Sail into higher Cs

The Courier-Mail - Motoring - - Prestige - JOSHUA DOWL­ING NA­TIONAL MO­TOR­ING ED­I­TOR

MEET the Mercedes-Benz SUV that’s tipped to out­sell the Ford Ter­ri­tory — even though its real ri­vals are fel­low lux­ury mod­els the Audi Q5 and BMW X3.

The Mercedes GLC, or a ve­hi­cle like it, was sup­posed to be here five years ago.

But ex­ec­u­tives in Stuttgart de­cided, un­fath­omably, not to de­velop a right-hand drive version of its pre­de­ces­sor.

Af­ter much bang­ing of fists on cor­po­rate ta­bles, the over­sight has been fixed. Benz now has a freshly minted mid­size SUV to join Aus­tralia’s fastest grow­ing mar­ket seg­ment.

As the say­ing goes, if you’re last in you bet­ter be best dressed. The GLC faces some strong com­pe­ti­tion but Mercedes had the ad­van­tage of study­ing its ri­vals be­fore de­cid­ing what equip­ment to add and how much to charge for it.

The range starts from $64,500 for the GLC 220 diesel, steps up to $67,900 for the GLC 250 petrol and tops out at $69,900 for the GLC 250 diesel.

Stan­dard fare in­cludes a nine-speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion with all-wheel drive, nine airbags, au­to­matic emer­gency brak­ing, 360-de­gree view cam­era, LED head­lights and tail-lights, pow­ered tail­gate, au­to­matic park­ing (par­al­lel and per­pen­dic­u­lar) and blind-spot mon­i­tor­ing.

But it wouldn’t be a lux­ury car if it didn’t have an ex­ten­sive op­tions list. Buy­ers can add: a “vi­sion” pack in­clud­ing head-up dis­play and panorama sun­roof for $3900; high-end au­dio and larger cen­tral dis­play screen ($2990); off-road pack ($3990); and air sus­pen­sion ($3990).

Metal­lic paint adds $1990 or $2990 — and only two of the 11 hues are non­metal­lic. The GLC shares un­der­pin­nings with the award-win­ning C-Class sedan. It’s a com­mon for­mula for faux-wheel drives, to base a roomier and high-rid­ing ve­hi­cle on a sedan sib­ling.

The up-mar­ket in­te­rior, de­spite its sim­i­lar­i­ties to the C-Class, is a be­spoke de­sign.

Some may wa­ver be­tween a C-Class wagon and the GLC. The wagon is 4cm longer than the SUV (so park­ing the GLC is a smidgen eas­ier) and it has a slightly longer cargo area.

But the GLC has more leg room in the rear seats, a taller and wider load area and is 18cm taller over­all, de­liv­er­ing the com­mand­ing view that SUV driv­ers crave.

Most C-Class mod­els are made in South Africa. The GLC, as with the wagon and hotrod C63, comes from Ger­many. No sur­prise, the GLC drives pretty much like a C-Class. The steer­ing feels direct, it feels sure­footed in cor­ners and all-round vi­sion is ex­cel­lent.

One foible we no­ticed on lo­cal roads — which wasn’t ap­par­ent on the over­seas test drive — was that the sus­pen­sion can thump over speed humps and other bumps.

Most mod­els come with 20inch wheels and tyres. Mercedes has a 19-inch pack­age as a no­cost op­tion but the 19s didn’t seem to make the GLC ride any smoother dur­ing our test­ing.

En­gines (one petrol and a diesel in two states of tune) are rel­a­tively quiet, re­fined and ef­fort­less. The nine-speed auto en­sures they move smartly off the line and then help the en­gine tick along at low revs once at cruis­ing speed.

I couldn’t feel the dif­fer­ence be­tween the diesels and, were I toss­ing up be­tween oil­ers, I would take the more af­ford­able op­tion and pocket the $5400 dif­fer­ence, or put that money to­wards a couple of the op­tion packs.

How­ever, I pre­ferred the 2.0litre turbo petrol over the diesel twins. The power de­liv­ery is slightly smoother again, and more in­stan­ta­neous. Ad­vances in petrol en­gine tech­nol­ogy mean they run nearly as eco­nom­i­cally as diesels.

If most of your driv­ing is in the city and sub­urbs, the petrol GLC would be my first choice, es­pe­cially given that diesels are not par­tic­u­larly fuel-ef­fi­cient in stop-start city driv­ing.

But if the ma­jor­ity of your com­mute is at free­way speeds or on the open road be­tween ru­ral towns, then the diesel would be the pick. A stand­out in the lux­ury SUV class. Shame it didn’t ar­rive five years ago.

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