoubtedly the star of the show and seemingly offers no downsides. But when it comes to the GLC Coupe’s dynamics, there are plenty of them.

There’s just no way of getting around how poorly the GLC rides. In spite of having relatively tall sidewalls on the tyres, which would normally soften the ride, the car’s damping is just too firm, making it feel pretty uncomfortable on all but the smoothest of tarmac surfaces.

There’s no real benefit to the handling as a side effect, either – the fun factor is clearly missing, especially when the GLC is competing with the slick-driving BMW X4 and Porsche Macan. The Mercedes feels heavy and ponderous down a twisting road, and while there is a bright spot in its sharp steering, it’s not enough to make up for what feels like an all-too-compromised overall handling package.

The styling is, of course, down to personal preference, but the sloping roofline does significantly encroach on rear-seat headroom, while also affecting rearward visibility. This is perhaps to be expected, but in order to create that idealised sleek window line, there’s also compromise up front, because the rake and height of the windscreen have been lowered. This, together with the high-set dash, makes the car feel a tad cramped from the driver’s seat.

Luckily, Merc’s interior design and user interfaces do feel well thought out and executed, with this car’s upright MBUX infotainment system being certainly one of the better to use on a day-to-day basis. This is thanks largely to its fast responses and the simple placements of most key functions such as the air-conditioning, plus fast access to secondary functions like the lane assist and head-up display.

This does come with a ‘but’, however, and here it concerns the overly padded steering wheel, which features no less than four thin spokes, each of which is covered in touch-sensitive controls. These are overly complex and take too much time to acclimatise to.

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There is another caveat to the interior experience, and that is the quality of build and materials. As with many new Mercedes, it lacks the solidity you’ll experience in most key rivals. There’s lots of stitched materials and soft-touch elements, but it’s all a little plasticky, with the many surfaces coming with some of the panel ‘creak’ Mercedes interiors are now being associated with.

Which wouldn’t be so much of a problem if the GLC Coupe didn’t cost nearly £70,000. At £69,355 in this spec, this is a very expensive car considering the pace, space and comfort on offer. Granted, the relative cost of all cars continues to beat inflation, but key rivals from Porsche and BMW are cheaper, even if their equipment isn’t as generous. It’s this assessment of value that keeps the GLC’s score lower than it deserves, because fundamentally the GLC and its superb diesel are extremely impressive. It’s just a shame it comes with a deal-killing ride quality and such a high price point.

Model: Mercedes GLC 220 d Coupé AMG Line Prem+
Price: £69,355
Powertrain: 2.0-litre 4cyl diesel
Power/torque: 197bhp/440Nm
Transmission: Nine-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
0-62mph: 8.2 seconds
Top speed: 140mph
Economy/CO2: 52.4mpg/141g/km
Size (L/W/H): 4,764/1,890/1,605mm
On sale: Now
Senior staff writer

Senior staff writer at Auto Express, Jordan joined the team after six years at evo magazine where he specialised in news and reviews of cars at the high performance end of the car market. 

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