Currently reading: 2015 Mercedes GLC: first ride
Forthcoming X3 and Q5 rival shows its mettle with an early off-road blast - and it looks on track to be a decent offering in a hard-fought class

Mercedes has had a sizeable hole in its UK line-up in recent years: a genuine rival to the BMW X3 and Audi Q5. Continental buyers have been able to pick the GLK but that car was never engineered for right-hand drive and, despite intense pressure from British dealers, the costs of factoring it in later on never stacked up.

Here, then, is the solution - the Mercedes-Benz GLC, order books for which will open in mid-June, with deliveries due to start from November. The car itself will be officially unveiled next month too, although the light disguise worn by the prototype we’ve just had a spin in should give you a fair idea of what to expect.

The GLC is based on the same modular underpinnings as the latest C-Class, although it looks like it gets a longer wheelbase than the small executive saloon. It has an impressively short front overhang and a modest one at the rear - enough, Mercedes claims, to allow it more than acceptable levels of off-road ability.

To prove this, the firm lined up a disused quarry and an hour of abuse and asked us along as ballast in the front passenger seat. Merc’s engineers were quick to point out that the GLC does without proper differential locks; we’re talking an electronic ESP-based system here, coupled with an air suspension set-up that has three ride heights beyond normal: raised by 30mm or 50mm, or lowered by 15mm.

You add this feature as an optional ‘off-road’ pack, and while you can also specify greater ability on regular steel suspension, that only adds up to an extra 20mm of ride height. Mercedes’ product wizards expect most customers who want this sort of functionality to go for the air option, and we’re inclined to believe them. The full ‘off-road’ pack also includes settings for snow and towing, and a natty data display that shows everything from ramp and lateral angles to throttle and brake pedal percentages and a compass.

The GLC did tackle the test site’s mixture of steep inclines, ‘rocking’ tracks (which place two of the wheels in the air) and sharp angles with plenty of aplomb. It always felt unmistakably like a software solution, with occasional rasps from the four corners as the ESP system did brutal things with the brakes, but given the road focus that 99% of these vehicles end up having, it seems easily strong enough for most customers. There are a few neat tricks, such as a front camera that guides you down steep slopes ahead of you when the view out of the windscreen is blue sky and little else.

What else could we tell from the prototype? The styling looks neat if predictable, although it’s good to see that there’s less of the fussy surfacing that has featured on many recent Mercs.

The packaging in the cabin feels clever; there’s room for four six-footers to travel in comfort, or for three to squeeze in across the back. The front occupants will be treated to the same dashboard architecture as in the C-Class, which is no bad thing; you get that single slab of wood in the centre console, with ‘uninterrupted’ grain, and either a large screen if you tick the option box for Comand, or a more modest display that features a Garmin-based navigation system. The materials feel every bit as plush as the C-Class’s. The boot looks a decent size, and there are buttons at either side of the load space to lower the rear seats without having to stretch in. There’s no awkward lip to load items over, either.


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Merc’s mid-sized SUV gets its UK debut. Has it been worth the wait, or have premium alternatives like the Audi Q5 and BMW X3 sewn up the segment?

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Our car’s petrol engine - the higher-powered version of Merc’s M274 motor, with 208bhp and 258lb ft of torque - felt punchy enough and refined during a brief squirt on surfaced road. The ride was pretty compliant too, given that our car wasn’t on the smallest wheels (likely to be 17in).

Merc is keeping other technical details, such as the engines, CO2 emissions and dimensions, under wraps until the new car is revealed. However, we’d say the firm’s OM651 four-cylinder twin-turbodiesel will be the main choice for UK buyers. A hybrid is a near-certainty, too; expect a system similar in concept and execution to the petrol-electric plug-in set-up that features on the C350e.

Even from this short off-road experience, then, there’s enough promise here to suggest that the GLC will be a very credible rival to the X3 and Q5. If anything, it feels a strong enough package to embarrass the GLE (the new name for ML), with as much off-road ability as many buyers will need, a plush enough cabin that’s scarcely any less practical and, one presumes, a tidy saving on purchase and running costs. Merc’s British dealers are about to get their wish, therefore, but quite a few customers could end up considering the GLC a bit of a result too.

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gillmanjr 30 May 2015

Yup the elevated driving

Yup the elevated driving position is what its all about. A lot of women believe they are safer because of the elevated driving position, thats what my wife believes. I tell her that, in reality, you are safer driving something as low to the ground as possible. That way you can change direction rapidly to avoid accidents without losing control of the vehicle and potentially flipping it over. Of course you need to be alert and be a good driver to begin with, or it really wouldn't matter either way.
abkq 30 May 2015

I thought jamesf1's statement

I thought jamesf1's statement of fact was unambiguous ie. not many people buy SUV to go offroad. In other words, the extra cost, weight and complexity of the AWD mechanism, and the extra fuel consumption, all go to waste. For those who prefer a high driving position without the need to go offroad, there are other solutions such as the now defunct 'sandwich platform' A-class. The SUV phenomenon is market driven and as such deters designers from finding better and more elegant ways of achieving an elevated driving position without too much compromise in ride quality.
jamesf1 28 May 2015

First ride off road....

...the least likely place it will end up
Winston Churchill 29 May 2015

Your point?

jamesf1 wrote:

...the least likely place it will end up

If you have a point to make, make it. So what?