Our favourite compact SUVs of the past 18 months have, dynamically speaking, split the pack.
On one distant flank, there’s the ferociously buttoned-down Porsche Macan; on the other sits the Land Rover Discovery Sport, a more traditional 4x4, albeit one astutely tailored for contemporary tastes. Everything else, in our experience, soldiers up the middle, seeking the modern crossover centre ground: tall and masterly yet car-like and convenient.
Prudently, the GLC strikes for the same territory. With its energetic engine, quick steering, saloon-donated seating position and discreetly elevated ride height, the model embraces its inner C-Class in much the same way that an Audi A4 Allroad never quite stops being an A4.
The sensation is balanced with a lazier, longer-striding primary ride, markedly better insulation and the stability aura of all-wheel drive. Add in the cosseting, ego-kneading effect of the upmarket cabin and the GLC’s virtues start to seem compelling.
That it ultimately fails to ground the ball is likely the fault of our test car’s spec. Equipped with the AMG Line ‘sport’ suspension and optional 20in alloys, the GLC’s well-intended amiability is too often corrupted by an unwillingness to properly moderate the UK’s nastier road surfaces.
While tolerant enough at low speeds, the model’s big-rim sensitivity has the passive chassis griping above 30mph.
Its intermittent prickliness is made worse by the fact that on smooth sections – motorways included – the GLC’s secondary ride settles down reasonably well.
The brittleness is unlikely to be any worse on air-sprung cars, making Airmatic a desirable option – and especially so when the AMG Line’s promise of sportiness is essentially an empty one. Even on what may be reasonably assumed to be its sternest suspension settings, the GLC tends to labour and list in fast corners when compared with its peers and is frequently undone by Mercedes’ speed-sensitive steering, which remains disinclined to respond satisfactorily to precise or subtle inputs.
While the passive suspension’s lack of sportiness is only of mild concern on flatter roads, Millbrook’s Hill Route has a way of exposing flaccid damper settings. Here, among unrelenting changes in elevation, the GLC’s languor is more noticeable, its body being disinclined to either settle quickly on entry or rediscover its level upon exit.
Traditionally, this kind of high-sided softness would be mitigated by the enhanced traction of all-wheel drive, but here, too, the GLC leaves something to be desired, flagging too readily into sustained understeer for a car that purports to be sending more power to the rear axle than to the front.
Its real deficiency — or at least the most notable whether you’re at the limit or not — is in the steering’s lack of connected feel.
Mercedes’ Direct Steer set-up, which reduces the assistance at higher speeds, fails to make the resulting build-up in resistance convincing, instead attaining a dubious, unhelpful, uniform weight immediately off the straight ahead.