Mercedes has successfully wrapped its own strident motor in an apparently thicker blanket than normal, its curiously chirpy thrum now consigned to moments of hard acceleration only. The engines in the Discovery Sport and the X3 are noticeably more vocal than that of the GLC, while the British car adds a dose of vibration into the mix.
The GLC’s pace is a useful ally in modern SUVs, and initially the car seems well primed to exploit it. Compared with its competitors, you sit low in the cabin – so low, in fact, that the model seems a more likely contender for something of the Audi A4 Allroad’s ilk than a Land Rover. The pedals and steering wheel are presented in car-like fashion, too. In the X3, the steering wheel has the girth of a George RR Martin paperback and is tuned for the kind of incisiveness that can be wrung from the front end.
The Mercedes follows suit, its variable rack being quick indeed but with less life to it. Compared with the Discovery, which turns the front wheels with a crisp, emphatic heft uncannily hotwired to your expectations, the GLC is lifeless to the point of impassive. Its pedals share the condition and prove oddly numb to either getting started or finally bringing the car to a halt.
In between those two states, the GLC is better. The question of chassis character when it comes to every compact SUV perched between a mainstream crossover and a Porsche Macan is a confounding one.
BMW and Land Rover have answered it succinctly enough. The X3 tested here, inexplicably shorn of its brilliant-value £650 adaptive suspension and unfairly propped on 20in alloy wheels, rides with stiff-backed abruptness and a disdain for road surface deflections deeper than a deck of cards. It also corners flat and tenaciously and with something approaching neutrality from the rear-biased xDrive all-wheel drive system.
Side by side, the Discovery’s patient lean under duress could almost be mistaken for wallow. It demands predictably more of the outside wheel and, on slimmer 19in tyres, mislays purchase earlier. But its poise and primary ride composure are exemplary, endlessly juggling mass and speed and body movement without the requirement for a button marked ‘Comfort’. The Ingenium engine finally comes into its own too, slyly and endlessly interjecting with 317lb ft mid-range gusts courtesy of the gearbox’s eagerness to unobtrusively downshift.
The GLC, one suspects, ideally wants it both ways – although with an emphasis on the tranquillity that £1500 worth of multi-chamber air suspension ought to buy you. Sadly, that option box was left unchecked, leaving our AMG Line test car with the passive ‘sports’ suspension set-up, as distinguished from the ‘comfort’-biased alternative on SE versions. Be that as it may, handling, in an enthusiastic sense, is not the GLC’s forte.
The right-hand-drive versions reputedly send more power to the rear wheels by default than the left-hookers, but that isn’t immediately apparent in the car’s overt preference for understeer – a characteristic typically unaided by the vagaries of Mercedes’ direct-steer electric rack and enhanced by the sportier dampers’ surprisingly permissive attitude to body control.