IT'S tough going in the compact SUV battlefield...both figuratively and literally.
Just take a look at the glittering, if occasionally mud-splattered, choices out there. Whether it's the super stylish Range Rover Evoque or the racy Porsche Macan at the top of the price scale or the elegant Kia Sportage and high value Vitara from Suzuki, the variety - and quality - is impressive.
I've been trying out one of the newest entrants into this fierce-fought sector - the Mercedes-Benz GLC 250CDI, a prestige but seriously useful four-wheel- drive model that has all the comfort and refinement of a luxury saloon.
Merc is a bit late to the class, but hopes to make up ground fast on arch rivals Audi which boasts the Q5 and BMW which last year brought out the X4.
If you are fan of Mercedes styling, you are sure to be won over by the GLC's smooth lines and delicate tail, which is more elegant than most rivals. Of course, the huge three pointed star dominates the slatted grille.
The overall effect is traditional yet contemporary. Less bulky and more car-like to sit in than many competitors it will also hold strong appeal to owners who are making a switch from a conventional saloon to their first SUV.
Spend close to £40,000 on a mid-sized four-wheel-drive and you expect good road manners and a dash of fun as well as smart looks and a comfy cabin.
The Merc delivers well on these scores, particularly when powered by the 2.1-litre, 201bhp engine which strikes a good balance between gutsy performance and frugal economy.
The four cylinder unit isn't the latest in technology but a good installation means it's pleasantly free from vibration and the so-common diesel rattle at low revs.
A more modern diesel, currently in the new E-Class, will soon become available in the GLC.
The 250d polishes off 62mph in a brisk 7.6 seconds and finally runs out of steam at 138mph, which puts it towards the head of the pack.
Economy is also in the higher echelons with a CO2 emissions level of 129g/km and an official combined consumption of 56.5mpg. In practice, this works out at around the 45mpg mark, which is excellent for a comfortable luxury express.
Standard issue is the nine-speed automatic gearbox with column lever.
It might not be the most sporty transmission but it's smooth enough and takes much of the hassle out of city driving and traffic snarl-ups. Most of the time you are unaware of the 4matic four wheel drive system's presence - it merely keeps you securely stuck to the road in a drama-free fashion.
Ground clearance isn't sufficient to conquer seriously bad terrain, but that's not really the Merc's main purpose.
Families will find ample room within the classy cabin. Leg and headroom front and rear is generous and the square boot absorbs 550 litres of luggage, more than most rivals. If you fold down the rear seat, there's space for 1,600 litres.
Standard equipment on the AMG Line version tested includes leather seating, sat nav, body styling including side skirts and front and rear apron, reversing camera and black ash wood trim.