Is Mercedes-Benz's super late entry into this segment a good or bad thing? Or has the X3 and Q5 sorted it out already?
Photos by Azfar Hashim
Once upon a time, no one ever batted an eyelid at a Sports Utility Vehicle. Heck while growing up, there wasn’t even such a thing as a Sports Utility Vehicle – when you see a wagon on stilts, you automatically call it either a Jeep or a Pajero. Even if it’s a Toyota Land Cruiser or a Land Rover. Yeap, the Americans were brilliant at marketing their version on the television, while the Japanese were constantly spotted in expeditions and rallies with theirs.
But suddenly the Germans decided they wanted to be part of the party too. Along came the Mercedes-Benz ML, BMW X5, Porsche Cayenne and Volkswagen Touareg. The Japanese didn’t want to lose out too, churning out more modern versions of their ‘Jeep’ — the Mitsubishi Pajero suddenly won’t look out of place at the driveway of Marina Mandarin, the Toyota Land Cruiser Prado became a status symbol and, later on, Nissan’s Murano became the choice of soccer mums.
You see, despite all that you need to be a big-earner to actually own one. Identifying this, all these manufacturers - again particularly the Germans - produced models that are one rank below. Like how BMW has the 5 Series for the senior executive and 3 Series for the junior executive crowd, the Munich-based marque produced the X3 and then in local context, priced it almost $100k cheaper than the X5. Volkswagen did the same and gave us the Tiguan; Porsche too, by introducing the popular Macan. Mitsubishi, well, whipped out the Outlander and then from Toyota’s corner, the RAV4. Nissan then gave us the X-Trail as well. In other words, this class of cars gave rise to the popularity of the Sports Utility Vehicle acronym and made everyone else forget about the whole everything-is-either-a-Jeep-or-Pajero. Suddenly, there are choices.
Surprisingly however, Mercedes-Benz was quiet; it seemed they would rather focus on the premium market, sticking only to their ML/GL guns.
Yes, you can go off-roading here - it comes standard with Downhill Speed Regulation (DSR), and also helps you drive over loose surfaces
Of course, they probably later on realised just how much they’re losing out in this profitable segment. Mercedes-Benz fans are in abundance, and the number of potential buyers definitely is on the positive side of things, so after years of the X3 (and sorry I forgot to mention the Audi Q5 and even Volvo XC60) raking in the crowd, finally here’s the Mercedes-Benz equivalent: Meet the GLC.
At first sight, the GLC looked substantially curvier than the X3 and XC60; more detailed than the Q5 too. And at the same time, its overall shape masked the fact that it is a heightened C-Class estate (182 mm difference between the two), slapped with a permanent all-wheel drive system because, err, it is an SUV. The GLC250 4MATIC seen here - the only variant officially available for our market — is actually the shortest in height when compared to the likes of the Q5, X3, XC60 and Discovery Sport; but in a surprising twist, it has the longest wheelbase in this same group.
And thanks to that, the GLC250 does feel significantly airy when you’re inside. The seats for the rear three passengers provide ample leg, head and shoulder room. But as all other Mercedes-Benz, those familiar with the likes of the Japanese will find it a tad overly padded here; in this aspect, Volvo’s XC60 has it all figured out. The cockpit is undeniably all C-Class stuff there, which means there’s nothing on earth to fault as everything is solidly put together and clearly labelled. Oh wait, I still do not agree with the piano black finish down the center console though, as it attracts stains, fingerprints and dust. Well if a murder ever occurs here, it will be an easy job for the crime scene investigators…
In terms of boot space, this Mercedes offers 550-litres with all seats up; remove the parcel shelf and stow the rear backrest away, and this expands to 1,600-litres. The figures here put it on par with the X3, while bigger than what the Q5 and XC60 offers. Oh and before I forget, it also comes with a convenient one touch button to fold the rear backrest away, as seen in the new Q7 and RX200t.
As in other Mercedes in the stable with the ‘250’ nomenclature, power comes courtesy of a 2.0-litre turbocharged unit paired to a 9-speed automatic transmission (yes, you’re reading that right). That combination ensures this SUV has 208 bhp and 350 Nm of torque at its disposal, at the same time needing only 7.3 seconds to get from standstill to 100 km/h.
This allows you to change the GLC250's driving mood
Well this is a strong engine and you can feel it every single time you give the accelerator a hard prod. Despite weighing about 300 kg more than the C250 sedan we’ve previously reviewed, it still come across as willing, giving modern hot-hatches a run for their money — more so when you select ‘Sport+’ mode.
Out on the expressway, the GLC250 shows off a rather refined side, especially when you chose ‘Comfort’ mode. Although you rarely see it cruise in 9th, it does a good job of keeping up with traffic even in 8th. Then when overtaking manoeuvres are required, the ‘box would only need to swap down to 7th to give the adequate shove. It seems Mercedes have sorted the transmission very well for our roads.
For a little bit more of play, ‘Sport’ mode is good enough to give you positive steering feedback and controlled body movements — useful too for some fun times down a series of bends. But the height, traction control and 45:65 split all-wheel drive system still cannot defeat the law of physics: Tighter corners will see the GLC250 progressively succumb to understeer.
So there you have it, Mercedes’s latecomer into the premium mid-size SUV segment. Minor grouses aside, it offers a lot of car for your money and with the sub-$221k price tag, places it perfectly between the (ahem) aging X3 xDrive28i ($270k) and Q5 2.0 TFSI quattro ($240k).
Power tailgate another standard issue
Suddenly, being late isn’t such a bad thing after all…