AT A GLANCE

Benz’s baby SUV, as ca­pa­ble as it is com­fort­able, shares its un­der­pin­nings with the Car of the Year

The Advertiser - Motoring - - PRESTIGE - JOSHUA DOWL­ING NA­TIONAL MO­TOR­ING EDITOR

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.

VER­DICT

Ve­hi­cles like this will keep the SUV sales boom­ing for some time yet.

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