Mercedes-Benz was early into the posh SUV game with its Alabama-built ML, country kin to the BMW X5 from South Carolina.
Many more soft-roaders have followed from both these famous German marques and from their sporting rivals, Audi.
Mercedes-Benz increased sales in the UK by 17 per cent last year to close on BMW and Audi. Whether Brexit will dint these fruitful Germanic paydays remains a moot point. Britain is one of its best markets.
Tested here is the Mercedes-Benz GLC, based on the C-Class saloon, hoisted up for ground clearance and fitted with intelligent 4matic all-wheel-drive and nine-speed automatic gearing. The bread and butter versions (more like brioche and beurre tres fins at these prices – from £36,000) use a 2.1 litre four-cylinder diesel. Those needing extra punch can choose a 3-litre V6 diesel. There’s a rapid 3-litre V6 43 AMG petrol but if that’s your taste in SU vehicles you may as well do the job right and get a Porsche Macan.
Jaguar joined this mid-sized SUV band last year with its F-Pace, which would be the most tempting rival to the Mercedes.
Even the cheapest, an X3, leaves scant change out of £34,000 and prices then charge excitedly towards £40,000. Diesel power is not mandatory but common.
Diesel is a tempting buy because it tempers the thirst of an SUV. The pollution fall-out in populated areas is, however, at last getting air time in the news.
The GLC is a five-seater estate with pavement looks which bring admiration from people. More of a crowd-pleaser is the costlier four-door coupe version, the sexiest rival to a Macan or the Jaguar.
GLC prices start in SE grade at £36,030 for the 168bhp 220d. The 201bhp 250d is £37,185 and the 251bhp 350d is £41,635. Each is offered in Sport and AMG Line specification – this last trim adding about £3,500 to the cost of the SE. The 362bhp petrol AMG 43 with air suspension costs £48,470. Finance plans over three years run from £359 monthly after a £7,728 deposit for the GLC 220d SE with metallic paint to £620 monthly for the AMG 43 with a £6,999 deposit.
Standard kit on an SE includes a power tailgate, 17-inch wheels, anti-crash systems, climate control, smart fake leather seats, selectable driving modes. The Sport, a £1,995 upgrade, is good value and includes 18-inch wheels, parking assistance and a reversing camera, navigation, LED headlamps, black ash trim, heated front seats etc. The parking system, navigation and heated seats can be had as a £1,295 option for SE in an Executive pack.
Those taking rougher tracks can have a £495 kit which uses 18-inch wheels, more ground clearance, under body protection, traction management to suit the terrain, hill descent control, brighter lighting at low speeds and a sharper front approach angle.
On test here is the 250d AMG Line – a premium of £1,495 over Sport. There’s various AMG detailing, 19 inch AMG wheels and sports suspension for the more demanding driver. Cost: £39,595 – plus another Big Ten in options such as air suspension, 20-inch wheels, an electric tow bar, anti-collision systems, audio, lighting and seating upgrades and a fixed glass roof.
All ab fab but if buyers want to get out with just a “basic” GLC they will have to avoid a peep at the options sheet.
In its test spec it is quoted a 56.5mpg, 143g CO2, 138mph and 0-62mph in 7.6 seconds. In use, running unloaded, I got a best of 45mpg (motorway), 35mpg on my mixed commuter route and 30mpg running around. Ergo, rather short on what I had hoped for.
The 0-62mph time flatters the way it felt in regular use, lacking the mid-range punch I’d expected from 368 lb ft of torque.
However, with me on board and a tank of fuel this was a two-ton car.
Just sit back, enjoy the very smooth transmission, the whisper of the engine, the lovely cabin design and don’t expect a racehorse. It’s a gentleman’s SUV.
The rear seats drop flat with a silent sigh at the touch of a switch. The load floor has, unusually, a lock so that valuables or hazardous items can be kept safe.
On the move, the air suspension makes it commendably calm on those oversize wheels.
The tyres were 255/45 Pirelli Scorpion Verde run-flats. In snow you’d probably want to have the Verde All Seasons or the Scorpion Zero or similar tyres from other companies.
Verdict: Assured status and assuring motoring with a bit of a thirst.