AT A GLANCE
Benz’s baby SUV, as capable as it is comfortable, shares its underpinnings with the Car of the Year
IMAGINE hanging by your feet from the window of a skyscraper. That’s the fear I feel as I look at the ground far below. I’m inching slowly down what feels like a near-vertical face on a man-made off-road course, my seat belt almost choking me.
I’m convinced gravity will take over at any moment. The back of the car will slowly shift its weight above my head and the car will slam on to its roof.
As the drama unfolds, I’m writing the story in my head, or at least the Hollywood version.
What really happens is that we scrape through unmarked, neither occupants (me and my Mercedes engineer passenger) nor vehicle, although back on the level road I feel the need to check the giant three-pointed badge on the grille for scratches.
Meet the new Benz GLC, the brand’s answer to the boom in medium-sized luxury SUVs. A boom, incidentally, it believes will “never” end.
As you might have guessed, the military-style exercises have nothing to do with realworld driving but Mercedes was determined to demonstrate that its new “faux-wheel-drive” is anything but a pretender, even if the main tasks in the urban jungle will be toting kids or venturing to the tennis courts.
Having survived the obstacle course, I ask the engineer alongside me — who is responsible for the GLC’s 4WD hardware and software and who clearly has nerves of steel — why Mercedes bothered going to all that effort. “I asked the same question,” he says.
For the past three years this man and his engineering colleagues have done nothing but develop a car to traverse places the rest of us fear to tread. That’s why it’s so surprising that of all the new generation softroaders, this one appears to be among the softest.
To butch it up a bit, Mercedes Australia will add side steps; the optional 4WD pack adds a pretend bash plate on the lower edge of the front bumper.
I say “pretend” because it’s made of light alloy and plastic that would certainly come off second-best if it made contact with a rock. Or a steel-capped boot for that matter.
The GLC arrives in Australia in December and initially there will be two diesel variants split by a petrol model. All are turbocharged.
The 220d with the lower output diesel will be $64,500 and the beefier, range-topping 250d will be $69,900. The petrol 250 will be $67,900.
Standard fare includes a nine-speed auto transmission, nine airbags, automatic emergency braking, 360-degree view camera, LED headlights and tail-lights, and blind-spot monitoring.
So what’s it like on the road, once your nerves are restored? It’s pretty good.
This should come as little surprise given the GLC is based on the Benz C-Class sedan, the reigning Carsguide Car of the Year and winner of countless overseas gongs.
The interior could double for the C-Class’s familiar upmarket layout, although we’re told it has a unique dashboard.
Most noticeable are the extra headroom front and rear, and the massive cargo hold (bigger than its German peers and even more capacious than the C-Class wagon).
There is no spare tyre because run-flats (which can go a limited distance at low speeds if punctured) are standard.
The diesels are relatively refined (for diesels), although of course they are noisier than the petrol variant.
Other reviewers have found the nine-speed auto fidgety at times and abrupt when changing gears. I didn’t notice on the three variants I tested.
My pick is the petrol model. It has the most oomph and is the most pleasant to drive, with instant response at any speed, so it’s better suited to the city and suburbs.
I would go for a diesel only if I did a lot of open road driving, because the economy benefit around town is marginal at best.
Criticisms are few. The price is competitive (not just against rivals but by SUV standards), it’s well equipped and drives nicely.
There’s one conspicuous flaw. The sun visors are not long enough to block glare coming through the side glass, and they don’t extend (as in other cars).
Perhaps it’s a testament to how well rounded the GLC is because, begrudgingly, that’s all I could find to fault it.
Vehicles like this will keep the SUV sales booming for some time yet.