Overall rating: 4/5
Although most Irish buyers of the new Mercedes-Benz GLC SUV will be happy to stick with one of the (excellent) diesel versions, those with a little more money to spend and doing most of their driving in and around a city would do well to check out the plug-in petrol-electric hybrid model, badged 350e 4Matic. It goes on sale in 2016 and isn't likely to be cheap, despite its ultra-low emissions rating, but it's a well-polished alternative to the default diesels.
In the Metal:
There's very little to tell the 350e hybrid apart from its GLC siblings in terms of exterior design. It's possible that the Irish market versions of the former will get their own design of alloy wheel and other minor aesthetic tweaks, but essentially the only real tell-tale is the flap in the rear bumper that hides the recharging socket. For what it's worth, we reckon the GLC is not only one of the best-looking of all the Mercedes SUVs, but one of the most attractive looking cars in the segment. Though it's not significantly bigger than its rivals in any one direction it looks more substantial and the proportions are spot on. The shape of the side glass and its interface with the D-pillar is a particular highlight.
As with the exterior, the interior of the hybrid is largely conventional. There are a few unique readouts in the dashboard and display screen, but the rest of the passenger compartment is unchanged, so it's spacious in the back with generous headroom - and good legroom for the outer two passengers. The boot volume reduces a tad in the hybrid though, down from 550- to 395 litres with the rear seat backs in place. Open up the tailgate and there's a definite step up from the lip where the diesel versions have a completely flat floor. It's still a fine size for most, though.
We didn't spend as much time in the hybrid GLC as we did the diesels, but a quick drive was enough to confirm that it handles similarly and is lovely and comfortable. Of course, like all vehicles at the launch, the hybrids were fitted with optional air suspension, which we don't expect to be standard. Other than that, the inherent refinement of the GLC's structure was enhanced by the significant amount of electric-only driving made possible by the adoption of the large battery from the S-Class hybrid. The GLC 350e is wonderfully quiet and relaxing around town.
Out on the open road, it's not much noisier. The turbocharged petrol engine isn't loud, even when you push the throttle all the way to the floor, and there's meaningful acceleration on tap as the engine and electric motor work together to deliver the full 320hp and 560Nm of torque.
What you get for your Money:
Mercedes Ireland won't even hint at how much the 350e will cost when it arrives in 2016, but it was suggested that it'll be more than the diesels. They start in the mid-forties, but at the time of writing we don't precisely know how much each model and trim grade will be. We have been assured that there will be no manual gearbox for the GLC, though rear-wheel drive only versions will come on stream next year. The plug-in hybrid features 4Matic four-wheel drive as standard and is expected to come with a generous helping of equipment. We assume that means Bluetooth, an electric tailgate, climate control, leather upholstery (that man-made stuff Mercedes calls 'Artico') and tasteful alloy wheels.
Lexus NX 300h: the only other petrol-electric hybrid SUV on offer right now, but its transmission makes it far less satisfying to drive than the GLC.
Range Rover Evoque: soon to be sharper looking thanks to a facelift, the Evoque's position as most attractive premium SUV is under threat by the Mercedes.
Volvo XC60: no hybrid option as yet, but the Swede is equally stylish, desirable and efficient in the real-world.
We've based our four-star rating for the GLC 350e on the assumption that it will be an expensive car in comparison to the diesels - in spite of the lower VRT rating due to low emissions. That aside, it's just as lovely inside and out, refined, extra quiet around town and deceptively fast. The only way to come close to the official fuel economy figure is to use the electric-only range as much as possible and regularly charge up the battery by plugging the car in, so it's better suited to urban use, where it's a joy to drive. City dwellers that like the idea of a classy and comfy SUV and are willing to pay for the privilege should give this hybrid Merc a test.