New Mercedes GLC vs Lexus NX

These plug-in hybrid SUVs promise luxury and low running costs in equal measure. But which one is better?...

Mercedes GLC vs Lexus NX front static

The contenders

NEW Mercedes GLC 300e 4Matic AMG Line Premium

List price £68,210
Target Price £68,210

This new GLC has a class-leading official electric range of 80 miles and an ultra-low company car tax rating. But is there more to it than that?

Lexus NX 450h+ F Sport

List price £62,200
Target Price £60,820

Our reigning Plug-in Hybrid of the Year has a plush and practical interior and is good to drive, but its electric-only range is well short of the GLC’s

Say you live in London and fancy escaping to the beach for a holiday. You could perhaps head to the beautiful coastal town of Margate, around 80 miles away.

The idea of completing that journey in a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) on battery power alone seemed pretty far-fetched not too long ago. When PHEVs first arrived, you’d be lucky to get 20 miles of pure electric driving from the battery.

Mercedes GLC rear

Now, though, you’d have a much better chance of success, with PHEVs’ electric ranges climbing to the point where it’s possible to make such a journey (at least officially) without troubling the petrol engine. That 80-mile figure is achieved by the Mercedes GLC 300e, thanks to a battery that’s larger than what the fully electric Renault Zoe started out with.

So, is it the best PHEV on sale? That’s what we’re finding out. We’re testing the GLC 300e in AMG Line Premium guise against our current favourite, the Lexus NX 450h+, but this time it’s in sportier mid-range F Sport trim.


Performance, ride, handling, refinement

Our contenders have a strong focus on keeping costs down, but they’re still capable of keeping up with hot hatches in a sprint. The NX produces a combined 305bhp and is the quicker of the pair, getting from 0-60mph in a swift 5.9sec. Despite being slightly more powerful, with 308bhp, the GLC gets to 60mph in 6.4sec – which still matches a Hyundai i20 N.

Lexus NX rear

It’s a similar story on the move: the NX’s 2.5-litre petrol engine doesn’t have to work as hard on undulating roads to maintain momentum, and if you need a sudden burst of acceleration, it picks up speed more eagerly. The 2.0-litre turbo GLC feels like it needs to take a short breath before it changes down a couple of gears and flexes its muscles, and that’s chiefly because it’s carrying around 300kg more weight than the NX.

There is a reason for that, though, and the benefits can be seen when driving in the car’s electric-only EV mode. The GLC’s much larger battery (31.2kWh versus the NX’s 18.1kWh) means it can power the electric motor for longer, covering a healthy 57 miles before running out of juice in our real-world test – seven miles more than even the Range Rover Sport P440e we tested last month. The NX managed 30 miles in the same conditions (versus 43 officially).

Both the NX and GLC have a Hold function that lets you retain the charge in the battery so it can be used later on in a journey. The NX also has a Charge mode that allows you to top up the battery when driving purely on the petrol engine. However, this is a costly and inefficient way of charging, with fuel economy taking a big hit. The GLC’s Sport mode is capable of adding a few miles’ worth of juice to the battery while the petrol engine is running, but again the benefits are negligible.

Mercedes GLC side

The GLC’s brakes could be more responsive – the pedal has to be pressed a long way down before they bite in a meaningful way – whereas the NX’s sharper response is more reassuring around town. The GLC feels more stable in an emergency stop from 70mph, but there’s little to split the two in terms of stopping distances.

Both cars have regenerative braking systems that recover energy when you lift off the accelerator and help to slow the car down. The NX’s system is either on or off, whereas the GLC’s can be adjusted through several levels and ultimately gives a stronger braking effect. It also has a default adaptive setting that automatically judges when to coast or to slow you down as you approach a bend or junction.

Head down a country road and the NX feels more agile and easy to place through corners, plus it has more natural-feeling steering that gives a good sense of connection with the front wheels. The GLC’s hefty steering is rather numb in comparison, but the car resists body lean well and grips more tenaciously than the NX. It may not be as engaging to drive, but the GLC feels more composed and reassuring at high speeds – arguably more fitting attributes for a family SUV.

Lexus NX side

Plug-in GLCs come with rear air suspension (unlike the NX) to help counter the weight of the battery under the boot floor, while this version of the NX is alone here in having adaptive suspension that can be stiffened or softened to suit the conditions. Both cars offer a comfortable ride by plug-in hybrid SUV standards, doing a good job of soaking up bumps at all speeds, although the GLC is that bit more settled when cruising on the motorway.

When setting off in the NX, there’s a hint of electric motor whine that’s absent in the GLC. Although the latter’s engine sounds a bit gruff when it fires up, it’s otherwise more muted than the NX’s (which can be rather vocal) when its services are required. The GLC is slightly better at isolating occupants from the outside world on the motorway, too, helped in part by double-glazed front side windows that do a great job of cutting down on wind noise.

For those who plan to tow, the GLC's higher braked capacity of 2000kg (versus the NX's 1500kg) makes it the more capable option.

Next: What are they like inside? >>

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