It might just look like a styling study of what would be a rather niche product even were it a production model, but the behind the bright lights laid on for the Mercedes-Benz GLC Coupe out here in Shanghai on Sunday evening lies a critical car for Mercedes in general and its prospects in the UK in particular.
The significance of the car is not its coupe styling that when it goes into production next year (as it most certainly will), will provide MB with a direct rival to the BMW X4. It is that from the A-pillars forward it will prove hard to distinguish from the standard GLC SUV that arrives this summer.
I know it sounds like an organisation once run by Ken Livingstone from the South Bank, but if you follow Mercedes’ new naming strategy, which is not as infernally complicated as first you might see, you’d discover that this SUV (which is the GL bit) is based on the C-class platform.
That in turn makes it a rival for the BMW X3 and Audi Q5; and as you may have noticed, that’s a market notable for Mercedes’ absence over the years.
Actually, Mercedes has had a car in this category for years, but for reasons perhaps best left in the mists of time, the UK elected not to take the GLK when it first came out in 2008.
The car was ugly and unlovable but omitting from the UK on these grounds is now openly admitted to be a big mistake, allowing Audi and BMW with their hardly gorgeous offerings to stack up tens of thousands of sales denied to Mercedes-Benz.
Even so, this is still a ‘concept’ car so what if anything can be learned from it about how a car you or I might actually one day be able to buy?
It seems to be incredibly close, close enough to think of it as the production car that’s been conceptualised for the show rather that a concept from which a production car will be eventually hewn. I’m told the mirrors, door handles, rear pipes, 21in wheels and the shape of the running boards will all change but beyond that, what you’re looking at here is an up spec GLC 450 AMG coupe in production form, up to a year before you’ll actually be able to go out and buy one.
Visually I don’t get weak-kneed about crossovers like this, but the GLC Coupe looked smart and far more cohesive than its BMW rivals. That new nose treatment with the twin slat grille will become increasingly common too.
Understandably Mercedes is desperate to get the GLC on sale in the UK in any form. With its little GLA brother already going great guns and the M-class (soon to become the GLE) already a long established staple, this is a missing link in a chain of SUV’s stretching from the GLA to the vast GLS when it comes later this year.
They’ll go further too, with a Maybach version of the GLS on the drawing board too. Like SUVs or loathe them, Mercedes alone will soon have seven on sale, and in the case of the GLC in the UK, not a moment too soon.