What is it?
The all-new Mercedes-Benz GLC, which will seek to dethrone the second-generation BMW X3 at the top of the premium brand mid-sized SUV sales charts and provide competition to the seven-year-old Audi Q5 when it goes on sale in September.
The predecessor to the GLC, the square-edged GLK, was never produced in right-hand-drive guise owing to difficulties in packaging the driveshaft for the front axle, and subsequently it was not sold through official Mercedes-Benz sales channels in the UK. As a result, the German car maker has been unrepresented in one of the fastest-growing and most profitable market segments.
The arrival of the GLC rectifies this hole in Mercedes' line-up. The smart-looking SUV is based on the same platform as the latest C-Class, but receives a 33mm-longer wheelbase than its saloon and estate siblings. It also uses tracks that have been widened by 31mm at the front and 47mm at the rear over the C-Class.
Mercedes makes no secret of the fact that the key rival for the GLC is the X3, so it is no surprise to find that the two share similar dimensions. The new SUV is a mere 1mm longer, 9mm wider and 21mm lower than the BMW at 4656mm, 1890mm and 1639mm respectively.
Although it is larger than its predecessor in all vital external measurements, Mercedes says the GLC is 80kg lighter than the GLK. This has been achieved through the use of hot-formed high-strength steel in the body structure and aluminium for the front wings, bonnet and roof. The GLC250d tested weighs 1770kg, making it 40kg heavier than the X3 xDrive20d and 45kg lighter than the high-powered version of the Q5 2.0 TDI.
Two diesel-powered models will be sold from the outset in the form of the £34,950 GLC 220 d and £36,105 GLC 250 d. They both run Mercedes’s widely used OM651-designated turbocharged 2.1-litre four-cylinder powerplant in differing states of tune, the former with 168bhp and 295lb ft, and the latter producing 201bhp and 369lb ft.
Other left-hand-drive European markets get a petrol powered GLC 250, which uses a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine with 208bhp and 258lb ft. Also planned to follow before the end of 2015 but not planned for right-hand drive production is a petrol-electric-powered plug-in hybrid variant, the GLC 350 e.
It combines a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, developing 208bhp and 258lb ft, with an electric motor mounted within front section of the gearbox housing and producing 114bhp and 251lb ft. All up, it offers combined system outputs of 316bhp and 413lb ft.
There is no manual gearbox, at least during the initial sales phase. Instead there is a standard nine-speed automatic gearbox on the two diesel engines. It receives the latest in fuel-saving functions, including automatic stop-start and brake energy recuperation.
Both the GLC 220 d and GLC 250 d receive Mercedes-Benz's 4Matic four-wheel drive system as standard. However, unlike the left-hand-drive models that apportion power in a 45% front, 55% rear split, right-hand-drive UK models come with a 33%/67% front/rear split.
The GLC rides on a four-link front and five-link rear suspension set-up featuring adaptive damping as part of a standard Dynamic Select system that offers the driver the choice between Eco, Comfort, Sport, Sport Plus and Individual modes. The suspension system, which is claimed to be 5kg lighter than that used by the earlier GLK, also comes with optional Air Body Control rear air springs.
The air springs feature a new three-chamber design and can be combined with a so-called Off-Road Engineering package, which offrers five off-road driving modes: Slippery, Trailer, Off-road, Incline and Rocking Assist. It also adds hill decent control, underbody protection and adjustable ride height – the latter raising ground clearance from a standard 227mm to 257mm and up to 277mm at speeds below 30mph.
What's it like?
In top-of-the-line diesel guise as driven here, the GLC makes for a very desirable family car with adequate accommodation for up to five and a usefully large 550-litre boot (that's 60 litres more luggage space than the C-Class Estate). By comparison, the X3 offers the same 550 litres of boot space, while the Q5 is hardly any less generous with a 540-litre capacity.
The positive impressions begin the moment you step into the cabin. The familiar looking dashboard, instruments, steering wheel, free-standing infotainment monitor, controls (including the rotary wheel between the front seats) and trim applications are all shared with the latest C-Class. Although there are some hard plastic surfaces, overall material quality is quite high and better than that of any direct rival.
