Words Angus Boswell, Images Andrew Middleton
When the latest crop of Mercedes SUVs was launched, I had some difficulty pinning down exactly which was which. Like the automotive equivalent of Matryoshka, Russian nesting dolls, each one is similar in the looks department. It’s only when they are lined up together you can see the upsizing order of things.
And forgive me for stupidity too, but at first I couldn’t understand the naming convention. Like BMW’s 1s, 2s ,3s, 4s and Xs, Mercedes has also been afflicted with niche-chasing at a higher speed than public comprehension. But it’s simple really, when it comes to the new crop of Merc softroaders. The smaller hatchbacklike GLA is based on A-Class, the middleground GLC on test here is based on the C-Class, and the rather larger GLE, which replaces the old ML, is based on the E-Class. And then there’s the GL, which is based on an apartment block.
Like the proverbial perfect spot between the three bears’ hot and cold porridge, the GLC is a great surprise – for its refinement, its dynamic ability and its breadth of talent. Yet at the first few glances, it shouts none of these. To be honest, it’s the kind of Q-car that you could easily lose in a car park. My daughter mistook it for the home Forester; at work, nobody could readily identify the latest test unit. Maybe that’s a good and bad thing, because it’s a design that grows on you.
The clever creases and bold grille hide the extra volume that makes so many SUVs ugly. It has the extra height, volume and large load area that SUV buyers want, yet it is not so big and imposing that it will chase away those who don’t want to make a dramatic statement about new-found riches.
Inside is another surprise on this highend GLC 300 model: incredible attention to detail and premium finishes at every level, from the fine stitching of the sculpted leather seats, to the ergonomic facets on each control and human-machine interface.
It is honestly a treat to just sit and take it all in. Which, strangely enough, you are likely to do for all the wrong reasons. Unless you are familiar with new Mercedes products, you find they do things differently in Stuttgart. Thank heavens the old foot operated parking brake is gone, but you will also search long and hard for the drive selector (which looks like an indicator stalk). Indicate left, select neutral… be ashamed.
Cruise control is another stalk. There’s a forest of the things, all finely crafted and with a multitude of functions not immediately apparent. The steering wheel too, is very busy, representing another layer of interaction with the extremely refined and multi-layered display screen software.