The Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class is in a good spot. This tall-sided C-Class analogue finds itself in a market that’s hungry for quality luxury vehicles and even more hungry for crossovers, and its sales have grown steadily since its debut in late 2015.
Five-ish years is a long time to wait for a midcycle refresh, but in this instance, time is irrelevant. The GLC was a good SUV from the start, and now, it’s even better thanks to some clutch updates that will more than keep up with the Joneses when it hits the US later this year.
What’s new with you?
Refreshes can be all over the map, and the GLC’s changes err more toward mild than wild. Style-wise, the SUV adds a bit more character by way of svelte headlights, a new grille and tweaks to the front and rear bumpers. It still toes the party line, though, carrying a number of aesthetic touches that are reminiscent of other new Mercedes SUVs like the GLE-Class — and that includes both the traditional long-roof GLC-Class SUV and the sportier, rakish fastback of the Coupe variant. It doesn’t look too different, but that’s fine, because the car was plenty handsome to begin with. LED headlights and taillights are now standard, too.
The changes continue inside where, again, not much has changed. There’s a new steering wheel nicked from other Mercs that adds touchpads for both thumbs, and it moves the cruise-control and driver-assist functions from a stalk to a more prominent (and easier to access) cluster of switches on the left side of the wheel. The general vibe hasn’t shifted too much, though — it’s still a comfortable, elegant place to be, whether the dashboard is covered in supple leather (GLC63) or a less expensive, more durable material (GLC300).
Spec your GLC the right way, and you’ll be staring down two different screens: a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster that replaces the gauge cluster, and a 10.25-inch screen “floating” atop the center console. The most major part of the GLC’s refresh lives there; MBUX, Mercedes-Benz’s latest infotainment system, builds upon the old COMAND telematics setup by adding fresher graphics, better responsiveness and a digital assistant that springs to life whenever it hears, “Hey, Mercedes.” MBUX is very, very good, but the only problem is the voice recognition generally tends to kick in every time it hears “Mercedes” without the “Hey,” leading to awkward shouts of “Cancel!” every time I tried to talk about the car or the automaker while seated in the cabin.
GLC300: The masses rejoice
The GLC300 is available in both rear- and all-wheel drive configurations, but the engine under the hood is the same no matter what. The SUV’s 2.0-liter inline-4 puts out 255 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque, improvements of 14 and 0, respectively, over the pre-refresh GLC. A nine-speed automatic transmission is the only cog-swapper on offer.
My time with the GLC300 is spent on sinewy forest roads around Frankfurt, Germany. The revised powertrain offers up plenty of usable around-town torque, although some of that comes from the EQ Boost 48-volt mild hybrid system that’s available on European GLC300 models, but not US-spec variants, which is a shame, because that little bit of electrification does go a long way. On unrestricted portions of the autobahn, this twee engine has no problem hanging out at higher speeds for extended stretches of time, but it does take a bit of effort to get there; this is an engine that likes to live in a more efficient part of the rev range. It’ll be more than enough engine for a majority of the SUV’s target audience.
My tester is equipped with optional air suspension, and hoo boy, it makes for quite the chill existence. Whether rough or smooth, the road’s annoyances are all but eliminated, leaving the cabin feeling like a pillow floating down the road. It’s not so soft that it feels floaty or otherwise aloof, but it’s one of the best rides I’ve experienced in this segment.
Like before, the GLC300 is available in both standard SUV and the fastback Coupe variants, with the latter commanding a bit more money for fashion while eating into cargo space. On a drive around the Frankfurt area, the only GLC300 variant on offer was the “regular” one, which I prefer. Not only does it keep that traditional long-roof shape, it offers superior rearward visibility and slightly more cargo space, which is clutch for long trips with friends or family. The additional rear-seat headroom is a boon for my 6-foot frame, too.
Modern SUVs might not always have ruggedness in mind, but the GLC300 packs a surprising amount of capability off the beaten path. Mercedes-Benz put together a pretty complicated off-road course, and even with the stock all-season tires equipped, the GLC proved more capable than most buyers will ever need. Equipped with the optional off-road package and air suspension, the ute will provide up to 9.6 inches of ride height, although higher suspension levels are limited to speeds under about 12 miles per hour. It can handle 35-degree banks and 70% grades, competently crawling through dirt and mud at angles that left me wondering if today would be the day I finally tip over a utility vehicle. For a bit of gamification, MBUX offers a specific off-road screen that shows individual wheel articulation, slope and tilt angles and throttle position. Suffice it to say, it’s more than most buyers will ever need.
GLC63: Dopamine dispenser
For those who prefer their luxury with an added kick to the teeth, there’s the Mercedes-AMG GLC63. This bad boy is offered in two flavors. The standard GLC63 rocks a 4.0-liter, twin-turbocharged V8 engine, good for 469 hp and 479 lb-ft of torque, and it’s available in both SUV and Coupe variants. The Coupe gets an extra tier of oomph, however, by way of the GLC63 S, which bumps output to a meaty 503 hp and 516 lb-ft. Both variants look significantly more aggressive, and Coupe variants come equipped with a silly rear spoiler that looks like the automotive equivalent of a flat-bill baseball cap with the sticker still on it.
The trees are a lot blurrier behind the wheel of this one. The general feel is the same as the GLC300, because it’s still the same SUV underneath, but the sense of urgency is so much higher. Its nine-speed transmission uses multiple clutches instead of a torque converter, and while it’s a little clunkier at low speeds, the shifts are quick and painless at speed, adding numbers to the speedometer in a fashion usually reserved for low, lithe sports cars.
Adjustability is the name of the game on the GLC63. While the usual buttons to adjust suspension, transmission and engine characteristics hang out near the touchpad on the center console, there’s also a pair of clever little dials on the steering wheel that offer easier access to this configurability while driving — think of it like the “manettino” on Ferrari’s cars, but with screens inside each pod. The standard air suspension is best left in its most comfortable mode, soaking up a decent amount of road nastiness despite low-profile tires and big ol’ alloy wheels, but the engine can be turned up to Sport or Sport+ without any detriment to livability. An active exhaust system is also standard, and heaven help you if you don’t leave the pipes uncorked as often as possible; the sound is just too good to muffle.
While my GLC300 tester rocked the “standard” SUV shape, the GLC63 S I drove came in the shapelier Coupe variant. Adding that extra fashion has few downsides: There’s still ample headroom in the second row for a 6-foot-tall passenger, and the slightly smaller cargo area won’t even be noticed unless you’re regularly stuffing the thing to the gills. Rearward visibility, or the lack thereof, is a small sticking point, but that’s about it. If you want the full-fat AMG S variant, you’re going to have to like the fastback.
Down to brass tacks
The 2020 GLC starts out relatively affordable, but as always, things can get out of control in a hurry. The GLC300 starts at $43,495 (including destination) for rear-wheel drive, and adding two more driven wheels only adds $2,000 to the bottom line. The GLC Coupe is a smidge more expensive at $50,995, but AWD is also standard there. The Mercedes-AMG GLC63, on the other hand, is much dearer at $74,745 for the SUV and $77,495 for the Coupe. The whole-hog GLC63 S Coupe will set you back a whopping $85,095.
The Mercedes-Benz GLC’s segment is thick with quality competition, whether it’s the BMW X3 and , the Audi Q5 or the Volvo XC60. The Merc has been in a knock-down, drag-out fight for the top spot, and while its competitors do offer solid blends of luxury and sport, none do it as well as the GLC-Class. With these changes for the 2020 model year, it’s harder than ever to recommend anything else.
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