AFTER years of yearning, Mercedes-Benz Australia will finally have a compact SUV to challenge the prestige compact SUV market dominance of BMW X3 and Audi Q5. The Mercedes-Benz GLC successor to the (left-hand-drive only) GLK, revealed recently in Germany, will be built in right-hand drive, and therefore will get the chance to compete head to head with rivals from BMW and Audi in Australia.
The until-now gaping hole in Mercedes-Benz Australia's SUV portfolio has been something of a sore point for MB Oz - and Germany acknowledged it by making a special call-out to Australia, New Zealand and the UK during the launch presentation.
"It almost got to the point where we didn't want to talk about it any more," Mercedes-Benz Australia spokesman Jerry Stamoulis told Wheels at the launch of the GLC in Stuttgart. "It's not just abut the volume. It's about the customers in this segment that we could not offer a vehicle to. We don't like letting people down. It's been frustrating but it's a good time to launch it as well.
"Everyone knows at the top management how much we wanted this car. We won't produce the volume the UK and other markets will. But this has the potential to be our best-selling SUV. It has a broader appeal across a wider range of buyers. It opens up the demographics."
The GLC SUV is built on the C-Class's MRA platform, and sits above the GLA and below the new GLE, with prices starting from around $65,000 for the GLC250, available with either a 155kW/350NM 2.0-litre turbo-petrol or a 150kW/500Nm 2.1-litre turbodiesel engine.
Mercedes Australia is also weighing up the possibility of taking the GLC220d, which has the same 2.1-litre turbodiesel in a gentler - yet no more fuel efficient - 125kW/400NM state of tune. But questions remain over whether this model can fit comfortably above the GLA range without stealing sales.
A higher performance GLC 450 Sport AMG will also form part of the launch lineup, its 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 good for 245kW and 480Nm, making it considerably more powerful than the other models.
All Australian-spec GLC models will be all-wheel drive.
The biggest performance bang will have to wait until 2016 when the GLC 63 AMG hits town. This particular model is still not officially confirmed by Mercedes-Benz, but promises to deliver blitzkrieg performance from the same 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8 engine as the current C63 sedan with which the GLC shares its platform.
Two states of tune are possible, 350kW in the 'standard' GLC63 and 375kW in the S version; the latter of which is likely to be favoured by Mercedes-Benz Australia.
This car would give Mercedes-Benz a big advantage over its rivals, because BMW's X3 does not have an M variant, and Audi does not currently offer an RS Q5.
Don't expect much change from $160,000.
Australia is also a chance to see a plug-in hybrid version of the GLC, dubbed the GLC350. This model carries the same 155kW/350Nm 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo engine as the C250 but adds an 85kW electric motor and battery pack good for around 30km of pure electric range.
The GLC measures 4656mm long and 1890mm wide, meaning it's marginally bigger than its Audi and BMW rivals.
As usual, Australian cars will come well-specified, and have safety features such as auto emergency braking. Customers may be able to option an offroad package, though take-up is likely to be minimal.
Mercedes-Benz Australia is bullish about the GLC's potential Down Under.
"We always want to be the leader in the segments in which we compete," Stamoulis said. "At the same time, it all comes down to whether we can get the allocation we need, and the model range we need.
"We don't play to finish second."
Stamoulis says Mercedes-Benz does not believe the GLC SUV will steal sales from the C-Class wagon, despite wearing a similar price tag engine for engine.
"Never say never, but if there is a vehicle the GLC could take sales from it's more likely to be GLE than C-Class wagon.
"We think and hope that more people will come from other brands."
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