Saturday 21 September 2019

Mercedes GLC: Can this new SUV stand the test of diesel time?

Excellent handling and new engine a great performer, but doubts hover over diesel

Powerful and responsive: The new GLC SUV from Mercedes
Powerful and responsive: The new GLC SUV from Mercedes
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

I often think of how people must feel a year or so after buying a new car. It's worth a lot less; that goes with the territory. But even more irksome must be news that a newer, fresher, better model has just arrived.

I know it's how things are in the fast-paced world of private transport these days. And it's the reason I always advise people to ask for information on when an upgrade or brand new model is due. Knowledge is power in this game.

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One thing that lessens the sense of loss is knowing that, regardless of its modernity, you are buying something for the longer haul. That's why it is so important to know what you want, why and for how long.

Take the case of the latest compact SUV from Mercedes, the GLC. Here's a car I've liked in its previous incarnation. I liked it so much I put it ahead of key, even newer, rivals such as the Audi Q5, BMW X3 and Volvo XC60.

The bad news for anyone who bought one of that vintage is that there's a new version on sale now.

It is a major improvement on a number of fronts, though visually there hasn't been that much done other than a few nip-and-tucks and smoothing of looks. Take that as a criticism.

One of the major changes comes within the cabin; more specifically, the new cockpit with its MBUX infotainment system (say 'Hey, Mercedes' and the 'lady' asks how can she help).

Is there a finer sight on a dash than a twin-screen Mercedes stretching across the domains of most things from radio to satnav?

I know it's a cliché to extol the virtues of a cabin being a 'nice place to be' (I swore I'd never use that phrase) but it more or less sums up how good the GLC interior can be. One, off-beat, item I noticed (I'm becoming perverse in picking up idiosyncrasies) was how close the thick steering wheel was to the 'hood' that shades the screen.

I know proper driving culture says hands should not cross the top of the wheel, but mine did and they felt pinched by the gap twixt them and the hood. Did no one in Mercedes cop the narrow gap? (I don't have large hands by the way. And, sorry, but this is a new low in nitpicking.)

Of far greater consequence is the arrival of the new Merc-built 1,950cc, 194bhp diesel. The predecessor churned many a kilometre in several of the company's models. This is another manifestation of the new engine family the automaker spent €3bn in developing. Is it money well spent in view of diesel's much anticipated demise shortly? It is if you think medium term because it was smooth, powerful and responsive. I still say a good diesel is a great drive. Longer term? Who can say?

Strangely enough for an SUV, the quality of the ride and handling added a thick layer of satisfaction. I noticed it straightaway. The quality of damping was immediately apparent. Similarly, the suspension's pliability stopped short of being harsh/sporty (a pity it doesn't do so in the A-Class for example) and provided us with a smooth series of drives.

It wasn't as sporty as the X3 or as downright solid feeling as the Q5 but I thought it mixed the elements better overall. It felt a bit like lots of tweaks had been wrought to get the balance. It worked well. And as a 4WD, it had surprising ability when I drove it earlier over a special course. There are 2WD versions as well to bring down the entry price.

The thing is, though, the GLC is hardly a household name, is it? I think the others have a greater recognition factor.

After driving this newest version, I don't know if I can see people switching from rivals in their droves. But the SUV market is expanding, so I can see people switching from a posh saloon or estate to something as instantly accessible as the GLC.

It doesn't offend in any major way (I still would have loved more visual dramatics). Even the boot is a good size despite excellent room in the cabin.

So would I buy it?

God knows what is coming down the line for diesel-powered cars like this. It mightn't be worth an awful lot in four/five years' time.

But I think quality will out and on that basis, yes, I'd buy it (substantial finances permitting, of course).

I think it would do a lot to ameliorate that feeling of something new - or radically changed - coming along in a couple of years.

It is a car I'd live with for a good while. Given the current uncertainty, of course, I'd almost certainly have to.

 

Facts & figures

Mercedes GLC 220d MATIC

AMG Line, 1,950cc, diesel, 194bhp, 5.2/6litres/100km, 140g/km, tax €280. Price €52,660; on test €62,487.

Spec included 19in alloys, AMG front apron/sports pedals, Artico leather, MBUX, heated front seats, array of safety systems, reversing camera, LED performance headlights, sports suspension. Extras included: AMG Line, Advantage package.

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