The driving position is sound, with raised seats affording good visibility all round. The front seats are fairly flat in the squab, but the more contoured backrests offer good levels of lateral support. The rear seats split 40/20/40, with two full sized outer positions and a narrower central seat that’s partly compromised for legroom by the central tunnel. Sizeable door pockets, a lidded bin and drink holders in the front section of the centre console provide plenty of oddment storage.
With 201bhp at 3800rpm and 369lb ft from just 1600rpm, the GLC 250 d’s longitudinally mounted engine proves to be both punchy and flexible. It is also impressively hushed for a diesel, with little chatter evident in the cabin at low to middling revs. Mercedes claims a combined fuel consumption figure of 56.5mpg, beating both the X3 xDrive20d (54.3mpg) and the high-powered version of the Q5 2.0 TDI (53.3mpg). With a standard 50-litre fuel tank, this points to a theoretical range of over 600 miles.
The fitment of a standard nine-speed automatic gearbox, which uses a column-mounted stalk instead of a more conventional centre-mounted lever, provides the basis for strong standing start and in-gear acceleration, owing to the broad spread of ratios on offer. Mercedes claims a 0-62mph time of 8.3sec and a 131mph top speed. The shifts are quite smooth and proficient in Comfort mode, although it is sometimes recalcitrant on downchanges in Sport Plus mode.
The new gearbox really shines on the motorway, with a ninth gear ratio of 0.60:1 working in combination with a final drive of 3.07:1 to provide calm and relaxing cruising qualities. The claimed 56.5mpg may be difficult to match in real-world conditions, but for a car weighting close to 1800kg it proves remarkably efficient at constant motorway speeds.
The GLC comes close to matching the X3 for sheer agility. There is always sufficient traction out of slower corners to allow you to make full use of the strong low-end torque. The constant varying of drive to the front and rear axles, along with excellent body control and direct properties from the electro-mechanical steering system, provides the GLC with pleasingly neutral cornering traits despite a nominal 227mm ground clearance in combination with the optional air springs fitted to our test car.
On winding roads, understeer is effectively suppressed, allowing you to build up a good deal of momentum before the front end eventually runs wide and the stability control steps in, making the new Mercedes more engaging and enjoyable to thread down a winding B-road than just about any other mid-sized SUV.
With the air springs fitted at the rear, the GLC also rides with aplomb. It delivers impressive compliance at speed out on the open road, with low levels of tyre roar. If there is a dent in its armour, it has to do with its ability to handle transverse ridges, which tend to send a shudder through the structure, especially at lower speeds.
Mercedes knows that few potential GLC customers will seek true off-road capability. However, this has not deterred the car maker from providing its new SUV with impressive ability in the dirt. With approach and departure angles of 30.8deg and 24.8deg respectively, along with a breakover angle of 19.7deg and tipping angle of 35deg in combination with the optional Off-Road Engineering package, it goes places few rivals, save perhaps for the new Land Rover Discovery, are likely to take you.
Should I buy one?
If you’re in the market for a premium brand SUV, you might want to wait until the GLC reaches the UK before signing on the dotted line. Few if any of its direct rivals manage to combine style, quality, performance, handling, ride, economy, practicality and off-road ability so successfully.
We’ll need to drive the new Mercedes on standard steel springs on UK roads before we can give it a definitive thumbs up, but on the optional Air Body Control package with air springs on smoothly surfaced German roads it proves to be a remarkably mature, engaging and refined proposition.
Mercedes-Benz GLC 250 d
Location Germany; On sale September; Price £36,105; Engine 4 cyls, 2143cc, turbodiesel; Power 201bhp at 3800rpm; Torque 369lb ft at 1600rpm; Gearbox 9-spd automatic; Kerb weight 1770kg; 0-62mph 8.3sec; Top speed 131mph; Economy 56.5mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 129g/km, 23%