Mercedes GLC – Chunky Mercedes with a rugged streak

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For anyone old enough to remember such a thing, the initials GLC used to stand for Greater London Council. It was long pre-Boris as Mayor and the current London Assembly, and the GLC ran the capital’s administration from 1965 until 1986, with Ken Livingstone latterly at the helm.

Fast forward three decades, and here comes another GLC that will undoubtedly be seen in London, but also across the country and around the world. This one has wheels and a posh badge on the front. Say hello to the new Mercedes-Benz GLC, a rugged variant based on the Mercedes-Benz C-Class saloon.

This one is a rival for ‘compact’ SUVs (sports utility vehicles) such as the Audi Q5, BMW X3, Land Rover Discovery Sport and Volvo XC60. Although it’s such a city slicker to look at, it is also surprisingly capable off-road, a 4×4 that can cope with wild craggy tracks and rougher surfaces than most of its potential customers would ever believe.

That’s all about credibility, though, and in reality this is a car that will very rarely be seen muddying its tyres. With the famous Mercedes three-pointed star on its nose – the three points reputedly representing land, sea and air – the GLC is much more urban warrior than country bumpkin. It’s an automotive equivalent of chic Hunter wellies.

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The GLC has permanent four-wheel-drive, but most of the time it is biased more as a rear-wheel-drive car, in line with most other Mercedes. The majority of engine torque – some 67 per cent in normal running – is sent to the back wheels, but that is automatically varied when slippery conditions or tricky terrain make different demands on the system.

This is one of the most civilised SUVs to drive, feeling more like a lower-slung traditional car than a tall-bodied bruiser. It is remarkably quiet, with very little engine intrusion into the plush cabin, although that was partly due to our test cars being equipped with high-spec double glazing.

The GLC comes with a choice of two diesel engines, both 2.1 litres: a 220d model with 168 bhp, or a 250d with a 201 bhp power output. The gearbox is nine-speed auto. A plug-in petrol-electric hybrid model is coming later. Prices start from around £35,000.

Our 250d test car for the launch drive has a £36,105 price tag. That includes electric front seats, electric tailgate, automatic climate control, leather-look trim and a reversing camera. With a top speed of almost double the UK legal limit, and a 0-62 acceleration time of 7.6 seconds, it’s a sprightly performer. Even so, the combined fuel figure is a pretty fair 56.6 mpg, with CO2 output of 129 g/km. That’s pretty reasonable for a powerful SUV.

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Sue Baker is a seasoned motoring journalist with a love of all things automotive.