FRANKFURT (Bloomberg) -- Mercedes-Benz is giving up on the idea that an SUV needs to look like it can tackle rocky terrain and cross a stream. The new Mercedes GLC compact SUV has a rounded hood and sloping back end.
The 44,500-euro ($50,000) vehicle replaces the boxy GLK, which was introduced in 2008 and styled after the rugged G-class off-roader.
With the softer design, Mercedes is taking aim at the Audi Q5, the top-selling luxury model in the compact SUV segment. The GLC is one of four crossovers that will be rolled out by the Daimler unit this year, including the curvy GLE Coupe.
The models, part of a 25 billion-euro investment plan through next year, are critical to Mercedes's efforts to close the gap to Audi and BMW after dropping to third in global luxury-car sales in 2011.
"We expect the GLC to take on the best in its segment," CEO Dieter Zetsche said at the unveiling on Wednesday in Metzingen, Germany.
The company expects the model to outsell its predecessor as the softer design helps win new customers.
Mercedes will also offer a plug-in hybrid version of the GLC, with a range of as much as 34km (21 miles) under electric power.
Adding an all-electric SUV to the Mercedes lineup "is a possibility," Zetsche told reporters. He declined to specify a timeframe for a decision on a vehicle that would compete with Tesla Motors' Model X and Audi's planned battery-powered crossover.
With the GLC's more car-like styling, Mercedes is catching up to the trend of SUVs moving onroad as drivers from Berlin to Beijing appreciate the elevated seating position for a better overview, even in city traffic.
In addition to the new look, the GLC gets new technology, such as an optional autopilot for stop-and-go traffic and a system that automatically brakes for pedestrians and stopped cars.
The upgrades should help GLC deliveries, which start in September, to rise to 145,000 vehicles next year, compared with 136,000 GLK sales in 2014, according to market researcher IHS Automotive. While that should help the model sell more than the BMW X3 for second place in the segment, Audi's Q5 will still be the clear leader with global sales forecast to be more than 245,000 in 2016.
The GLC is no longer Mercedes’ entry crossover because of the addition of the GLA compact crossover last autumn. There is more interior space, especially in the rear.
Despite the larger dimensions, the GLC weighs 80kg less than the GLK because of extensive use of aluminum and high- to ultra-high-strength steels.
The GLC will be sold in Europe with diesel and gasoline engines that are up to 19 percent more fuel efficient than the GLK's powertrains, Daimler said in a statement.
Almost all of the driver-assistance systems have come from the C-, E- and S-class cars as standard or optional. This includes the Intelligent Drive system with collision prevention and crosswind stabilization as standard.
The GLC also gets a keyless start system, touchpad control for climate and entertainment, a rearview camera, power tailgate and power driver seats. Inside, a 7-inch color screen and media interface for phones and iPods are standard.
Diana T. Kurylko contributed to this report