A whole new world

If you add up all the vehicles Mercedes currently offer with an all-wheel drive system it would total eighty-eight. And even though they encapsulate nearly every sector of the marketplace, Mercedes have yet to make their presence felt in the booming premium mid-sized SUV market.

There was the boxy GLX, which was only ever available with left-hand drive, so it meant UK buyers went looking elsewhere, mainly to the Audi and BMW camps – it was never in the same league as its German rivals either.

The GLX, however, is finally being phased out, replaced instead with the new GLC, which went on sale last October – and with right-hand drive too. It also marks the start of Mercedes launching a batch of brand new all-wheel drive vehicles over the next 12 months (the prefixed ‘GL’ now becomes shorthand for ‘fitted with 4matic’).

Mercedes are clearly taking this fight very seriously and have positioned the GLC to go head-to-head with the Audi Q5 and BMW X3, which is a tough battle, even for Mercedes.

The GLC does make a case for itself as soon as it’s driven. Since it shares many of its mechanical components with its C-Class saloon brother, the two cars drive in a very similar way – which is nothing to complain about. The steering is consistently weighted, accurate and precise, and it displays excellent body control, arguably better than the X3.

This all makes the GLC feel very nimble for a car of its size and shape. It rarely encourages you to make the most of its abilities, but when you do indulge yourself, its superb composure when tackling challenging roads is remarkable.

A lot of its handling skills can be attributed to the GLC’s 4Matic system which distributes power to the wheel(s) most in need – which is the same principle it applies when given an off-road mission. Despite the GLC’s go anywhere appearance, it really doesn’t have the ground clearance or approach angles to ever be considered a hardcore mud-plugger, even when fitted with the optional off-road package.

1126678_BEH_2820It’s still worth considering this option as it also includes a selectable air suspension system which makes the ride a lot more refined. You will have to find another £495 though, in addition to the GLC’s starting price of £34,950.

From launch there will be two diesel engines to choose, the 220d and 250d, mated to a new nine-speed automatic transmission. These are actually the same 2.1-litre twin-turbo units, just with two different power outputs – 168bhp and 210bhp. Economy and emissions ratings are identical, with both producing 129g/km of CO2 and averaging 56.5mpg. A plug-in hybrid will follow.

There is nothing especially ground-breaking about the interior of the GLC; it’s as conservative as car design gets. Those in the front get figure-hugging seats, and a wide range of adjustments to ensure a comfortable journey, while those seated in the rear benefit from the longer wheelbase and the extra legroom it brings with it.

The rear bench usefully splits and folds flat to the floor to expand boot space from 550 litres to 1,600 litres, which makes it one of the largest in its class.

Offered in three trims – SE, Sport and AMG Line – the GLC is surprisingly well equipped. All cars feature a suite of safety equipment, touchscreen monitor, reserving cameras, powered tailgate, DAB radio and keyless entry.

Still, the attention to detail is what counts, and the level of fit and finish, sumptuous quality of materials, and new high-tech gadgets all make the GLC feel competitive with the best premium SUVs around.

With the GLC, Mercedes are throwing down the gauntlet of intent. They may be the last to join the mid-sized SUV party but they’re not about to miss out on any of the fun.

A beautifully crafted SUV, intentionally designed to appeal to those seeking driveway kudos. Its limited ground clearance will always dictate how far off-road it will travel.

Price: £34,950–£36,105
Fuel: 56.5mpg
CO2: 129g/km
On Sale Date: Now, delivery Oct

About Danny Cobbs
Each month our motoring guru Danny Cobbs takes to the road in the newest and most exciting new vehicles and he tells us all about it.