Infiniti counters with a fairly pleasant environment on first blush.
Much ado has been made about the rise of SUVs and the fall of sedans, and nowhere is this more prevalent than the luxury segment. You’re spoiled for choice these days, so we wanted to see how one of the new kids on the block, the Infiniti QX55, stacks up against the old guard in the segment. We put into the ring two contenders; the 2021 Infiniti QX55 vs. 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLC 300.
Let’s start with the similarities. Both the QX55 and GLC are powered by turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engines — no surprises there. The Benz is good for 255 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque, sent to all four wheels via a nine-speed automatic. The turbo-four is smooth and reasonably punchy, and the nine-speed automatic always seems to be in the correct gear; it kicks down quickly when you need the power and fades into the background when you don’t. If there’s one thing we weren’t particularly keen on, it’s the GLC’s almost diesel-like soundtrack on startup and idle, but when that’s our only bone to pick, you know Mercedes did a fine job otherwise. Besides, we got used to it after a while, and you probably will, too.
The QX55’s turbo-four pumps out a slightly more impressive 268 hp and 280 lb.-ft. of torque, but this isn’t any run-of-the-mill engine. Infiniti’s imbued this four-pot with what it calls “VC-Turbo” technology; the engine can vary its compression ratio from 14.0:1 to 8.0:1 based on various conditions and your driving style. The science of it all is rather complicated, but in theory, this engine maximizes fuel economy and power, depending on what you ask of it.
In practice, it’s mostly successful. The QX55 has plenty of passing power, and overall real-world fuel economy averaged 9.6 L/100 kilometres over a week — a respectable advantage over the GLC’s 9.8 over a similar city-and-highway mix. That said, the trick engine isn’t well-matched to the QX55’s transmission; it’s fine around town provided you take it easy, but goose the throttle on the highway and the CVT feels a bit slow to “kick down”, and holds the revs a bit too high for too long before simulating a gear shift. Perhaps the nine-speed automatic from the next-gen QX60 would be a better fit.
Beyond the powertrain, both the GLC and QX55 are well sorted, hardly upset by bumps, potholes, rough pavement, and most other imperfections quite well. Both also feature various drive modes that liven up or desensitize the drive as you wish, but the GLC has a slight edge over the QX55: Mercedes offers a bit more configurability here, and between the engine, transmission, and road manners, the GLC feels more poised and polished. Plus, there’s a bit more road noise in the QX55 than we expected.
Say what you will about crossover “coupes” like the QX55, but it’s certainly one of the better-executed examples in this niche. Sure, the front grille is absolutely massive, but the rest of the look is fairly cohesive and hearkens back to the original FX. The GLC, on the other hand, looks almost generic by comparison; granted it doesn’t quite play in the same style-first niche as the QX55, but despite a minor refresh last year, its largely the same look it launched with more than five years ago.
And yet even after all these years, the GLC’s interior is still impressive. Fit-and-finish is top notch, it’s comfortable regardless of where you sit, and there’s plenty of physical switchgear on the centre console. The Benz also gets bonus points for the funky and highly customizable (but optional) ambient lighting setup, and Mercedes’ MBUX interface handles infotainment duties — there’s a bit of a learning curve, but it’s a clever system once you get the hang of it. Our particular tester featured traditional gauges, but a 12.3-inch digital instrument panel is available as part of the Technology Package, for an additional $1,900.
Infiniti counters with a fairly pleasant environment on first blush: all the critical touch points are plush and feel great, and the overall layout is certainly easy on the eyes. But it loses you when you start interacting with it: the infotainment feels a generation behind, the 360-degree camera display is embarrassingly low-res compared to the sharp and bright displays in the GLC, and the gauge cluster and graphics bore more than a passing resemblance to what we saw in the sub-$25,000 Nissan Sentra SR. We also noticed a handful of loose and ill-fitting interior trim pieces, but that could’ve been limited to our particular tester.
As far as interior space goes, you might think putting a crossover “coupe” up against a “regular” one might be a bit of an apples-to-oranges scenario, but the QX55 and GLC are unexpectedly close. The GLC offers a couple extra inches of front-seat headroom and legroom, as well as rear-seat headroom, but the QX55 has a touch more legroom for passengers out back. Most surprisingly given its “coupe” silhouette, the QX55 has more cargo space: you have 761 litres seats-up to play with in the Infiniti, versus only 550 in the GLC. Fold the seats and the Benz has the advantage growing to 1,600 litres, versus a still-respectable 1,531 for the QX55. For a crossover “coupe”, the QX55’s sleeker roofline isn’t as impractical as you might think.
Of course, it all comes down to dollars and cents. The 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLC 300 starts at $49,900, but our particular tester topped out at $63,365. That’s pretty much par for the course in the segment, but Mercedes charges you for bells and whistles that should really be standard. Want satellite radio? That’ll be $475. Can’t live without a heated steering wheel? Budget $250 for that. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto? Get ready to pay — those are locked into the $4,500 Premium Package.
On the other hand, the 2021 Infiniti QX55 starts at $51,955 for the base Luxe trim. The full-jam Sensory model will run you $60,998, and your only option is colour: our particular tester was finished in what Infiniti calls “Dynamic Sunstone Red” for an additional $1,200, bringing the grand total to $62,198 as-tested. It’s certainly competitive within the segment, but given the QX55’s shortcomings, it might not be the best way to spend $60,000.
Challenging the establishment in the luxury segment is no easy task. As it pertains to the 2021 Infiniti QX55 vs. 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLC 300, the Benz reigns supreme with its well-sorted powertrain and first-rate interior. Perhaps not for long, though: there’s a target on the GLC’s back and while the QX55 misses it, a certain underdog from Genesis might just hit a bulls-eye.