ROAD TEST: Mercedes’ stylish star is a latecomer to the party

FOR years, Mercedes had its GLK, a small, boxy thing that did rather well in Europe and the US. It was never available in SA as the company did not manufacture it in right-hand drive. That left a big gap for the Stuttgart brand that saw them watching as Audi launched its Q5, BMW its X3 and Range Rover its Evoque.

The Koreans were also luring people to their stables with models such as the Hyundai Santa Fe and Kia Sorento.

Then everything changed at Merc, and someone decided that not everyone drives on the wrong side of the road and that there is a market outside of Germany and the US that might like to drive something with a star on the front that is smaller than an M-Class (GLE in modern Mercedes speak).

Enter the GLC, which it will come as no surprise to hear, sits on the popular C-Class platform and which aims to take away some market share from those key rivals.

It has its work cut out for it. The others all have quite a head start but with Mercedes enjoying a fair bit of popularity these days, it has appeal from the start.

Appeal also comes in the form of styling. It’s a rather good-looking machine with an assertive look up front and clean side profile lines. Unlike BMW and Audi models, it does not really look like any of its siblings in the SUV lineup, particularly at the rear with its bulbous flanks.

Being the GLC, the interior is fairly standard C-Class fare, which means you get clean lines, high quality materials and great build quality. You also get a reasonable level of equipment, although the options list is rather extensive and can push the price well beyond the R752,198 of our AMG Line model.

The boot space is decent too at 550l but fold the rear seats down and that expands to a mountain bike swallowing 1,600l for those who enjoy tackling a trail on a Sunday morning.

Getting to the trail is also going to be straightforward thanks to 4Matic all-wheel drive and decent ground clearance. There are also scuff plates front and rear to protect the vehicle over the odd obstacle and our test unit had side steps for the same purpose.

Under the bonnet lies a 2.0l turbocharged petrol motor that produces 175kW and 370Nm. It is linked to Merc’s 9G-Tronic gearbox and apart from the typical slight lag during initial pull off, it provides decent performance. You get the option of various drive modes and, of course, there are paddles for that rare moment when you want to feel more involved in the drive.

The ride is comfortable if a little soft in order to suit the US market, but it was more than suitable for the job of meandering around town for a week. In fact it rode rather like a C-Class, but with that all-important higher driving position that gives you a slightly better view of what’s going on around you.

Overall Mercedes has done a very good job with the GLC. It does not set any new benchmarks that make the competition rush back to their drawing boards, but it does exactly what it sets out to do — provide a C-Class experience in a vehicle that can venture slightly off the beaten track and suit those with a more active lifestyle. Or just those who want a smaller Merc SUV than the GLE for the school run.

Merc is not done with the GLC, though. The company is set to launch a coupe version to rival BMW’s X4 in the form of the GLC coupe.

If it is anything like the GLE coupe, then it should be a good offering which actually has decent boot space and practicality, but we will have to wait and see on that one.

MERCEDES GLC 300 AMG LINE

WE LIKE:Styling, interior, comfort, practicality

WE DISLIKE:Price, soft ride, options

VERDICT: The C-Class of SUVs

TECH SPECS

ENGINE

Type: Turbocharged petrol

Capacity: 1,991cc

Power: 175kW at 5,500r/min

Torque: 370Nm between 1,300 and 4,000r/min

TRANSMISSION

Type: Nine-speed automatic

DRIVETRAIN

Type: All-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE (claimed)

0-100km/h: 6.5 seconds

Top Speed: 235km/h (limited)

Fuel Consumption: 7.6l/100km

Emission: 177g/km

STANDARD FEATURES

Leather upholstery, electrically adjustable front seats, seven airbags, ABS with EBD, traction control, stability control, multifunction steering wheel, cruise control, Attention Assist, touchscreen infotainment system, Bluetooth connectivity, LED daytime running lights, Isofix rear seat anchors.

COST OF OWNERSHIP

Warranty: One-year/unlimited km

Maintenance Plan: Five-year/ 100,000km

Price: R752,198

Lease*: R15,981 per month

* At 10% over 60 months no deposit

MOTOR NEWS star rating: Four stars out of five

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