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£34,950 when new
Haven’t we just done this one? An easy mistake to make, but no. Mercedes launched two crossovers, the GLE and GLE Coupe, just five weeks ago. But this is yet another. The GLC is a size smaller than the GLE. It’s based on the C-class platform. If you will, a match in size and price for the BMW X3. Now let’s get the gags out of the way. If you’re in your 30s, the relevant mnemonic is the Welsh comedy hiphoppers Goldie Lookin’ Chain. If you’re in your 40s it’s the scourge of Maggie, the Greater London Council. So it’s not a replacement for any existing Mercedes then? Not if you live in Britain or, come to that, Australia or other RHD countries. Elsewhere there was a car called the GLK, but it didn’t come here because some of the 4WD transmission parts would have fouled the RHD steering column. This new platform, together with a nine-speed transmission with a carefully shaped housing, solves the incompatibility and makes this a car for both sides of the road. What’s the GLC’s USP? Several. That nine-speed transmission is one. Another is that it’s the only crossover this size with air suspension as an option. Also, like the C-Class that begat it, it’s got a lot of aluminium in the body and chassis, so it’s fairly light. And as it’s a Mercedes, you can spec up almost all the safety and semi-autonomous driving aids of an S-Class. How does it feel? Like a proper Mercedes. It’s beautifully built, solid as a vault, relaxing, safe, comfortable and comforting. But not immediately engaging. Not one of the new legion of ‘sporty crossovers’ then? What strikes you about the progress isn’t its rate but its quietness. In the UK there are but two engine options. The badges say GLC 220 d and GLC 250 d. Both have Merc’s familiar 2.1-litre diesel, both driving all four wheels through an automatic box. They make 170bhp and 204bhp respectively, but the performance step isn’t that significant. The numbers say 8.3 seconds to 62mph versus 7.6 seconds, and that’s about how it feels. But this engine is pretty noisy in the C-class. Here it’s very subdued unless you absolutely wring it out. And the box glides between its many ratios as undetectably as a thief in the night. And soft of chassis? We haven’t tried coil suspension yet, but on air springs, yes. The ride is supple and quiet but the body stays well damped. SUV-style wheel-hop is refreshingly absent, too. Reactions to the steering wheel are measured and progressive rather than agile or direct. But the GLC doesn’t get upset if you push it down a twisty road at a good clip. It’s only if you hurl it at tight bends that you really get the sense the tyres have turned to licorice. And that’s in sport mode. Can it go off-road? Sure can. Steer it away from a track and the GLC would leave the X3 and Q5 stuck on the first little mogul. It’s more like a Discovery Sport. I tried one with the off-road pack that adds several useful configuration options for the traction systems (there are no locking diffs) plus underbody protection. If you have the air suspension it also jacks itself up over obstacles. The body is immensely strong too – I heard no trace of a tell-tale twisting creak even when opposite wheels were alternately lifting a foot in the air. Is it nice to be in? Very. The cabin is much like the C-class’s, which means elegant and solid. Ergonomics are superb too. But the dash and door trims are unnecessarily bulky. That might add to the safe cocooning sensation that SUV buyers tend to want, but I’d prefer more sense of space. Mind you the actual space, front and back, is good-to-generous. Is it another reassuringly expensive Mercedes? The base-version 220 d is £34,950. But that doesn’t even have navigation. You’ll want to add £2495 for the Sport trim, netting you LED headlights, navigation by Garmin, heated seats, a nicer cabin (black matt ash and ambient lighting) and self-parking. The 250 d is just over a grand extra. Both versions rate at 56.5mpg and 129g/km. So if we can have a RHD version of this, what about a four-wheel drive C-class? Yup. When the C-class gets the nine-speed transmission later this year, 4Matic and RHD will at last become reconciled. One last thing. Wasn’t there a GLC Coupe concept car? There was, and it’ll make production, ready to tackle the Evoque and X4.