Mid-sized SUVs have become hugely popular over the past few years – particularly at the premium end of the market, if they're wearing the right German badge. The Mercedes GLC Coupe is most certainly wearing a badge of desire. But yes, you read that right, we added the word "coupe" onto the end of GLC – the name of Merc's mid-sized SUV. Say what?

Where Mercedes didn't engineer its last GLK for right-hand drive, when it replaced it with the GLC in 2015, it didn't make the same mistake. It's a great SUV, one of our favourites in the class, vying for leadership with the Volvo XC60 and Land Rover Discovery Sport.

An SUV, without the dull bits?

There are apparently people who don't want the full-on, family-tastic, practical SUV. Those who like the idea of the general size, driving position and feel of that type of car – but desire to have something that bit more slinky-looking. That type of car is called a Coupe-SUV.

SUV and coupe. They're not two words you would normally put together. An SUV is a high-riding, utility product with space for all the family and (supposedly) the ability to go off-road. A coupe is (typically) a two-door, low-riding sporty number, which often doesn't even have four seats and prioritises driving fun and sporty looks over practicality. Cross the two, and you get this. But does it work?

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To get specific, the GLC Coupe takes one GLC SUV, and all its sensible premium-SUV qualities, lowers it about 10mm and then grafts on a roofline that's distinctly un-SUV and every bit a coupe. That roofline means you lose 50 litres of space in the boot. And you only get two seats in the back, rather than the normal three-across bench.

Mercedes didn't invent this new type of car (the honour arguably goes to BMW, with its X6), but it has got form in inventing new genres – remember the first CLS, the the first four-door coupe? The company is hoping the GLC Coupe can have the same success and be the prime representation of a new high-riding, sloping-roof SUV genre.

Design – a visual paradox

In the two weeks since the GLC coupe left our driveway, we've been trying to work out why the coupe version, in our opinion, doesn't feel quite as successful as the regular GLC SUV.

We think it comes down to this: that SUV-mixed-with-coupe thing creates a visual contradiction. We see an offroad-style vehicle that's high up, that looks aggressive, that should be practical, spacious and have a certain utility. But we see it's got a coupe roofline, which means it should be sporty, quick and good fun to drive.

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And yet the GLC Coupe isn't a great half-way house between either of these two worlds. It isn't as practical as a regular GLC. That's fine, we can appreciate there are people who don't have families and don't need the space. But the GLC isn't remotely sporty or fun to drive in the manner of a coupe, either. It's refined, it's comfortable and the front cabin is good, but the GLC Coupe is never an exciting thing to jump behind the wheel of, and whizz off down the road. A Porsche Macan, or BMW X is a much better drive.

AMG Line Mercedes, like any other

We're not going to try and argue the GLC Coupe looks bad though. Compared to its main rival – the BMW X4 – the Merc's design is nicely resolved, in objective terms. That roofline flows into the rear deck neatly, while the rear aspect borrows the lamp arrangement from Mercedes' coupe car line with success.

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Our AMG Line specification review car has trim that is quite showy – there are chrome eyebrows above the rear lamps, the OTT running boards reflect in the body side, the massive multi-spoke AMG wheels and bright star grille give feel designed for Dubai. But it's just ostentatious in the dreary English midlands. Undoubtedly it's what people want though – over 50 per cent of UK buyers go for AMG Line spec, more still pick the Premium Plus Pack (£2,795), which nets you yet more tinsel.

Luckily, if you're of a more demure disposition, much of this is optional. A regular AMG-line GLC Coupe does without the Night Package with all the black glossy bits (£495), 20-inch wheels (£595) and running boards (£450). Step it down a level further, speccing Sport, to takes the chrome off altogether and leave you with a much visually calmer GLC Coupe.

Interior – compromised and cool

Inside, the setup for driver and passenger is impressive. The interior carries over from the regular GLC, which is itself related to the C-Class interior. These Mercedes interiors knock those of BMW – and increasingly Audi, too – into touch for their perceived quality.

So long as you like a bit of shininess, the cockpit is a visual treat – and most things you touch feels top class. Metal-look items feel cold, and things that move or slide do so with a damped, well-oiled precision; even the air vents move around with a certain counter-weighted smooth movement.

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Our test car came with the dark, open-pore ash wood interior, which we'd pick over the black gloss option every day of the week, because it looks like genuine wood, is finished like modern furniture, and doesn't pick up fingerprints.

It's not all perfect, though. The driving position forces your feet to twist slightly outwards, because the transmission tunnel intrudes into the footwell. And we can't understand why the infotainment shortcut buttons on the console feel so cheap to press when everything around them feels so high quality.

Those buttons are also a bit of an ergonomic fail – your hand having to jump between here and the rotary controller between the seats. That controller isn't as intuitive as the BMW or Audi versions either – it's over-complicated, with the touchpad on top being hyper-sensitive and too easy to accidentally mis-hit.

Plus there's no touchscreen functionality – something BMW now offers – and no digital cockpit, which BMW, Audi and Merc's own larger vehicles, such as the E-Class, all feature. If you've had a Mercedes before, however, then this is unlikely to bother you. The 8.4-inch touchscreen of the Comand interface is slick and high resolution, and there's a certain interface logic which is of the brand (seat controls on the doors, gearshifter on the steering column, wiper speed selection on the end of the indicator stalk).

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The back seat accommodation isn't as bad as you might think looking at the car from outside. A six-foot driver can sit behind themselves, and while they're not going to be in rapture, they can sit there just about happily – head brushing but not being crushed by the roof lining. Credit must go to Merc's designers for getting that roofline to work while still allowing space for normal people in the back. Legroom isn't unreasonable either. Instead, the price you pay for going for a coupe GLC is that only two seatbelts live in the back – if you want to carry a fifth passenger you're out of look.

