2020 Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class Review: Fast and Fancy Family Haulers
By Aaron Bragman
Editor’s note: This review was updated Sept. 30, 2020, to add our driving impressions on the AMG GLC43 Coupe.
The verdict: Stylish, luxurious and blisteringly fast in AMG form, the compact GLC-Class crossover is the C-Class sedan for people who need more cargo space.
Versus the competition: The GLC-Class easily compares in size, technology, luxury and price to the BMW X3, Alfa Romeo Stelvio, Audi Q5 and a host of other premium-brand crossovers.
You don’t need me to tell you that SUVs are selling like crazy right now. You’re probably thinking of buying one yourself, and maybe you’re thinking of buying this one: the updated 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLC .
If so, you’re not alone. The GLC-Class has surpassed the C-Class compact sedan to become Mercedes-Benz’s best-selling model in the U.S., and for good reason: For a few bucks more than a C-Class , you get more space and headroom, plus the same quality interior, top-notch amenities, modern multimedia system and loads of available extra-cost safety equipment. For 2020, Mercedes-Benz has updated the GLC’s styling, powertrains and some interior bits to keep its most popular model on top in a competitive class .
After spending some time in a standard GLC300 as well as the racy AMG GLC43 and GLC63 pair, we’ve come to appreciate the idea of having one as an alternative to a standard C-Class sedan.
The Best Seller: 2020 GLC300
The base model sold in the U.S. is the GLC300, equipped with a 255-horsepower, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and nine-speed automatic transmission. It can have rear- or all-wheel drive and makes 14 more hp than the outgoing model, though torque is unchanged at a stout 273 pounds-feet. It’s smooth and punchy, but suffers a bit of lag on initial acceleration.
I’m not sure if it’s the transmission tuning or actual engine turbo lag, but there’s a noticeable hesitation between the movement of your right foot and the car’s acceleration response. Switching the drive mode into one of its sportier settings (Sport and Sport Plus are available) doesn’t seem to help much, though it does change transmission behavior, keeping it in a lower gear. The lag doesn’t negatively impact the overall feel of the GLC300, which is tuned more for comfort than sport anyway, but it’s noticeable when you call for quick acceleration.
Fuel economy for the base engine is decent, coming in at an EPA-estimated 22/29/24 mpg city/highway/combined for the rear-wheel-drive base model, 21/28/24 mpg with 4Matic all-wheel drive.
Comfort is more the GLC300’s game. While it’s a bit tight inside due to it being a compact SUV, it’s a comfortable cabin with highly adjustable seats, decent legroom and plenty of headroom for front occupants. Storage up front is limited; there aren’t a lot of places to put your stuff except the cupholders. (Just hope you didn’t need to put a cup there.) Backseat passengers are a bit more cramped, but the space is comparable to competitors such as the Alfa Romeo Stelvio and Jaguar F-Pace.
What you’ll notice most about the GLC is how quiet it is: The engine itself is impressively muted; there’s absolutely no wind noise even at highway speeds; and road noise through the tires is hushed. It’s an astonishingly serene driving experience for a compact crossover. The steering is heavily boosted, especially at lower speeds, but stable and well controlled, especially as speeds start to climb.
The only issue I have with the GLC300’s drive is the ride quality, which is surprisingly stiff. I blame my test vehicle’s 20-inch wheels and low-profile tires; while the wheels served to spice up the look of the GLC quite nicely and offered plenty of grip, the short-sidewall tires definitely transmitted a lot of New Jersey’s broken pavement harshness to the cabin, where the SUV’s copious levels of sound and body insulation couldn’t quite filter out the worst of the bumps. The standard 18-inch wheels may not be as sexy, but if you live anywhere with changing seasons and their resulting road-surface conditions, you’ll appreciate the taller-sidewall tires’ ability to soak up bumps a lot more than the bigger wheels’ looks.
The GLC’s interior updates are minor but welcome. The biggest change is the introduction of MBUX, Mercedes-Benz’s next-generation touchscreen-based multimedia system that provides a streamlined user interface and some really slick features not seen from any other automakers.
Yes, you could plug in your personal electronics and use Apple CarPlay and Android Auto — but if you do, you’ll miss out on the navigation system’s eye-popping augmented reality turn-by-turn directional arrows. A forward-facing camera shows you the view ahead, and upon approaching a turn a magic arrow appears, floating on the screen. The only way this would be cooler is if it were projected onto the windshield itself.
The only drawback to having the MBUX system is that you can’t say the word “Mercedes” in the car without activating the Siri/Alexa-style voice concierge, interrupting your music or conversation and forcing you to grumble “Cancel!” at the car. Most annoying. When you intend to trigger the voice-control function (by saying “Hey Mercedes”), the voice controls of the MBUX system work reasonably well. That said, accessing your personal music on your smartphone is not exactly trouble-free.
The GLC has a new steering wheel, and while that’s not usually something worthy of mention, this one includes Mercedes-Benz’s touch-sensitive five-way controllers on each spoke. They work as well here as they do in other Mercedes-Benz vehicles — which is to say, poorly. Having touch-sensitive controls on a steering wheel is a ridiculous idea; it means having to focus on avoiding touching the wheel in certain places and occasionally changing a setting or channel or switching songs when you don’t intend to. Then, when you do intend to use the controls, it’s easy to scroll past the thing you’re trying to select. I’m not sure why they went from dedicated five-way rocker switches to touch-sensitive buttons, but it was definitely a step backward for user-friendliness.
