With the launch of the all-new Mercedes-Benz GLC Coupe – an SUV the brand calls its sportiest model yet – there’s probably good reason that buyers might expect other, even sportier derivatives.
It is arguable that nothing is sportier than a convertible. And according to the man responsible for Mercedes-Benz engineering for all things built off the MRA platform that underpins the mid-sized Merc models, Michael Kelz, a convertible was indeed “discussed” ahead of the new swoopy-roofed four-door model’s unveiling at the 2016 New York auto show.
Kelz revealed that in the early stages, the company's development and engineering teams discussed the idea of a two-door coupe and a convertible version of the GLC, but there were complications.
He said that the so-called four-door coupe bodystyle for which the German brand has become synonymous by way of the CLS and, more recently, the CLA, GLE Coupe and now the new GLC Coupe, was not an afterthought, but rather a critical factor in the development process for the GLC range.
"They were developed concurrently, because already from the beginning of the architecture we took in to account that we also would have to do the coupe," Kelz said of the four-door coupe and five-door wagon versions.
"This gives us a nice opportunity to really, already, for the production-line preparation and so on you have opportunities to do a coupe rear without big differentiation of the body," he said.
"For us it was really important that we have another approach with that car.
"Already from the beginning that was taken into account. It was already what was planned on the architecture," Kelz pointed out.
So, why not a two-door coupe?
"It was always going to be a four-door because, just from the roominess, and also in the back it’s very big. There’s nearly no difference to the regular one because you are sitting 10 millimetres lower, and a slight little bit more upright. But also from the roominess in the rear, it’s very big, so very comfortable, and also the trunk space is very good, 60 litres less than the regular one but still 500, so still very good.
"For that reason we said also, no, we need four doors. And from the design, this is no problem," he explained.
Kelz said there was no consideration paid to making a two-door coupe version of the GLC due to the fact it may be too big of a derivation from the lengthy GLC body.
"We did not consider this, because finally, from a practical standpoint if you have such a lot of space in the rear you also want to have access. So, also we think this does not jeopardize the design, style of the car," he said.
It seems, then, that a convertible would instantly be ruled out, too. But there's seemingly a growing trend for German makers to push the boundaries with high-riding drop-top models, including Volkswagen with its recently revealed T-Cross Breeze small SUV. Heck, Range Rover is building an Evoque convertible (pictured below), and they're one of the smaller luxury players on the market.
So, why wouldn't Benz build one like the Evoque?
"To build a convertible out of such a car it would have to really change a lot of stuff under the body," said Kelz. "The car is designed, it was designed, to be a lightweight car to achieve fuel consumption and so on. And to build a convertible you have to add material to the floor pan area,” he said, indicating that the weight of such a model would make it difficult to produce.
"To make a convertible we have to put more material in," he said.
"We had this question in the beginning," Kelz said, before going on to suggest there was not sufficient market demand for such a car at this point in time.
Axel Benseler, GLC product manager, further explained that a convertible SUV isn’t on the cards at this point.
"Actually right now we don’t really see a segment there. We don’t hear from the market that there’s a need right now for an SUV cabriolet," he said.
"We have so many roadsters and convertibles already in our portfolio, then having another one based on an SUV would just, you know, it cuts the cake in smaller pieces in a way," Benseler said.
Kelz expanded on that point.
"We have already several convertibles, so we considered at a convertible in the off-road car, in the end… it has an impact on production, no doubt. But then you have to do to two doors, so we figured out at this point in time that if you want to have a very good car with low weight it does not make sense actually, so we focus on the other coupes and convertibles we have," he said.
When asked if the idea of a convertible SUV is something too outlandish for a Mercedes-Benz buyer to swallow, Kelz appeared to hint that there is still a chance for something along those lines in the future.
"There’s never a step too far. But finally you have always to discuss the relevant architectures – what you want it to do, what you don’t want it to do, how do you prepare the architecture for those things," he said of the fact that the off-road models have more hardcore underpinnings that would further impact the weight of the car.
"And also finally we saw in that situation that you cannot sell too many convertibles worldwide – like not in China, and everywhere that a convertible is not such a big focus. And that was the reason for us that we think it’s better to go with the coupe.
"This [mid-size SUV segment] in the world market is really a very good segment, and we see with the response with the convertibles to coupes that in the coupe market you are very much better positioned to sell the car.
"We have a lot of convertibles, no doubt – we are a convertible car brand – but not in this model," he said.
"Maybe there are other ideas, but I cannot tell you!" Kelz surmised.
Tell us what you think – would a drop-top SUV from Mercedes-Benz get your vote?