The electrically operated boot lid conceals a boot that is reasonably deep and square, but notably more shallow than the GLC SUV. What's also notable is that from the driver's seat, looking in the rear view mirror, the design of the rear deck is very high – the GLC is tricky to see out of rearwards when manoeuvring. Luckily our test car came with a reversing and surround camera system (for a not unreasonable £335).

Playing the specification game

Our GLC 250d 4Matic AMG Line Coupe (now breathe) came in at £43,695 before options. That's not too bad for what you get. Artico (read: synthetic) leather, electric tailgate, LED lamps, keyless start, AMG body kit, collision prevention system, a 7-inch multimedia display with Garmin mapping and DAB, plus 19-inch wheels are all standard. The kicker is that you pay more for less, as a GLC 250d SUV of equivalent spec is £40,595.

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The best option to tick from the options list, if you're going to delve into it, is undoubtedly the Premium Plus Pack. It's £2,795 and gets you the upgraded 8.4-inch Comand media system with an integrated hard disk, live traffic info, Mercedes' app eco-system and WLAN hotspot. As well as that, there's Merc's lovely Burmester 13-speaker stereo system, with its intricate speaker grilles and impressive sound, along with a sunroof, electric memory seats, full comfort access (keyless car, plus kick-to-open boot and ambient lighting).

That 360-degree camera system is very useful given the difficulty we had seeing out, while Mercedes' full Safety Assist Suite (£1,695) is another option box we'd be happy to tick if splashing out. Although notably, we found the Distronic plus system – which steers the car within its lane at certain speeds – notably more wayward than Tesla's Autopilot or Volvo's Pilot Assist. The distance control, blind spot system and traffic sign recognition stuff all worked without fault though.

Refined, but not fun to drive

One option on our test car, which undoubtedly makes a big difference, is the £1,495 air body control suspension system. This helps the car ride with the kind of suppleness that belies its 20-inch wheels, and also neatly handle corners without too much body roll. But the air suspension setup means you feel quite disconnected from the action. You'd never call the GLC Coupe fun to drive. In the regular GLC, we forgive this easily, as we feel it's pitched right. We expected a bit more of the GLC Coupe. 

The version we tested came with the 250d engine configuration, making 201hp. That's connected to a smooth-shifting 9-speed automatic gearbox and puts its power to the road through all four wheels (hence the 4Matic moniker). The engine is the old 2.2-litre unit, rather than the new 2.0 found in the E-Class, and it's noticeably less refined, getting shrill at high revs. The performance is impressive for a big car, though, because there's loads of torque from low revs. We managed 41mpg on test – the figure was hovering in the low 30s until the last day of our time with the car, when we spent 150 miles on the motorway with it.

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There's a less powerful 220d version, too, plus a more powerful 350d powered by a V6 diesel – which will be notably smoother. If you want a petrol GLC coupe, then for now you'll need a fire breathing 43 or 63 AMG petrol version (and a bigger wallet).

Overall, then, the GLC doesn't feel as sporty or as fun as a Porsche Macan, isn't as car-like and easy to drive as an Audi Q5, and lacks the hefty, commanding sense you get from a Discovery Sport. It is refined (despite the diesel engine getting loud when extended), but above all it excels at being comfortable.

Verdict

When we drove the GLC SUV after its launch, we felt it stood a chance of being rated as the best car in the class. Since then, the Audi Q5, Volvo XC60, and (just) BMW X3 have all been replaced. None of these cars are perfect, and if the GLC has a core quality, it's that it has no obvious or significant flaw.

Yet it doesn't do anything in a way that leads the class – with the exception perhaps of interior design ambience and perceived quality. There will be some for whom only a Mercedes will do, and we'd happily recommend a GLC... SUV. Throw the "Coupe" bit into the mix as we've got here and it's much less clear who the car is for, with what it competes, or what the rationale is for paying more for less car.

Ultimately the GLC Coupe is a car that we've struggled to bond with. When we tried to use it in a way similar to the GLC SUV, with family in tow, it was clearly more compromised. But then when we drove it alone, it felt big and cumbersome – and we couldn't help feeling that any number of cars would have provided us with a better drive, been more fun and connected.

What the GLC Coupe does do, however, is provide you with all the core qualities of any Mercedes: solidity, reliability, refinement, a great cabin and the sophisticated image that goes with the badge. The higher driving position and less utility-orientated roofline (and image) won't be without appeal to some people. Especially if you've not got kids, loads of stuff or dogs to lug around.

Overall we feel the Coupe lacks the sophisticated class of many Mercedes vehicles past and present, and we can't help feeling a GLC SUV offers more. It's far from a bad car, but the GLC Coupe proves that adding SUV and Coupe together creates a bit of a strange blend.

Alternatives to consider

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Porsche Macan

Without doubt the leader of the pack at this end of the market when it comes to driving thrills. The Macan starts at £45k, while the diesel S version is £48k. You'll easily spend £10k on options without thinking, mind, and the rear seat space is tighter than the GLC Coupe too. But the Macan has a better packaged boot, barely depreciates because it's in such demand, and is our number one choice of sporting SUV.

Read the full article: Porsche Macan review

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BMW X4

The X4 represents the GLC Coupe's most direct competition. The X4 is a coupe-SUV based on its sister car the X3. As that car has just been replaced, the X4 now represents rather outdated technology (the new X3 sits on a new platform) and, in many ways, that shows when you compare it to the GLC. Still, it's got an interface that's easier to use, some great engine options and is that bit more spritely to drive than the Mercedes, shrinking around the driver and at least giving some credence to the sporty bit that the coupe roofline implies.

Read the full article: BMW X4 first drive