RÜSSELSHEIM, Germany—Working for a publication with the motto “No Boring Cars” makes it easy to be cynical. Take, for example, an invitation to drive the updated version of a volume-selling, people-moving, compact crossover like the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLC. Sure, we’ll review it, but will anyone care?
Now that we’ve driven the 2020 GLC SUV and coupe—in base four-cylinder GLC300 and Mercedes-AMG GLC63 forms—we can tell you who cares: We care. Man, do we care. And when it comes to the AMG version, we care with a vengeance.
First, a quick backgrounder: In 2016, Mercedes replaced the slow-selling GLK with the GLC, a compact SUV whose matronly shape belied its baked-in brilliance. The GLC was family friendly, chock full of hi-tech nice-to-haves, and surprisingly good to drive. Sales exploded, and the addition of the muscular “coupe” version—really just a fastbacked four-door—in 2017 only increased its appeal. Mercedes sold roughly 400,000 GLCs worldwide in 2018, a sales number that accounts for more than a quarter of the GLCs and GLKs sold in the last decade.
Which brings us to the updated 2020 GLC, which gets some styling tweaks, a new infotainment system, a reworked four-cylinder engine, and—for reasons we don’t quite understand but appreciate—improved off-road abilities. Messing with success is generally not a good idea, but Mercedes has managed to take an SUV we already liked and made it better. Like, a lot better.
We started our day in a fairly representative model of the GLC300. Its exterior styling updates aren’t that easy to spot, with a new grille treatment being the most telling difference. Other front- and back-end tweaks are pretty subtle. Inside, the changes are only slightly more obvious: A digital dashboard, wider center screen, and new steering-wheel controls are aboard, all part and parcel of Mercedes’ new MBUX infotainment interface.
Though the look and feel of the interior remain largely the same, that’s far from a bad thing, and we were reminded just how much we’ve come to like it. For example, there’s an available broad swath of wood trim that turns the floating center stack into an eye-catching vertical element that contrasts sharply with the horizontally oriented metal and leather trim on the dash. By comparison, the cabins of the GLC’s German competitors seem downright dreary.
The GLC300 gets a reworked version of Benz’s 2.0-liter turbo four, which produces 255 horsepower (up 14 from last year) and 273 lb-ft (unchanged), modest numbers that don’t really reflect how quickly the 300 scoots. The promise of a turbo-four has always been to deliver the flat torque curve of a V-6, and the GLC’s engine is one of the few that really succeeds. It sounds good, too, emitting a soft, soulful moan in place of the usual four-cylinder buzz.
The GLC300s we drove all had optional 4Matic all-wheel drive and air springs, though the latter will not be offered in the U.S. (That’s a shame, as we found the pre-refresh GLC’s ride to be on the busy side.) The examples we drove delivered more than adequate grip and precise, predictable handling, and all felt rock solid and stable at 100 mph on the autobahn. Based on our previous experiences, we expect the U.S.-spec GLC to be every bit as competent. From the driver’s seat, it feels quite a bit wider than it actually is, a trait it shares with its midsize GLE stablemate. Though this can get a bit unnerving on narrow German roads, we appreciate the feeling of roominess in what is, technically, a compact SUV.
We’re still getting used to the new MBUX interface, which (among other things) has “Hey, Mercedes” functionality much like Siri or Google. We still have yet to get extended experience—think weeks—with the system, which learns as you use it more, but the displays look beautiful and the system isn’t any more confusing or distracting than was Mercedes’ old dial interface. So far, the stand-out feature is the optional upgrade to the navigation system that, when you approach a turn, uses the screen to show a camera view out front overlaid with animated blue directional arrows—it’s extremely hard to miss your turn. It’s a very cool feature and the first good reason we’ve seen to use a built-in nav setup over Waze. The GLC also offers the German automaker’s automated lane-change feature. With adaptive cruise and lane assist active, you just tap the directional stalk and ease your grip on the wheel, and the GLC smoothly glides over to the next lane. Very, very cool.
Along with the GLC SUV, there’s the GLC coupe, with its swoopy lines and muscular hindquarters. You might expect the sleeker model to sacrifice practicality for its profile, but the interior has more rear seat headroom than you might expect, and tall folks should survive any attempt at egress provided they remember to duck under the low-hanging door frame. The only place coupe buyers will get shortchanged (besides the $7,500 price premium over the SUV—yikes!) is cargo space, but the coupe compensates with a hatch that opens wide enough to swallow large parcels.
A couple hundred happy kilometers in both versions of the GLC300 had us thinking that this was the perfect SUV for the well-heeled buyer—comfortable, capable, upscale, and uplifting to drive. Who could possibly want any more?
And Now the GLC63
Then we drove the Mercedes-AMG GLC63, and we decided that everybody should definitely want more. This is the hot-rod GLC, with a 469-hp twin-turbo V-8 shoehorned under its hood. Just the mere existence of a blown V-8 in a compact SUV reminds us that the Germans do, contrary to popular belief, have a sense of humor.
Our test-rocket had the same interior color scheme as the last E63 we tested— black with carbon-fiber and yellow trim—and we were amazed at what a different character it presents compared to the GLC300. But that amazement lasted only a few seconds, because we found plenty of other stuff to be amazed about, namely how insane the GLC is with the elephant-gun engine. If you have any experience with any 63-series AMG, you know what we’re talking about: It’s crazy fast, crazy loud, and crazy fun. The extra-fat tires provide extra-big grip, and no matter the speed, all it takes is a firm prod of the accelerator to launch you into next week. The GLC AMG doesn’t take itself as seriously as BMW’s M SUVs, but it is, as the Notorious B.I.G. would say, a true f-in’ player. And with a price tag below $75K, we’d call it a cheap thrill—relatively speaking, that is.
Speaking of cheap thrills, we had a few when we got a chance to explore the GLC’s newfound off-road chops. We’ve experienced plenty of so-called off-road courses that were little more than glorified meadows, but Mercedes used an honest-to-goodness motocross playground to demonstrate the GLC’s improvements. The GLC offers two off-road modes, one for low-traction situations like sand and snow and the other for more hard-core off-roading, and we were seriously impressed by how well the GLC handled steep ascents and descents, extreme side angles, and bumps big enough to get the GLC on three wheels. Another nicety: The multi-angle front and rear cameras allow you to see where you’re going when the windshield shows only sky. Don’t expect Land-Rover-like abilities, but the GLC comported itself as well as any of Jeep’s Trailhawk SUVs—something we absolutely did not expect from this family-friendly crossover.
Our day with the GLC left us impressed—the GLC300 is not just competent, it’s actually enjoyable, and the GLC63 is our kind of bonkers. If the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class accomplishes nothing else, it has made us a little less cynical. For now.
2020 Mercedes Benz GLC-Class Specifications
|ON SALE||Late 2019|
|PRICE||GLC300, $43,495; GLC63, $74,745|
|ENGINE||2.0L turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4, 255 hp @ 6,100 rpm, 273 lb-ft @ 1,800 rpm (GLC300); 4.0L twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8, 469 hp @ 6,250 rpm, 479 lb-ft @ 1,750 (GLC63 AMG)|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, RWD/AWD SUV|
|EPA MILEAGE||15–22/22–28 mpg (est)|
|L x W x H||183.3–186.9 x 74.4–76.0 x 62.4–64.7 in|
|WEIGHT||4,050–4,550 lb (est)|
|0–60 MPH||3.6–6.0 sec|
|TOP SPEED||130–155 mph|