You could spend $51,000 (plus fees and taxes) on a new Mercedes-Benz GLC 300 4MATIC – north of $63,000 if you add a load of extras – or you could turn to something similar, but much cheaper. Say, a $34,295 Kia Sorento LX+, perhaps even stretching to the line-topping Sorento SX ($47,795).
Purists will, of course, say the Sorento and the Kia brand are not in the same league, that the Merc’s pedigree, precision and prodigious technological innovations are far and away superior to Kia generally and the Sorento’s in particular. This is true, but is the Merc’s edge worth $15,000 or so?
To the brand conscious, absolutely.
Mercedes is a historical brand dating all the way back to Gottlieb Daimler and reinforced today by the success of its Formula 1 efforts – yes, Lewis Hamilton was robbed – and the sweeping genius of a carmaker that can make a mainstream SUV like the GLC, and engineer it to share so much with the high-performance GLC 63 and the electrified and electrifying GLC 350e plug-in hybrid.
To be fair, Kia offers both a Sorento hybrid and a Sorento plug-in hybrid. On the other hand, there’s this: Kia went bankrupt in 1997, since rescued and rehabilitated by Hyundai Motor. For more than 100 years, Daimler has remained solvent. No question, there is a level of prestige that comes with a Merc that is not nearly matched by Kia.
The vehicles themselves, however, are surprisingly similar. Both have the styling of a completely modern SUV, though I’d argue the Kia is a more interesting design, and the top model has a brilliant interior – right down to a big colour screen with a very sharp display and smart infotainment software. User interactions are seamless. The seat comfort, though, is middling.
The GLC, however, is something else entirely – improved most recently in 2019 — and you’ll find it in not the basic two-box shape, but in the many and myriad details: LED high-performance headlamps, all LED rear lights, high-quality MBUX displays inside, the fully digital instrument cluster, and the best 10.25” touch control media display. The advanced multi-function steering wheel is something quite dramatic, too.
By the way, MBUX is an unwieldy tag for the infotainment interface, yet there is no denying the modernity. Here is a system capable of recognizing hand and arm gestures of the driver and front passenger. If you truly hope to master all the fancy gizmotic capabilities of this car, you will need to invest hours and hours; it’s that complex and that involved and that thrilling, for those who marvel at such things.
The more pedestrian piece of the story: powertrains. The Merc’s 2.0-litre four is silky and modern, 255 horsepower, and it’s mated to a 9-speed automatic gearbox. Permanent all-wheel drive is standard.
You’ll zip from 0-100 km/hour in 6.2 seconds and using premium fuel get 11.5 litres/100 km in the city, 9.1 on the highway. It’s a small engine with large capabilities, one that does not in any way feel overmatched.
The base Sorento has a 2.5-litre four (191 hp), while the SX has the 2.5-litre turbo (281 hp.) and an 8-speed autobox. It’s also very strong.
The Merc, however, is a much nicer ride. The suspension tuning is an impressive blend of comfort and agility. It nicely steps through corners and traffic for a tall rig, but remains pleasant during a long haul. Merc offers all manner of software-managed interventions and innovations to keep you in control and also safe.
You’ll pay extra for some of them. The $1,900 Technology Package, for instance, gives you active LED lighting, adaptive high beams and the best 12.3 digital instrument cluster. The Premium Package at $4,500 affords you that excellent 10.25 touchscreen, navigation, traffic services, a panoramic sunroof, KEYLESS-GO, a power tailgate and – shockingly – Apple CarPlay/Android Auto.
The $2,000 Premium Plus Package adds active parking assist, a 360 camera, 64-colour ambient lighting, and illuminated front door sills.
That’s a wordy way of saying you need to pay extra for some features that should be standard. And this sort of thing is typical of ALL German brands. A truly irritating reality.
No question, the GLC is the better SUV from a brand much stronger than Kia’s. But I’d suggest you drive them both and price them out, feature for feature. At the same time, take the measure of the dealer and the dealer service.
You will, I promise, find it all very interesting and illuminating. Kia isn’t there yet, not on a par with Mercedes, but the gap is – surprisingly – narrowing.
What is it? The GLC 300 is a well-established, upscale SUV that is a pleasure to drive and an impressive technological achievement.
How much? $51,900 to start. My tester came in at $63,190, plus fees and taxes.
What’s good? The ride quality is excellent, nimble yet comfortable. The seats are first-rate, the displays very clear and the advanced technology story is engaging.
What’s not so good? Some of the things you will really want are extra, on a rig with an already healthy price.