2020 Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class first drive review: Achievable Luxury
“The GLC is now Mercedes’ best-selling car in America, so they had to get this update just right. Spoiler alert: They did.”
- Breathtaking AMG performance
- Comfortable and spacious
- Advanced driver assistance
- Affordable base price
- “Hey Mercedes” voice control is touchy
- Coupe design is too expensive
Something important happened at Mercedes-Benz in 2018. For the first time ever, the GLC-Class SUV surpassed the venerable C-Class sedan in sales, becoming the best-selling Mercedes in America. The world is officially upside down. The GLC now accounts for 22% of Mercedes sold in the United States. The rest of the Mercedes SUV lineup makes up another 22% of sales, emphasizing that all these crossovers are critical to Mercedes’ bottom line. That makes the redesigned 2020 GLC-Class the most important new vehicle that Mercedes has launched in years. The larger GLE and GLS have already been refreshed, and the all-new GLB is coming shortly to complete the team.
The new GLC will be available in five different configurations. There’s the base GLC 300 in square-backed SUV body or a fastback four-door coupe configuration, and then the AMG GLC 63 in the same body styles. Finally, there’s a top-trim GLC 63 S coupe, which recently claimed the title of “Fastest SUV in the World” with a blistering 7:49.369 lap of the Nordschleife.
The salient points of the new GLC are simple: Mercedes luxury, performance, and advanced tech. Wisely, Mercedes kept the entry price of the base model within reach of aspiring premium SUV buyers, while providing a trim walk that provides easy access to both style and features. By making the GLC attractive and achievable, Mercedes plans to keep the momentum going.
Hey Mercedes, can you give us a break?
The biggest feature change in the 2020 GLC line is the addition of the Mercedes-Benz User eXperience (MBUX) infotainment system as standard equipment. This technological marvel has been exhaustively described before, and already appears in both the GLE and GLS platforms.
You can control the entire MBUX system and all the vehicle parameters three ways: through the wide 10.25-inch touchscreen on the dash, through the touchpad on the console, or by voice. The only thing to note for the GLC is that the “Hey Mercedes” voice-controlled digital assistant feature is still far too easily triggered. If anyone in the vehicle says “Mercedes,” the system pauses music and navigation to ask what you want.
Still, that’s a small price to pay for the benefits of the system. You can ask the GLC for virtually anything you want, from a different radio station to climate controls and MBUX will handle it for you. If you sprung for the optional Augmented Video navigation, the system has a great feature. When you’re approaching a turn, the center display switches from the map to a camera view of the road ahead with floating labels for side streets and big floating arrows that show you where you should be going. Augmented reality is now in your new Mercedes.
The latest DISTRONIC driver assistance
Another big deal in the new GLC is the latest generation of Mercedes’ DISTRONIC advanced driver assistance services. Active distance assistance helps keep the GLC at a safe following distance, even when traffic is inconsistent in speed. The system also brakes automatically for stopped vehicles ahead and manages stop-and-go traffic jams for you.
Active steering assistance will gently help you steer the GLC if you want that. But honestly, the new GLC drives so well you’re likely to want to keep that pleasure for yourself. More than a kinda-sorta autonomous-like feature, the system will also help you change lanes safely, and it will bring the GLC to a stop if you’re unresponsive.
Along with many other driver assistance features, one more to call out is the Active Speed Limit Assist. This feature works with the adaptive cruise control to keep you at the posted speed limit. If you’ve ever blown into a small town while enjoying a brisk drive, only to find yourself on the wrong side of the local cops, you’ll appreciate this feature.
A few new exterior design cues
All of the new GLC models have some new design cues to ogle. Base GLC 300 models now have a trapezoidal grille with a horizontal bar and Mercedes-Benz tri-pointed star, while the AMG performance models get an entirely different face with a rounded grille of vertical bars.
The most notable thing about the GLC is that you can get it in an “SUV” body with a full-height long roof, or as a four-door coupe design with a fastback hatch. The coupe body is available in the basic GLC 300 or the AMG GLC 63 performance models.
Under the hood
The GLC 300 models have a well-tempered turbo 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine good for 255 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque. That’s up 14 horses from the outgoing GLC, and the new engine is paired to a 9-speed automatic. Rear-wheel-drive is standard and 4MATIC all-wheel-drive is optional on the GLC 300 SUV. 4MATIC is standard on the coupe. 0-60 time is measured at 6.1 seconds, which knocks 0.2 seconds off last year’s model. This driveline is more than adequate for the $42,500 base price of the GLC 300 in SUV form. The GLC 300 coupe starts at $50,000, which is harder to swallow, but if you want that style, you’re going to have to pay for it.
