There’s no shortage of choice for premium compact SUV buyers these days. Who does it best: BMW, Land Rover or, at last, Mercedes?
Mercedes has finally joined the premium compact SUV fray, nearly a decade-and-a-half after its foe BMW spotted a hole in the market and filled it with the big-selling X3. Even Land Rover beat Merc to this table of rich pickings, by replacing the humble Freelander with the upmarket Discovery Sport – and kicking the X3 off the top spot at the same time. Now that Mercedes has finally caught on, can its GLC do the same?
Land Rover Discovery Sport 2.0 TD4 180 HSE auto
Engine: 2.0-litre diesel
Torque: 317lb ft
0-60mph: 10.3 seconds
Top speed: 117mph
Fuel economy: 35.9mpg
CO2 emissions: 139g/km
Engine and performance
We’ve chosen to pitch the diesel-powered GLC 250d AMG Line model against the best-selling Discovery Sport 2.0 TD4 HSE and X3 xDrive20d M Sport; not because these cars are matched from a power point of view – the Merc has a notable advantage here – but because they are all priced in the same ballpark.
Of course, the Merc has a sizeable performance gain on the road, with its stronger feel both low down and when cruising at high speed. The BMW is no slouch, though, mainly due to the fact that its eight-ratio automatic is smarter than the GLC’s nine-gear box. In this company, the Discovery Sport cedes defeat, as its drive doesn’t quite live up to its name and forces the driver work harder to make swift progress.
Ride and handling
The Land Rover comes out on top here for smooth-riding enjoyment, however, followed closely by the Mercedes on sports suspension, whose refinement is spoiled only by road noise from those 20-inch wheels. In comparison, the BMW’s motor feels rather gruff.
Mercedes-Benz GLC 250 d 4Matic AMG Line 9G-Tronic
Engine: 2.1-litre diesel
Torque: 369lb ft
0-60mph: 7.7 seconds
Top speed: 138mph
Fuel economy: 39.3mpg
CO2 emissions: 129g/km
While the GLC can be jostly, its better body control means less roll in corners. Unfortunately, its disappointingly vague and unnatural steering loses out to the Disco Sport’s more detailed feel. And while we usually praise the X3’s blend of ride and handling, it works far better on regular-trim models than it does on this stiff-riding M Sport variant. Even the handling is affected, bringing more dynamic compromises than it does benefits. We’ suggest buyers go for the free ‘comfort’ suspension option instead.
Inside, the Mercedes’ cabin looks the smartest and most eye catching. It is better quality than the BMW’s too, despite a few surprising oversights. Compared to the German contenders the Land Rover looks a little downmarket, but some drivers may prefer its simpler layout and easier-to-use controls. The Brit is more practical, as well. The only seven-seater on test, it has a roomy middle row and two adult-sized rear seats. Its load bay is the biggest here.
For business users, the GLC offsets its slightly higher purchase price by being the cheapest of these three models to run in a fleet thanks to its lower CO2 emissions. Company drivers will see a £837 tax advantage over the Disco Sport, and £558 over the X3. All three have broadly similar contract hire prices.
BMW X3 xDrive20d M Sport auto
Engine size 2.0-litre diesel
List price £38,745
Target Price £36,141
Torque 295lb ft
0-60mph 8.5 seconds
Top speed 130mph
Fuel economy 38.4mpg
CO2 emissions 136g/km
For private buyers, again the Mercedes is marginally the cheapest model on a PCP scheme. The Land Rover costs only £4 a month extra, but heavy depreciation means the BMW is a hefty £46 more. With diesel costs as well, the X3 will costs £750 more than the other over three years, whereas the Disco Sport is the cheapest.
The British model puts the others in the shade for standard-fit kit, which includes a panoramic roof, keyless entry and those seven seats. Each of our trio boasts heated leather seats, climate and cruise control plus auto lights and wipers; only the BMW lacks electric front seats and a reversing camera.
All in all, you may be shocked to read that the ageing X3 comes last of our trio. In compromised M Sport trim at least, this established, previous class leader has bowed to pressure from newer premium competitors. Its German countryman is much more appealing, with its great performance, smart styling and impressive cabin. The fact that the GLC is cheaper to run is the icing on the cake – but it still isn’t quite good enough to beat the Discovery Sport.
While the Land Rover doesn’t offer the sportiest drive here, its other attributes are plain to see. It’s refined, well kitted out, the least expensive to run and super-practical. Premium SUV perfection would come with a little more muscle and better infotainment, but it’s still brilliant. And that’s quite enough to power it to the top of our trio.