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New models - Mercedes-Benz - GLC

First drive: Benz's GLC set to scare Audi, BMW

Fashionably late: Mercedes latest offering, the GLC, is tasked with clawing back ground lost against its mid-size SUV rivals, the BMW X3 and Audi Q5.

It will late to the prestige SUV party but Mercedes’ GLC will make quite an entrance

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Mercedes-Benz logo24 Jul 2015

By TIM ROBSON in SWITZERLAND

WITH SUV sales continuing to skyrocket at the expense of almost everything else, and Mercedes Benz seemingly having the Midas touch at the moment, it is hard to see how the GLC won’t be a success in Australia.

Take the C-Class, for example. Currently selling at about 900 units a month, it’s second only to the Toyota Camry in the mid-size segment, and far and away the premium sector leader. Its compact range, too, is killing it across three categories, (A-Class, B-Class, CLA and GLA) while the rest of the range kicks goals of its own.

The GLC starts a long way behind the eight ball, though its competitors are well established, and pricing will be a key factor.

Mercedes will throw down three challengers initially, with more to come in 2016 and 2017 (including a fire-breathing twin-turbo AMG version). The entry point to the line-up will be the GLC220d at $64,500 plus on-roads, followed closely by the 250 petrol at $67,900 and rounded off by the 250d at $69,900.

At the entry level, it sits in just above Audi’s entry level Q5 diesel, which sells for $62,600, and just below BMW’s xDrive20d at $64,700. The five-door Range Rover Evoque Pure AWD diesel, meanwhile, is $53,395.

The GLC stands out by, well, not standing out. There’s been a few polarising designs coming from Mercedes of late, especially across the smaller car line, but the GLC treads a much safer, but no less stylish, path.

It’s easy to conjure up thoughts the C-Class estate, but the GLC’s rear end is more gently angled from the top of the tailgate to the rear bumper, while the long bonnet and bluff nose lends a very distinctive look. It’s actually 46mm shorter than the estate at 4656mm long, though it’s longer than both the Q5 (27mm) and the X3 (99mm). At 1890mm, it’s wider than both of its chief competitors, too.

It’s a standard five-seater with no seven-seat option available, and a powered tailgate is a standard fitment across the line. Switch-operated flip-down rear seats are a handy addition, but the cargo floor sits quite high. Speaking of cargo, it’ll take 550 litres of stuff with the seats up and 1600 with them down (exactly the same as the X3, while the Audi measures 540/1540 litres).

Being behind the wheel is a familiar feeling to anyone who’s driven the new C-Class – loads and loads of buttons and stalks to try and decipher as best as you can. There are four stalks on the left of the steering wheel, for example, in addition to two on the right, while the wheel itself also sports an array of buttons.

There are more on the centre console, as well as a mouse-like controller on the for the tablet-like screen and a drive mode toggle switch thrown in for good measure.

While the functions themselves are great, it’s an overly complex layout that’s hard to operate on the run. It’ll get easier with familiarity, but it’s daunting from the get-go.

Thankfully, getting in the 220d, starting it and driving away presents no issue, revealing a softer, more pliant ride than the C-Class with which it shares its chassis.

Both versions of the 2.1-litre turbo-diesel four are quiet and refined, though the 125kW/400Nm 220d version needs to work a little harder to move the 1845kg GLC than the 150kW/500Nm 250d.

The 250 petrol, meanwhile is quieter again, and while not up to the diesels for torque at 350Nm, its 155kW has to push around 110kg less.

All three run Merc’s new nine-speed transmission, which won’t be as useful in speed-limited Australia. The top three gears are essentially overdrives, and the GLC won’t drop into ninth gear below 110km/h on a straight, level stretch of road. The GLC is also fitted with Merc’s 4Matic all-wheel-drive system that divides drive with a 45/55 per cent split between the front and rear wheels.

Our testing circuit was too short to get an idea of how close the fuel figures were (5.5 litres per 100 kilometres for the diesels and 7.1L/100km for the petrol) but all three variants showed numbers that were close to the claimed figures.

The five-mode drive select toggle is best left in comfort mode, though the first of the two sport modes is also acceptable. The dampers firm up a bit much in Sport plus, while the self-shifter hangs onto its gears longer than was strictly necessary. The GLC’s electric steering also artificially firms up in sport mode, but not overly so.

There’s a fair bit of wind noise from around the side mirrors as speeds exceed 110km/h on the German test roads, but cabin ambience is otherwise solid.

Visibility out the front is more than adequate, though the high bonnet and bluff nose makes judging front distances a little tough. Rearward vision is spot on, though, and the 360-degree camera option makes parking and manoeuvring a doddle.

It also makes negotiating off-road obstacles easy, too, if you’ve equipped your GLC with the optional off-road engineering package. An additional five off-road modes are accessed via a centre console switch, while the air suspension can be raised an additional 50mm.

Steep ascents and descents are easy meat for the GLC, while a rocking function allows the car to dig itself out of precarious positions. The tyres aren’t off-road specific, though, so it won’t be possible to get in and out of everything.

Rear seat room is excellent, with miles of head room and knee room for larger passengers. Individual vents and temperature controls are a nice touch.

Mercedes Benz Australia reckons the GLC won’t knock either the C-Class or CLA off their respective sales perches, but the GLC will give them both a fright.

It’s a handsome SUV with plenty of standard spec and decent performance right out of the box.

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