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£48,550 when new
Too many letters and numbers. Which Mercedes SUV is this? This is the Mercedes-Benz GLC, so it’s the C-Class-sized SUV, sitting below the GLE and GLS and above the GLA. The 43 refers to its 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 engine – it’s the ‘entry-level’ AMG version, and a 63 with the 4.0-litre twin turbo V8 will probably be along in due course. In the meantime, this one has 362bhp and 384lb ft of torque from 2000rpm. This is enough to send it to 62mph in 4.9secs and on to a top speed of 155mph. So yeah, it’s not slow. The other pertinent figures are 34.0mpg and 189g/km of CO2, along with a list price of £47,875. Am I right in thinking you don’t particularly like this engine? In some ways you are. When we’ve driven it in Merc’s sporty stuff we’ve never found it that personable or engaging (see Mercedes SLC43 and Mercedes C43), while in the E-Class it seems to have to work too hard to be satisfying. However, this is the sweet spot. GLC + 43 = good car. I’m as surprised about this as anyone, since last week I drove a GLC250d coupe and reckon it’s one of the least appealing cars I’ve driven this year. I’m not a fan of those X6-derivative SUV coupes as a rule, but that one’s stiffer suspension matched with a diesel burner felt like a poor fit. It felt itchy to drive, not comfortable in its own skin. This, oddly, is the opposite. Why oddly? Because no-one’s going to buy it. It’s a small, over-powered SUV with comparatively high emissions and a badge that doesn’t say Porsche or Jaguar. The Macan and F-Pace have a niche because they’re sporty. The GLC doesn’t. It’s a family motor, aligns itself with the Land Rover Discovery Sport and BMW X3, and neither of them is even available with a petrol in the UK. Because no-one buys them. So the GLC43 is a hard sell. But it’s one of those cars that just gels. If you attempt to drive it like a Macan and hotshoe about the place, you miss the point. It might be 100kg lighter than the Porsche, but it’s not as agile or rewarding. There’s a bit of lean in corners, the steering isn’t as accurate. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fast thing, and will get itself down a road with commendable, surprisingly pace, but it’s a seven-tenths car. Guide it smoothly and you’ll get good speed out of it. What do you make of the engine? It’s bang on for this application. The right amount of weight to move, assertive without being aggressive, and there’s always a bit of tune and rasp from the exhaust that reminds you you’re not driving a diesel. It’s hard to put a value on that, but it makes the car feel different, puts a bit of a spring in its step. The price you pay is daily economy of about 26-28mpg. I don’t think that’s too bad for a car that will charge hard enough at the horizon to keep a VW Golf R honest. Turbo lag is there, but not really an issue due to the car’s more relaxed attitude. Torque comes on strong and the auto does a good job of shuffling itself between the nine gears. Don’t bother paddle shifting it – you’ll give yourself RSI. And besides, the paddles aren’t that responsive. Just leave it be and you’ll be happy. Sport and Comfort settings are the ones to choose from. Leave Eco alone as it basically puts the car – or at least the throttle – to sleep, and Sport+ makes it unnecessarily energetic, giving the throttle too much snap off the line. How is it inside? Not as practically minded as a Disco Sport if I’m honest – premium German stuff tends to be a bit more self-consciously stylish rather than focusing on family needs and necessities. But again, that sort of fits with the GLC43’s remit. It’s as practical as it needs to be, it’s as spacious as it ought to be, it’s good up front and it rides well. Does it? Those wheels are 19s… I know, but they’re 55 profile at the front, 50 at the rear, which gives a bit of squidge to proceedings. Airmatic suspension is standard and, again, both Comfort and Sport settings give you the right amount of support and control without introducing any harshness. Any other rivals to think about other than the Porsche and Jaguar? Not really. The Audi SQ5 maybe – that’s a better car than most people credit, and so is the BMW X3 35d. But the Merc’s engine does get under your skin. Enough to justify petrol over diesel? I’m not sure – like I said, this is a tough sell and doesn’t have a specific, clear USP. The Macan does handling, the F-Pace does style, the GLC43 does… well, answers below, please. But you like it? I do, it’s a much more satisfying car than I expected, and would get under your skin, if you let it. It’s comfortable, rapid, unassuming and well adapted for the task. It’s really well kitted out as standard, and with only £5,000 of options (for a £52,940 total), this one felt properly upmarket: Burmester sound system, black ash wood trim, panoramic roof, 360-degree camera etc. It surprised me. Reckon it would surprise you too, if you gave it a chance.