by Adrian-Liviu Dorofte

Mercedes-Benz SUVs of the future: GLA, MLC, GLC and more to come

Sports Utility Vehicle will never go old-fashioned or at least not in the next 10 to 15 years. Mercedes-Benz, as inventor of the modern SUV with the first generation M-Class (W 163) back in 1997, has mastered a strategy to increase profitability and revenue, in addition to exploring new fields and attracting new clients towards the brand. The plan is to fill any niche and any gap still left empty with all-rounding models such as crossovers and SUVs in almost all classes and size categories.

The portfolio of Mercedes-Benz is already heavily filled with various SUVs to suit different tastes. The GLK is the dynamic lifestyle to travel around in big cities, the M-Class is the all-time leader and the most faithful business partner, the GL-Class is suitable for those who want to set themselves apart from the crowd and admire true luxury and sheer elegance, the G-Class is for the adventurous client looking for off-road excitement, whereas the R-Class is a one-of-a-kind proposal in the automotive industry, combining the attributes of a modern station wagon, a van and an all-terrain vehicle into a VIP shuttle body of a crossover.

Five distinct models, each having their targeted customer group and clearly defined role, is still not enough, according to the plans we have found out. Mercedes-Benz mulls over several new additions to the fleet in the next years. The first to come out is the all new GLA, company's first compact SUV. Entitled Cross Activity Vehicle (CAV), the new model has already been previewed at the Auto China 2013, where Mercedes-Benz unveiled the Concept GLA. The serial version comes in September at Frankfurt and will basically be fairly similar to the showcar, like the A-Class and CLA-Class in their respective cases. The muscular, yet very dynamic and coupe-ish silhouette, combined with the higher ground clearance and the multiple appointments, will certainly translate into a boost of sales right from the market release of the X 156.

MLC, company's first Sports Utility Coupe, is next on the list. The C 292 project will become reality as soon as late 2014, with production starting at Tuscaloosa the following year. The new MLC-Class will get the underpinnings from the M-Class, but engineers will further tweak the platform to make it sportier and more responsive. Styling will be totally different, with the new rakish roof line setting the model apart from the standard SUV in the lineup. The four-door/four-seat architecture will add a dose of practicality and exclusiveness. The latest breakthroughs in ride management, assistance technology and telematics will find their onto the new SUC from Mercedes-Benz: the upgraded COMAND Online with touchpad, the Head-Up Display, the enhanced ATTENTION ASSIST, the Night View Assist Plus with improved person/animal recognition, the new generation 4MATIC and the state-of-the-art ON&OFFROAD Package available as an option. Most engines to power the new MLC will be brand new. If the petrol choices will consist of efficient BlueDIRECT V6 and V8 units, the diesel version will carry the BlueTEC badge. As the MLC is an upscale niche model, the baseline variant will be the MLC 250 BlueTEC with 211 hp, followed by the MLC 300 with 252 hp and the MLC 350 BlueTEC with 258 hp. Further, the MLC 350 with 306 hp might still be kept for a while, whereas the MLC 400 will reach 333 hp. The range-topping models will be the MLC 500 with 435 hp (or 455 hp) and the MLC 63 AMG with 557 hp coming towards 2016.

In 2015, one year after the 205 series for C-Class is unveiled, the second generation GLK is slated to showcase during spring. The new X 205 will be a complete departure from the current boxy model. A different philosophy will make the GLK look modern and youthful, with barely any direct linkage to the G-Class like the current model has. The new mid-sized SUV will be underpinned by the new MRA rear-wheel-driven platform that will be accomodated to receive the 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system, which shall be available on most versions except for the entry-level GLKs. From 2016, an SUC will also join the portfolio. The future GLC will follow the footprints of the MLC, which means a coupe greenhouse fitted to a four-door body. The GLC-Class will share the technical equipment with the new GLK, which also borrows its systems and engines from the new C-Class. While AMG models are still in doubt, the new GLK 400 and GLC 400, both boasting a maximum output of 333 hp from a 3.0-litre V6 BlueDIRECT engine, will be the available high-end variants. The new straight-six petrol powerplants with bi- or tri-turbocharging are prone to debut in around three years from now, so probably the current "V" units will then be replaced for the GLK and GLC as well, together with a power boost up to around 360 hp.

We have previously reported on the so-entitled GLG mini-sized city SUV. It seems rumors are intensifying and this all new, retro-styled crossover harking to the G-Class is closer and closer to production form. Last year's ENER-G-FORCE study revealed at the LA Auto Show in November might hint at the design direction adopted for the GLG. Anyway, the new lifestyle crossover will have a total length of exactly 4 meters and will use the MFA chassis, in an adapted variant, from the new GLA. 4MATIC will be an option, otherwise front drive will be the standard architecture for the GLG. The engines will consist of efficient Daimler-Renault developed powerplants; the anticipated 3-cylinder low displacement diesel and gasoline units could also power the GLG beginning with 2017. An AMG version is ruled out at the moment, as the GLG 250 4MATIC with 211 hp and the 7G-DCT automatic gearbox is simply more than enough for the needs of the targeted clients. If it ever gets greenlighted, the baby G-Class should hit streets by mid-2016.

We also suspect Mercedes-Benz is looking at the possibility of releasing a top luxury class SUV in the new S-Class portfolio. With over five meters in length, a high-grade design and bespoke technology from the W 222 generation, the new top 4x4 car should be entitled GLS and concur other exquisite opponents such as the future Bentley and Rolls-Royce SUVs. If such a model gets the approval of the executive board of Daimler AG, then we could witness the appearance of the GLS on streets around 2017 or 2018.

It is still unclear whether Mercedes-Benz will axe the R-Class or it will release a new generation of the model after 2015. Past reports were indicating the future R-Class will be strongly based on the next generation E-Class (W 213) scheduled to bow in around two years. The car would retain the wagon body, but also get more dynamic, appealing and garnished with the latest technology.

This is, all in all, the sketch of the new outlook for the future at Mercedes-Benz. Along with the standard high-volume models like the C-Class and E-Class, the SUV/SUC range will ensure a substantial growth for the Stuttgart-based constructor in the following years. As a consistent part of the Mercedes-Benz 2020 strategy, through which the Germans target the top position in the premium automotive industry by the end of this decade, the new lineup of niche vehicles must be close to perfect, if not fully perfect, to succeed in a world with ever more competitors.

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