Mercedes-Benz finally has a new, smaller 4x4 to take on the Audi Q5 and BMW X3. But is it worth the wait?
Readers of a certain age may read the acronym GLC and be forcibly reminded of the Ken Livingstone-headed Greater London Council. Thankfully, initials are all the Mercedes GLC has in common with the GLA’s predecessor and it certainly doesn’t share its tendency to veer to the left. Instead, it seems perfectly content to occupy the centre ground between the larger Mercedes GLE (until recently called the M-Class) and the compact GLA crossover.
Before the GLC came along, Mercedes buyers had no other choice, but its arrival took on the wildly successful Audi Q5 as well as other rivals like the BMW X3, Lexus NX and Land Rover Discovery Sport.
So why has it taken Mercedes so long to build a medium-sized 4x4? After all, the original BMW X3 was launched way back in 2003. Well, the GLC’s predecessor, the GLK (keep up at the back there), was only built in left-hand drive and was never sold here. So even though the GLC comes to our shores in October, it already feels like it’s long overdue.
I travelled to the Alsace region, where France, Germany and Switzerland meet, to drive the new Mercedes on fabulous roads that snake sinuously through some of the world’s most celebrated vineyards. Here, I pushed the car to its limit – on and off the tarmac – and I put my stomach to the test too by gorging on local cheese. All in the name of research, you understand.
The GLC comes with a choice of two diesel engines at launch: 170hp 220d (from £34,950) and 204hp 250d (from £36,105). Both offer punchy performance and identical fuel economy of 56.5mpg. Indeed, the extra grunt of the 250d only kicked in as we reached the hills and hairpin bends of Switzerland. If you only plan to drive this around Surbiton, then save your cash and stick with the 220d.
Show the GLC some tight turns and it grips well, with little body roll to upset the car’s balance – or indeed your passengers. But this isn’t a sporty SUV and it doesn’t try to be. Better to slow down and enjoy the whisper-quiet engine, seamless nine-speed automatic gearbox and cossetting ride on (optional) air suspension. Like flying first class, driving the GLC is a genuinely relaxing experience.
The car feels pretty special inside, too. Audis are traditionally the yardstick for interior quality, but Mercedes has finally trumped its arch-rival. The GLC deserves every “Germanic build quality” cliché in the book. Unlike the new Volvo XC90, its dashboard isn’t entirely bereft of buttons, but many functions are accessed via the Comand media system, which has a 7in tablet-style screen and click-wheel or slightly trickier touchpad controllers.
For a big vehicle, the GLC is only averagely-sized inside. Two adults can get comfortable in the back, but middle-seat occupants have to splay their legs either side of a bulky transmission tunnel. Hardly dignified. Boot capacity is on par with a Q5 or X3 but bigger than a Mercedes C-Class Estate. Unlike the Discovery Sport, though, there’s no seven-seat option.
As for its off-road credentials, it’s worth investing in the £495 Off-Road Engineering Package, offering a differential lock and low-ratio reduction gear that means the GLC can follow in the tyre-tracks of Land Rovers. Although you may want to spare a thought for those shiny alloys if you want to keep it looking its best.
The GLC is one of the best cars in its class and Mercedes has hit the ground running with this new 4x4. Keen drivers may prefer the BMW X3 or the Porsche Macan, while those with large families should consider the Discovery Sport. But as an all-round package, the mid-size Merc is hard to beat.
Tim Pitt works for motoringresearch.com
THE FACTS: MERCEDES-BENZ GLC 220D 4MATIC SE
0-62MPH: 8.3 secs
TOP SPEED: 130mph
CO2 G/KM: 129g/km
MPG COMBINED: 56.5mpg
VALUE FOR MONEY ★★☆☆☆