Sunday 25 March 2018

It’s the Year of the SUV: Eddie Cunningham drives the new Mercedes GLC

New Mercedes-Benz GLC
New Mercedes-Benz GLC
New Mercedes-Benz GLC (interior)

Eddie Cuningham

Mercedes – like everyone else - are ramping up their Crossover/SUV ranks and have just rolled out the new GLC.

Not so long ago I drove and reviewed the large GLE and GLE Coupe.

Now comes the GLC, based on the C-Class saloon.

And before the end of the year the S-Class based GLS will be rolled out as they make it their ‘year of the SUV’.

I’ve just been driving the GLC on routes that took in parts of Switzerland, Germany and France.

I might as well have been sitting in the C-Class such is the closeness of cabin layout and design.

That is a good thing, I can tell you. The C-Class cabin is a match for anything on the market these days and is one of the reasons I gave it my second highest vote as juror in the World Car of the Year awards last spring.

But while the GLC is based on the same platform as the saloon it has a longer wheelbase and is much, much roomier. Surprisingly so.

And, of course, being a crossover/SUV it takes on a far different look and stance. 

The GLC slots in between the smaller GLA and the larger GLE. It is the first Merc of its kind and size in Ireland as it replaces the GLK which was only made in left-hand drive.

The models coming here first – in October - will have all-wheel-drive (4Matic) as standard.

But there will be a 2WD 2-litre diesel GLC 200d next summer which is expected to become a big seller.

I’m reliably told the price for those arriving this autumn will start in the mid-€40,000s.

Initially, there will be three models. Diesels include the 2.2-litre 170bhp GLC220d and the 2-litre (204bhp) GLC 250d.

The petrols include a 211bhp GLC 250 and, later, a GLC 350e plug-in hybrid with 211bhp, plus 116bhp from the electric motor, (60g/km, €170 road tax).

All have 9spd automatic transmission except the plug-in, which has a 7spd.

The GLC’s main competitors include the Audi Q5, BMW X3, Lexus NX, Volvo XC60, Mazda CX-5 and Honda CR-V to mention a few.

It is a striking car from the front, no doubt, but much less so from the rear and has a typical Crossover side-profile. They have one version with a truly awful chrome streak across the back bumper. Avoid.

On the road it was comfortable but short on sharpness or drive – a long way from the exuberance of the GLE Coupe. And not as lively or responsive as the excellent Audi Q5. But that is the way Mercedes set up their cars and we mustn’t forget the US will be a big market for it and they like their motors comfortable there. I ramped it up to Sport+ on the drive modes settings and that made a big difference though I suspect most people simply won’t bother. A Mercedes Crossover with this much room for passengers and luggage (rear seats split 40/20/40; when folded the boot has a 1,600-litre capacity) will keep them happy.

I look forward to driving it with conventional suspension on Irish roads.

We also felt the 2-litre diesel in the GLC 220 was garrulous in lower revs though it smoothed out at speed.

Apart from the diesels, it was interesting to try out the plug-in hybrid which Mercedes claim can manage on just 2.6 litres of fuel every 100km. I’m afraid we rather rudely overlooked economy and opted for power (it really can shift) which cost us 6.4l/100km. Drive it carefully and use the electric-only mode properly and this will do 80MPG+ in real-world driving.

Impressive too was the off-road performance of the 2-litre petrol GLC 250. Using only road tyres to get up and down seriously steep slopes and to battle potentially under-belly crunching humps and hollows (air suspension and off-road bumpers helped) it was as good a demonstration of AWD ability as I’ve seen since – well since the GLE a few weeks back.

Not too many buyers will ever need that sort of extreme ability, of course, but it is no harm to have it in reserve I suppose.

Of more interest, I suspect, will be the sizeable range of driver/safety assists and the amount of options you can pick out - as well as the ever-expanding connectivity.

On equipment, for example, there is an Exclusive line with 18ins wheels, a lot of chrome and aluminium highlights while AMG has 19ins alloys and lots of other bits and pieces.

Among the so-called packages are ‘Night’ (dark-tinted glass, black paint finish on exterior mirrors, window frames and roof rails) and Off-Road with five driving programmes and adjustment to raise the chassis.

You can also order a large panoramic glass roof, running boards, LED intelligent lighting and so on.

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