facelifted and fresh
2020 Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class Review: Adding Off-Road Chops to a Comfortable Crossover
America adores a mid-size crossover, especially when it’s a luxurious one. It’s not a shocker that Mercedes-Benz’s GLC—a utility version of its popular C-Class — has enjoyed steady sales growth since the line launched in 2015. The GLC-Class family now boasts more than a dozen models, including a slew of fastback coupes — a far cry from the four models initially available. Now, five years in, Mercedes-Benz faces the delicate task of giving one of its best-sellers a mid-cycle refresh.
For the upgrades, Mercedes wisely went in with a scalpel instead of a hammer. The surgical results elevated an already-competent and poised vehicle to one that’ll leave crossover ute-lovers gushing. Gear Patrol decamped to Frankfurt to test the improved GLC family, both on curvaceous country roads surrounding the city and on an off-road course.
The Good: The light tweaks seem to have been applied in all the right places. Outside, there are new front and rear fasciae, adding a new grille and sleeker LED headlamps and taillights. Inside, Merc ports over the interior we’re coming to know and love from other models, which includes a central 10.3-inch floating touch screen, a haptic touchpad in lieu of the outdated clickwheel and infinitely-configurable steering wheel thumb-touch controls.
MBUX, the brand’s new infotainment system, arrives here, too. Its fresh graphics and increased utility are welcome, as is the digital assistant. Say “Hey Mercedes” to activate Merc’s version of an Alexa or Siri, aiding you in finding everything from gas to a new radio station. The only drawback here is the assistant’s eagerness. It kicks on whenever you say “Mercedes,” which is problematic if the occupants are two auto journalists discussing the brand. You end up screaming “Cancel!” at the thing a fair amount, but any mounting frustration abates after you quip, “Hey Mercedes. Tell me a joke,” and the car responds, “I can’t. My engineers were German.” Point: Mercedes.
Who It’s For: The GLC300 is perfect for a sedate everyday driver who appreciates saving a little money at the pump, ideal for running errands around town or the work commute. The SUV’s turbocharged 2.0-liter, inline four-cylinder offers 255 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of yank regardless of whether that engine is applied to the rear- or all-wheel drive version. That’s 14 more ponies (and zero more torques) over the outgoing GLC — and while we don’t yet know the fuel-economy integers, engineers claim the new mill was designed for efficiency and reduced emissions without sacrificing power.
Though the peak torque hits at 1,800 rpm, it’s a shame we won’t get the EQ Boost (the 48-volt baby hybrid system only available on European models for now), since the electric torque bump is welcome. But whether you’re puttering around a city or trying to carve some country sweepers, the GLC300 won’t leave you wanting for more power, even if it takes a moment to deliver the oomph.
Watch Out For: You have your choice of rooflines on the GLC. Traditionalists who opt for the standard SUV will find rearward visibility adequate and familiar, along with ample cargo space and a scooch more headroom in the rear. This is the optimal choice for families who road trip. Sportier drivers who gravitate towards the fastback coupe may find rearward glances hindered by the sloping design, and there’s less room for luggage. Speeding down the autobahn, throttle stabs are met with a moment of hesitation before the GLC responds, but buyers likely won’t notice this — or if they do, likely won’t care.
Alternatives: The 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLC300 begins affordably, at $43,495 (which includes destination) for the rear-wheel-drive variant. Tack on an extra $2,000 if you want all-wheel drive, and add on another $5,500 for the Coupe line. If you’re cross-shopping, you’re likely looking at the BMW X3 ($41,000 for the RWD turbocharged four-cylinder, and $46,300 for the M Sport design variant), or the BMW X4 (about $50,000 for the base model and $60,000 for the performance-minded M-Series version). You should also consider Audi’s Q5, with a starting price of $42,950 that steps up to $53,850 for the Premium Plus model.
Review: The GLC300 is plucky when you want to mash the throttle to the floor on the autobahn, all the way to its top speed of 130 mph, and it’s cushy enough to make long hauls a snap. But the prior GLC handled the road just fine, and Mercedes-Benz wanted to showcase that the ute stands apart from the competition when it dips a rubber toe off-road.
Typically, crossovers like this are more show than go when the asphalt is in the rear-view. Not the GLC. Engineers added a second level of off-road programming, aptly called Off-Road Plus. This checkbox option, along with the Airmatic air suspension, affords up to 9.6 inches of ride height. If you want to go that high, you need to go slow — less than 12 mph, in fact, as we found out at the ADAC Off-Road Center near Rüsselsheim, Germany, where a twisty and muddy course awaited.
The tester unit used for the course had an optional off-road hardware package that includes a skid plate and reinforced rocker panels to complement the software suite enabling the GLC. In this program, the car’s ESP is engaged to brake the wheels that aren’t touching the ground and push the power to those that are. Result is, you continuously keep moving forward, regardless of the terrain. With aplomb (and all-season shoes), we waded through deep water, climbed up 70 percent grades without more than momentary wheel spin, and swooshed around 35-degree banked turns. A screen in the MBUX pages displays all the off-road data, including your slope, wheel articulation, and tilt angles. The 360-degree camera system also helps you keep the wheels pointed in the right direction when all you can see from the driver’s seat is the sky.
Ask an engineer what percentage of GLC300 customers will ever utilize any of these impressive advances and the answer is swift: “Not many.” Then why do it? After a pregnant pause, the reply comes: “Because it’s cool.” Fair enough. (The engineer further noted that to improve the software wasn’t a large research and development cost, that only a few tweaks in the software were needed.)
After lunch, the range-topping GLC63 S Coupe was available, so I hopped in the 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V-8 and snorted off. In the GLC63, that mill is good for 469 ponies and 479 lb-ft of twist; in the GLC63 S Coupe, that powerplant gets turned up to 11, notching the horsepower up to 503 and the torque to 516 lb-ft. The S Coupe looks more menacing and aggressive, sporting AMG’s Panamericana grille and a rear spoiler.
It has plenty of driving modes, too, including Sport, Sport+, and even Race. In these modes, the suspension hunkers down, the throttle response increases, it’ll hold gears longer though it’ll also give you a crisp and snappy shift whenever you ask, and the glorious active exhaust comes alive with plenty of burbles and snarls. Simply put, it’s freaking awesome. You’ll want to tinker in the individual configurations to make the most of the car, putting everything save the suspension in Race mode. (Leave the suspension in Comfort, to sop up any road imperfections.) And then you’ll want to bury that throttle. The German countryside looks beautiful as it steaks by at speeds typically reserved for the likes of an AMG GT R.
Drag the brake into a corner and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how the nose plummets and the front end hooks up. In Race mode, with the ESP turned off, the new handling dynamics automatically switch to “Expert,” which can allow for some lengthy drifts around longer corners. The GLC63 S Coupe affords grin-inducing performance, but delivers it in a predictable manner, which makes rinsing and repeating all the more fun.
Verdict: The only negatives of the GLC63 S Coupe are low speed lurches from the nine-speed automatic that employs multiple clutches, and the fact that it costs $85,095. Still, if you’re willing to part with that amount, you’ll be rewarded with a sporty ute that’s a proper hoot. The rest of the mid-size crossover buyers who don’t need to tear from a dead stop to 60 in 3.7 seconds will be beyond satisfied with the GLC300.
2020 Mercedes-Benz GLC300 Key Specs
Powertrain: 2.0-liter turbocharged inline four-cylinder
Torque: 273 pound-feet
0-60 MPH: 5.8 seconds
Top Speed: 130 mph
Mercedes-Benz hosted us and provided this product for review.
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