Mercedes SUVs

Struggling to choose between the seven different Mercedes SUVs? Our guide will let you know your GLA from your GLE

BuyaCar team
Jan 24, 2017

It used to be easy to choose between Mercedes’ sport-utility vehicles (SUVs). There were really just two of these rugged off-road models to choose from: a big one with five seats, and an even bigger one with seven.

But in the last few years, your choices have exploded. The range now starts with the little GLA, which is really a crossover. It shares its mechanical parts with the A-Class hatchback, but combines them with the taller driving position of an off-roader.

There are sportier models, gargantuan ones, and one that combines go-anywhere off-roading ability with the interior - and price - of a luxury car.

To add to the complication, Mercedes renamed its SUVs in 2015. Most of their names now start with GL, followed by a letter to indicate their size. So the GLA offers a similar level of equipment and passenger legroom as the A-Class hatchback, while the next largest - the GLC - is the SUV equivalent of the C-Class, and so on. The exception is the G-Class.

Confused? Read on for our guide to each model.    

Mercedes GLA

Best Mercedes SUV for people with tight parking spaces
Not so good for clambering over challenging terrain

Mercedes' GLA is the company’s smallest SUV. It’s really a crossover, because it uses the mechanical parts from the VW Golf-size A-Class, in a car that’s taller and a little more rugged, with a higher driving position. There’s extra grip to help keep you moving on slippery surfaces from four-wheel drive on all but the least-powerful models.

Don't expect to go too far off-road, though: it doesn't take much for the underneath of the car to start scraping against stones and ruts because it’s closer to the ground than a proper off-road car. This also means that the driving position is lower than rival cars such as the Mini Countryman, Audi Q3 and BMW X1.

Recently updated, the GLA has an interior that's much like the A-Class, with a tablet-size touchscreen jutting above the curved dashboard. It comes with features including a reversing camera and a keyless start button as standard.

The extra practicality of the GLA is obvious in the boot where there is 481 litres of space, which is 140 litres more luggage capacity than the A-Class hatchback, but 24 litres less than the BMW X1.
Read the full Mercedes GLA buying guide

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Mercedes GLC

Best Mercedes SUV for balancing comfort, practicality and compact dimensions
Not so good for sporty handling

The Mercedes GLC is the size of a Nissan Qashqai and Ford Kuga but offers more comfort and luxury - much like similarly-sized cars such as the Audi Q5 and BMW X3.

It feels less nimble as sporty than these rivals, but has the edge when it comes to comfort - arguably more important in a car. When fitted with optional air suspension, the GLC glides over bumps and potholes, while the nine-speed automatic gearbox is smooth and helps keep the economical diesel engines quiet.

Those in need of a little more interior space or seven seats might want to consider the Land Rover Discovery Sport, but for those happy to travel relatively light, the Mercedes GLC is perfectly practical. For more performance, there’s the 362bhp AMG GLC 43, but its rivals include the Jaguar F-Pace and sporty Porsche Macan, both of which will appeal more to thrill-seekers.

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Mercedes GLC Coupe

Best Mercedes SUV for cutting a stylish dash on the road
Not so good for taller rear passengers

Swoopy, sporty, coupe-like styling means the Mercedes GLC Coupe is capitalising on one of the more unlikely trends: combining a tall SUV with the design and sporty driving experience of a coupe. Its competition is the similarly curved BMW X4.

It’s longer, lower and wider than the standard GLC. Because the underneath of the car is closer to the ground, it’s more likely to get scraped or even stuck on rugged ground, making it more suited to the tarmac than off-road.

Inside, the GLC Coupe shares the same hi-tech and well-built interior as the GLC. However, there is less room in the back seats and the boot thanks to that curved roof.

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Mercedes GLE

Best Mercedes SUV for carrying bulky loads
Not so good for those with shallow pockets

The Mercedes GLE was called the M-Class until it was updated and renamed in 2015. It’s one of the oldest models in the Mercedes line-up because it’s based on a car that was launched in 2011, and you can tell: it's interior is more cluttered with buttons than the latest models; the design is more angular than newer Mercedes SUVs; and it's less comfortable than some rivals.

Just as the compact GLC offers a similar amount of legroom and equipment as the C-Class saloon, the bigger GLE is similar to the larger E-class saloon and estate range. And as you’d expect of a larger SUV, there is acres of space in the GLE, especially in the boot.

It does lack seven seats, which are offered by rivals, including the BMW X5, Audi Q7 and Volvo XC90, which are cheaper than the GLE as well.
Read the full Mercedes GLE buying guide

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Mercedes GLE Coupe

Best Mercedes SUV for adding glamour to your drive
Not so good for looking out of the rear window

The Mercedes GLE Coupe is very much the glamorous end of the Mercedes SUV range, providing a beautifully built, upmarket interior, plenty of luxury gadgets and distinctive styling. There’s no budget end to the big car, either – your only diesel option is a big 3-litre diesel, which is around £5,000 more expensive than the equivalent BMW X6.

Other models include the petrol-powered Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S. This last produces a colossal 585 horsepower – as much as many supercars – but comes with an equally colossal price of around £100,000 - before any Mercedes GLE Coupe discounts.

The downsides are a swooping roofline that severely limits rearward visibility, and a ride that’s slightly on the firm side.

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Mercedes GLS

Best Mercedes SUV for getting seven people and their luggage in
Not so good for value-for-money

SUVs don’t come much bigger – or plusher – than the GLS. In fact, Mercedes calls it the “S-Class of SUVs”, linking it clearly to Mercedes’ own S-Class limousine. It’s certainly luxuriously appointed inside and provides ample room for up to seven occupants, while its ride is smooth and comfortable.

Unfortunately for the GLS, compared with rivals such as the Range Rover and smaller seven-seat cars like the Volvo XC90, it’s beginning to feel dated inside and is significantly more expensive. In fact, the GLS’s price tag puts it right in the heart of Range Rover territory, which plays the part of super-luxury SUV somewhat better than the GLS.

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Mercedes G-Class

Best Mercedes SUV for going as far off-road as a Land Rover Defender
Not so good for soothing you on long journeys

Originally created as a rugged off-roader for the German army way back in 1979, the G-Class has since morphed into a glitzy go-anywhere luxury car. These days, instead of being driven by soldiers, it’s more likely to be bought by rap artists, professional footballers and anybody with a fair bit of cash and an extrovert personality.

You’ll struggle to see its utilitarian roots when you step inside. It’s more private jet than Saving Private Ryan: rear-seat entertainment, electric everything and digital radio are all available.

But its boxy looks cover a tall, sturdy and sophisticated machine that’s seriously capable off-road. If you really need to tackle the rough stuff, then this is easily the best Mercedes. That off-road ability comes at a bit of a price, though – the G-Class suffers from an uncomfortable ride and a lot of wind noise at higher speeds.

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