Plug-in hybrid offers transformative electric range, but at a price that may be hard to swallow for private buyers
Mercedes-Benz is aiming squarely at fleet success with its second-generation version of the Mercedes GLC mid-sized family SUV, which has just arrived on UK roads – and, as is typical of it, is firing at its rivals with both barrels. It’s continuing to offer both diesel- and petrol-electric plug-in hybrid models, and both are now on sale with advertised lab-test fuel economy of greater than 500mpg.
A giant-sized PHEV drive battery is behind that claimed efficiency. The new car’s platform having been designed especially for ‘plug-in hybridisation’, it has more than twice as much energy storage as its predecessor: 31.2kWh, no less. That’s a healthy dose more than the closely related Mercedes C300e saloon has, and closer to what a £130k Range Rover PHEV offers than plenty of direct rivals. And it translates into two things of note: a claimed electric range of some 80 miles (which is more than enough to make this the only plug-in hybrid SUV currently on the market to qualify for a 5% benefit-in-kind rating, even in fully loaded trim) – and a kerb weight of almost 2.3 tonnes (the impact of which we’ll inevitable come to).
The new GLC 300e’s tax efficiency is the kind for which fleet buyers will expect to pay a premium but, in this case, it’s a big one. While prices for other GLC models start at little more than £50k, it takes £62k to get into the cheapest PHEV, and nearly £75k for a full-house GLC 300de diesel. The outgoing GLC 300e equivalent of our test car was nearly £15,000 cheaper: – a hike that it’ll take more than ‘Trussonomics’ to explain to some.
If you’re a private buyer, £70,000 will get you into markedly more expensive-feeling SUVs than this, needless to say. The GLC’s interior has adult-appropriate accommodation in both rows of seats, and a boot that’s pretty big and almost entirely unpenalised by any battery pack intrusion (although under-floor cable storage space is notable by its absence).
Up front, the instrumentation layout and design theme will be instantly recognisable to C-Class owners. With its totem-like central MBUX infotainment system, crisp digital instruments, large head-up display and multi-coloured ambient lighting, our test car was yet more evidence of Mercedes recasting itself as a modern tech company whose wares just happen to come in large boxes with wheels on them.
The GLC’s interior ambience could be the perfect match for the look of the high-end consumer electronics in your lounge or kitchen, but it was a little monotone and clinical for this tester’s tastes. Material quality has that ritzy top-level impact on the eye, although there are places where it doesn’t appeal so much to the touch, as is becoming a Mercedes theme.
To drive, the GLC 300e has plenty of instant, smooth, electric pick-up from low speed and remains impressively quiet and slick even when the engine’s running. The car’s weight doesn’t impact much on its cornering manners, its outright performance or its general manoeuvrability, and it has more than enough electric-only power to keep easy pace with everyday traffic even around the national speed limit.
On a chilly test day, that claimed 80-mile electric range turned into a real-world EV range of about 60. But even at that, the GLC could be worth its high price – not just for what it could do to save you company car tax, but in fuel savings as well, although the car’s high list price may make that a closer-run thing than it might at first seem.
While other GLCs get steel coil suspension all round as standard (height-adjustable air springs and four-wheel steering are optional in other markets but aren’t offered in the UK), the PHEVs adopt self-levelling air suspension at the rear to keep better control of the weight of that battery.
The plug-in versions also miss out on the sportier suspension tuning of other AMG Line models and our test car did feel a little more softly sprung and heavy on rising and falling country roads than the class norm, riding bumps with notable fidget and heave. Ride isolation isn’t brilliant over sharper edges, either, but smoother surfaces seem to agree with the car’s axles far better, and much of the rest of the time, the car has a refined character and easy drivability.
That apart, it isn’t in any way special to drive, and with ownership qualifications like it has, perhaps it needn’t be in order to find buyers in just the right quarters.