Predictably, the AMG GLC 63 models are more exciting. These are available in the same SUV and coupe body styles, and come with a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 rated at 469 horsepower and 479 pound-feet of torque. The AMG models use the same 9-speed automatic as the base GLC, but 4MATIC is standard. The AMG version will toss your head onto the seatback with a 0-60 time of 3.8 seconds. Or, if you really want to get going, choose the AMG GLC 63 S model, available only as a coupe, with 503 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque. That one will hit 60 in 3.6 seconds. However, you’ll have to get out your checkbook because the AMG GLC 63 starts at $73,750, and the S coupe will cost you at least $84,100.
On the road
The reason to buy a Mercedes is the driving experience, and that’s why the new GLC is likely to remain the best-selling Benz on the market. We spent the better part of three days driving the various GLC options from Newark up to the Catskill mountains, skirting Manhattan on the Henry Hudson Parkway. We got in some mountains, countryside, freeway, and urban environments.
Simply put, Mercedes hit the sweet spot with this SUV. The most affordable of the GLCs is the basic SUV, which rides very well over any kind of road, steers crisply, and is just generally a joy to drive. Sure, it’s still a larger compact SUV. If you want something more nimble, go get an SLC roadster. The coupe is largely the same story. We found ours to be a little harsher over bumps, but our coupe also came with 19-inch wheels, compared to the 18s on the SUV, so that might be the reason.
The GLC really gets interesting when you come to the AMG models. In addition to the more powerful engines, you also get an AMG suspension that is silky smooth and perfectly matched to the size and weight of the vehicle. We played around with the various drive modes, but the truth is that the softer Comfort mode is just about perfect for an average windy road through the hills. This mode soaks up the bumps and imperfections while keeping the GLC level and composed. Acceleration is still breathtaking, but you’ll drive with confidence in the perfect poise of the vehicle.
The AMG models all feature larger brakes, and you’ll never overcook these in anything like normal driving, but if you buy up to the GLC 63 S coupe, you’ll get truly heroic 6-pot binders. The S coupe also comes with one more driving mode you don’t get on any other GLC: Race Mode. OK, let’s admit now that it’s vanishingly unlikely that a GLC will ever see a race track outside of a Mercedes press event, but it’s there if you want it.
The bottom line
After the second driving day, Mercedes provided us with a lovely dinner and as much wine as we wanted, and then we had a fireside chat with one of their resident futurists. The point was simple. Why all the SUVS? Because Americans live in suburbs, that’s why. For all the talk about urban renaissance, the suburbs and exurbs are still growing, and those people love their SUVs. You know it’s true, and it’s likely to stay true for at least another generation.
That’s why the new GLC-class is absolutely mission-critical for Mercedes, and why they sweated the details until they got it right. This vehicle is not only their best-seller; the gap between vehicles like the GLC and everything else is only going to get wider.
How we would configure this car
If you want the best value out of the GLC, get the base GLC 300 SUV. This rig offers you up to 56.5 cubic feet of cargo space, versus 49.4 cubes in the coupe. At $42,500, it’s a great deal if you can live with rear-wheel-drive. If you live where it snows, it’s only $2,000 more to upfit the GLC with AWD, so that’s pretty much a no-brainer. In either case, you’ll get the nifty MBUX system, driver assistance, and a truly comfortable and useful SUV. You can also option it up with the route-based speed adaptation, surround-view camera, off-road package, a Burmester sound system, or more.
If you just gotta have that V8, and we don’t blame you if you do, then the AMG GLC 63 SUV is the best deal at $73,750. The 63 S coupe is great, and not that much of a step up for the price. Overall if you like the look of the coupes, that’s a personal choice. We didn’t think they were better or worse than the SUV style.
Should you get one?
If you’re shopping the premium SUV segment, you should absolutely go check out the new GLC line. The features you get for the price make this vehicle aggressively competitive.
Further, if you’re checking off options on an economy SUV and the price is edging past $35,000, it’s even smarter to pause and think about what you could be getting with a base GLC instead of a tarted up econo-box. For a few bucks more you could be rolling in a Benz, and that’s a very fine proposition.