The 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class replaces the GLK-Class from last year, and despite that SUV's small size, the new GLC has some big shoes to fill. After all, the GLK sold remarkably well, holding its own against the established BMW X3 and newer entries like the Audi Q5.

Since it's based (loosely) on the C-Class sedan, the 2016 GLC-Class offers up many of the same generational improvements that we saw when the new C-Class debuted last year. For example, the stitched dash, wood trim, satin-metal finish on the high-quality switches and knobs, and the rest of the high-end touches strewn through the cabin all speak to a level of quality that exceeds expectations. 

Behind the grille's massive three-pointed star is a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine putting out 241 horsepower. It's smaller than last year's V6, but thanks to a 200-pound weight loss, identical torque, and a new 9-speed transmission, performance is about the same. A diesel and plug-in electric hybrid will be offered later. Rear-wheel drive is standard, with all-wheel drive available for about $2,000.

Also: See the New and Redesigned Cars of 2016

At home in the city or country

We were able to test the 2016 GLC in two different environments. First, we drove north out of Atlanta through Chattahoochee National Forest toward the southern end of the Appalachians. Over hill and through dale we drove on rain-soaked highways, and all the while the 2016 GLC 300 felt like a proper Mercedes-Benz: sure footed, comfortable, quietly refined, and brimming with modern technology. There was plenty of power from the 2.0-liter turbo, and there was never a point where we felt as if it needed more. The transmission shifted smoothly, with a bit more kick evident when in either Sport or Sport+ mode, and it always responded quickly to a click of the steering-wheel mounted paddles.

The rainy weather put the kibosh on any truly heroic driving, but the luxury SUV never put a foot wrong, the all-wheel drive working invisibly to deliver us to our destination. Road trippers will especially like the Distronic Plus adaptive cruise control which, when combined with the steering assist, makes this luxury SUV nearly autonomous on the highway. The windy weather didn't seem to have much of an effect on the GLC, although it's hard to tell if it was the doing of the standard Crosswind Assist or not.

The next day we drove the 2016 GLC around urban Atlanta, a notably different experience and feel. Here, again the GLC remained composed, although the suspension was more notably stiff over the various bumps and potholes on Atlanta's crowded streets; it's possible a GLC with the standard 18-inch wheels -- instead of the 20 inchers on our test car -- would offer up a smoother ride. All 2016 GLC models come standard with the start-stop mechanism. While it was relatively unobtrusive during our mountain drive, there was a lot more traffic in town, and its shuddering restart more noticeable. Whether it was the frequency of the restarts or just a variation between two vehicles isn't clear, but we think a lot of people will be glad it comes with a conveniently located "off" switch.

Also: Kelley Blue Book Best Buy Awards of 2015

Prices start below $40,000

The MSRP for the 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLC 300 starts just below the $40,000 mark for a rear-wheel drive model; add $2,000 for all-wheel drive. That sounds reasonable, and the new GLC comes with a solid amount of standard equipment, such as keyless ignition, power tailgate, collision avoidance, and a number of other electronic safety and driving aids. However, note that options can and do add up. Our first test car stickered about $58,000, and our second one -- with a matte paint job and (very fancy) Designo interior -- clocked in at more than $64,000. On the other hand, you can avoid going bananas with the options and still get a nicely equipped 2016 GLC with adaptive cruise control, leather interior, navigation, and a bunch of other options for around the $50,000 mark. That's a pretty good price, easily competitive with the other midsize luxury SUVs like the BMW X3, Lexus RX, Audi Q5, and not much more than many non-luxury brands as well.

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