The only other major development for the 2020 GLC is newly available driver-safety technology in the form of Active Distance Assist Distronic and Active Steering Assist. These bring some of the semi-autonomous driving functions of other Mercedes-Benz models to the GLC, allowing for hands-free driving for limited periods, automatic lane changes using just the turn signal, and automatic slowing of a vehicle in cruise control when approaching a bend or junction in the road. It works as well as it does in other Mercedes-Benz vehicles: You can’t have your hands off the wheel for too long or the car yells at you and will eventually deactivate the system. It’s marketed as a steering-assist feature, not a true hands-off solution like GM’s Super Cruise or BMW’s Extended Traffic Jam Assistant, but it does indeed alleviate the burden of tedious driving along straight, boring highways or in bumper-to-bumper traffic.
The Spicy Alternative: 2020 AMG GLC63
The maniacs over at Mercedes’ AMG division applied their touch to the GLC (as they have to seemingly everything in the Mercedes showroom these days), crafting the Mercedes-AMG GLC63. It’s equipped with a hand-built, twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V-8 making 469 hp and 479 pounds-feet of torque. Alternatively, you can opt for a GLC63 S, which ups those numbers to 503 hp and 516 pounds-feet. All-wheel drive is standard, and the nine-speed automatic gets special tuning to handle all that torque. The EPA fuel-economy estimate drops to 16/22/18 mpg city/highway/combined with the big engine.
Externally, the GLC63 gets considerably different styling, with a vertical-strake grille, wider fenders and bumpers, integrated trapezoidal tailpipes, and new LED light patterns for the headlights and taillights.
The driving experience is worlds different from the lesser GLC300, showing you just what an electronically adjustable air suspension and massive turbocharged V-8 can do. The whole package is a bit nuts for a compact SUV, but that’s kind of the point of the GLC63. It’s never going to see a racetrack — nobody would take an SUV out for a club track-day event — but out on the street, the combination of much more aggressive, fat-fendered styling and the brawny V-8 and its instant torque is crazy fun.
The Medium Heat: 2020 AMG GLC43
As its nomenclature suggests, the GLC43 is an AMG-lite version with an in-between engine: a turbocharged 3.0-liter V-6 with 385 hp and 384 pounds-feet of torque. Like the GLC300, it has notable accelerator lag, both from a standing start and accelerating while already in motion — the latter due more to its nine-speed automatic transmission, a stubborn actor for downshifts. Once all systems are go, the GLC43 accelerates swiftly, especially as revs climb. But the whole of it gives a sort of binary sensation of power: It’s either on or off, and not always on your preferred timing.
Like in the GLC300, shock absorption remained firm in our GLC43, which rode 21-inch wheels and the sort of low-profile tires required with gargantuan wheels on a compact SUV. (Adaptive shock absorbers are standard across the line; AMG models trade coil springs for air springs.) Still, the GLC43 felt more hunkered down than the GLC300, with better body control and less bounciness than its non-AMG sibling sometimes exhibited.
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The Weird Ones: 2020 GLC Coupe
Want all the high-riding style of a crossover SUV but none of its headroom or cargo utility? Well, Mercedes-Benz has the answer: a coupe version of the GLC that’s meant to go head-to-head with the BMW X4 . GLC Coupes feature a chopped-top look and swoopy hatchback, and they’re available in GLC300, AMG 43, AMG 63 and AMG 63 S versions. They behave exactly like the SUV version of the GLC, with the same powertrains, suspensions, and ride and handling characteristics. The biggest difference in how they feel stems from the loss of the GLC SUV’s excellent all-around visibility: The new gun-slit rear window doesn’t even have a wiper, meaning your already dramatically curtailed rear view will get even worse in the rain.
The only reason to choose a GLC Coupe over the standard SUV is style — and that’s of questionable taste, given choosing a coupe comes with the stigma of anyone conversant in automobiles recognizing you’ve spent a lot of money on something silly. Our advice: Stick with the already stylish SUV version. If you must have something more stylish, pop your extra cash into an AMG version, which provides both extra style and a lot more entertainment value.
GLC-Class Pricing: Luxury and Speed Never Come Cheap
Starting price for a rear-wheel-drive 2020 GLC300 is $43,495 (prices include destination fee ). That price bumps up to $45,495 if you want 4Matic all-wheel drive or $50,995 if you want a GLC300 Coupe. Start adding safety features and fancy interior bits, such as the stellar head-up display, and that number quickly climbs. The as-tested price for my loaded GLC300 4Matic came to an eye-popping $63,835. That’s just past the starting price of the cheapest AMG version, the AMG GLC43 ($60,495). The GLC63, meanwhile, starts at $74,745 for a GLC63 or $85,095 for a GLC63 S Coupe. Load up a GLC63 S Coupe and you’ll come perilously close to the $100,000 mark. That’s a lot of money for a compact SUV.
There’s also a plug-in hybrid, the GLC350e, which comes only in SUV form (that is to say, not as a GLC Coupe). With 22 miles of EPA-rated electric range, the GLC350e starts at $52,895 for 2020. But Mercedes is, er, pulling the plug on the GLC350e after the 2020 model year. Interested shoppers should get one while they can — or go all-electric in the forthcoming EQC400 .
Despite its formidable price, this is still Mercedes-Benz’s most popular model, and for good reason. The GLC300’s combination of refinement, comfort, technology, safety, efficiency and utility is definitely a winning one. Yes, it’s expensive, but its customers don’t seem to mind, finding value in the price commensurate with the experience of owning one (or, more likely, leasing one). If you want the best GLC you can get, the AMG GLC63 is worth the extra cost, providing a highly entertaining driving experience and an opulent, technology-packed cabin.