We’ve made it! After three entries of background bullshit about my search for a new car, we’ve finally arrived at my first test drive!

As previously noted, I am focusing on the luxury compact SUV class. While there are a ton of cars in this space, I have pretty much whittled it down to five I want to compare first hand:

  • Acura RDX
  • Audi Q5
  • BMW X3
  • Mercedes GLC300
  • Volvo XC60

Very imaginative names, no? I assure you that I’ve never gotten any of them confused or jumbled up.

Each of these gets very good reviews, always showing up at or near the top of the ratings for the class.[1] The consensus is you can’t go wrong picking any of them, but each has its own strengths and frustrations that need to be experienced first hand so you can determine what fits your tastes best.

Kind of like dating!

After we got home from spring break, I decided the Mercedes was the one I wanted to test drive first.

It helped that during one of my periodic checks of what was in stock, our local Mercedes dealer had a very sweet one on their lot. It was about as loaded as the base GLC gets before you start throwing really stupid money at one. Notably, it had the AMG-line trim flourishes without the AMG engine upgrade that adds about $20K to the price. It was a sexy damn car!

After some initial chitchat with the sales guy I had exchanged emails with, we hit the lot. The car that had caught my attention online was inside the showroom, so he was going to have me drive a slightly less specced-out model. I admired the confidence. Seems like you’d want to put your customer in the sweetest ride you have and hope they get blown away by the experience. He seemed to think any old GLC would do.

The model I drove was still pretty nice. After I gave its exterior a once-over and he had walked me through all the interior features and functions, he said, “Let’s drive. Go wherever you want. Ask me any questions you have.” Much different than test drives where they carefully direct your course or spend the entire time pushing information you haven’t asked for.

The ride? It was super nice. Much more comfortable than my Tahoe, which was to be expected. I was driving in pothole-free Carmel, which likely made a huge difference. A new car, that is tight and free of creaks and squeaks and rattles, will always sound better than one that’s been driven hard for a few years.

It was smooth, jumped when I hit the accelerator, and zipped between lanes and around curves with ease. It didn’t ride as high as my Tahoe but I was still elevated enough to have a good view of the road ahead. It very much had that combination of small SUV size plus a much more fun ride that I’m looking for.

I really liked it.

The weird thing about test drives is how overwhelming they are. You’re trying to get a feel for where everything is and how everything operates. You’re trying to compare the driving experience to what you’re used to. You have a salesperson next to you who you have to interact with. Oh, and you have to drive a strange car in traffic. I was just hoping I could remember the important details when I was done and not rear-end someone when I was trying to use the entertainment system screen.

After the drive we looked at the other GLC’s that were on the lot. My favorite was still the one inside. I told him that if I needed a car that day rather than in July, that’s the one we would be talking price on.

Which brings up an important point. Eighteen months ago their lot was filled with cars. But because of both higher demand and some constraints on production, their inventory is pretty tight. He said they are still getting new cars, just not nearly as many as in the past. People who order custom vehicles are having to wait much longer than normal to get them. However, he did say they pretty much spec all the GLC’s they order the same way, so other than paint colors and a few other options, most of the ones they receive between now and July will be very similar, and land in a fairly tight price range.

He also shared that they keep a decent inventory of former loaners that are available for purchase. These generally have around 3,000 miles on them, coming with a decent corresponding discount. That opens up an option both to work around the supply issue and push the lease price for a luxury compact SUV closer to that of a luxury subcompact SUV. You lose some the new car experience, which is balanced by a nice price reduction. That could weigh heavily on my decision since we are now making three car payments instead of two.

That was test drive number one. Since it was the first I have been kicking myself about questions I should have asked that didn’t occur to me while we were driving. I suppose that sets me up better for future test drives.

I loved the Mercedes GLC. It was exactly what I’m looking for, and is currently the top of my list. Of course, that may all change the moment I finish test drive number two.

  1. The one exception is the Acura. We’ll get more into that when I test drive it.  ↩