You don’t need me to tell you that SUVs are selling like crazy right now. You’re probably thinking of buying one yourself. Maybe you’re thinking of buying this one, the updated 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLC. You wouldn’t be alone — the GLC-Class has become Mercedes-Benz’s best-selling model in the United States, surpassing the C-Class compact sedan. And for good reason: For a few bucks more than the C-Class, you get more space, more headroom and the same quality interior, top-notch amenities, modern multimedia system and loads of extra-cost safety equipment. For 2020, Mercedes-Benz has updated the styling, powertrains and some interior bits to keep its most popular model on top.
We drove the revised 2020 GLC300 and AMG GLC63 at its U.S. launch in New Jersey and upstate New York. (Per our ethics policy, Cars.com pays for its own lodging and transportation at such automaker sponsored events.)
Related: 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLC300: Don’t Judge This Benz by Its Cover
The Best Seller: 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 a nine-speed automatic transmission, with rear- or optional all-wheel drive. It makes 14 more horsepower than the outgoing model, but torque is unchanged at a stout 273 pounds-feet. It’s smooth and punchy, but suffers from 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 actions of your right foot and the response in terms of vehicle acceleration. Switching the drive mode into one of the sportier settings (Sport and Sport Plus are available) doesn’t seem to help much with the responsiveness, but it does change the behavior of the transmission to keep it in a lower gear. It doesn’t negatively impact the overall feel of the 300, which is tuned more for comfort than sport anyway, but it does become noticeable when you call for quick acceleration.
Comfort is more the 300’s game. While it is a bit tight inside due to it being a compact crossover SUV, it’s still a very comfortable cabin with highly adjustable seats, decent legroom for front-seat passengers and plenty of headroom. Backseat passengers are a bit more cramped, but it’s comparable to competitors like the Alfa Romeo Stelvio or Jaguar F-Pace. What you’ll notice most is the quietness: The engine itself is impressively muted, there is absolutely no wind noise even at highway speeds, and the road noise through the tires is hushed. It’s an astonishingly serene driving experience for a compact crossover, evidently the beneficiary of trickle-down design and technology from its bigger SUV brothers in the Mercedes-Benz showroom. Steering is heavily boosted, especially at lower speeds, but still stable and well-controlled, especially as speeds start to climb.
The only issue I have with the GLC300’s driving dynamics is the ride quality, which is surprisingly stiff. I credit my test vehicle’s 20-inch wheels and low-profile tires as the culprit here. While the wheels served to spice up the looks of the GLC quite nicely and offered plenty of grip, the thin sidewall tires definitely transmitted a lot of New Jersey’s broken pavement harshness to the cabin, where even the copious levels of sound and body insulation couldn’t quite filter out the worst of the bumps. Going for the standard 18-inch wheels may not be quite as sexy, but if you live anywhere that has changing seasons and the resulting road surface conditions that come with that, you’ll appreciate the taller sidewall tires’ ability to soak up bumps a lot more than the bigger wheels’ looks.
GLC interior updates are minor but welcome. The biggest change comes with the introduction of the MBUX multimedia system, Mercedes’ next-generation touchscreen-based system that provides a streamlined user interface and some really slick features not seen on any other automaker’s vehicles. Yes, you can plug in your personal electronics and use Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but you’d be missing 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 was projected onto the windshield itself. The drawback to having the MBUX system in a Mercedes-Benz is that you cannot actually say the word “Mercedes” while you’re in the car, or it will activate the Siri/Alexa-style voice concierge, interrupting your music or conversation, and forcing you to once again grumble “Cancel!” at the car for accidentally triggering the “Hey Mercedes” voice control function. Most annoying.
A new steering wheel is present, and while that’s not usually grounds for being called out in a review, the new one here includes Mercedes-Benz touch-sensitive five-way controllers on each spoke. They work as well here as they do in other Mercedes-Benz vehicles — meaning not well. Having anything touch-sensitive on a steering wheel seems to me to be a ridiculous idea, as it means you focus on avoiding putting your hands in certain places, and you’ll occasionally find you’ve changed a setting or channel, or switched songs when you didn’t intend to, thanks to the touch-sensitive buttons.
The only other major development for the GLC is the new offering of additional driver safety technology in the form of Active Distance Assist Distronic and Active Steering Assist. This brings some of the semi-autonomous driving functions of other Mercedes-Benz models to the GLC, including automatic lane change using just the turn signal, and automatic slowing of a vehicle under 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 eventually deactivates the system. But it does alleviate the burden of tedious driving along straight, boring highways or through bumper-to-bumper stop-and-go traffic.
The Spicy Alternative: AMG GLC63
The maniacs over at the AMG division applied their touch to the GLC (as they seemingly have applied their touch to everything in the Mercedes-Benz showroom these days) and crafted 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 (or opt for the GLC63 S, which ups those numbers to 503 hp and 516 pounds-feet). All-wheel drive is standard at this point, and the nine-speed automatic gets special attention and tuning to handle all that torque. Externally, the GLC63 gets considerably different styling, with a vertical strake grille, wider fenders and bumpers, an integrated trapezoidal exhaust out back, and new LED light patterns for the headlights and taillights.
The driving experience is worlds different from the lesser GLC300 and shows you just what an electronically adjustable air suspension and a massive turbocharged V-8 can do. The whole package is a bit nuts for a compact SUV, but that’s also kind of the point of the GLC63. It’s never going to see a track and 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 with its instant torque is crazy fun. The adjustability of the suspension actually means that the big wheels and tires on the GLC63 afford you a more compliant ride than the big wheel and tire package on the lesser GLC300, with its non-adjustable suspension. And when you’re ready for something more aggressive, just punch a few of the buttons on the console or steering wheel and select a sportier setting for the vehicle, amping up all of the system responses and creating a more athletic driving experience.
The Weird Ones: GLC 300 Coupe and AMG 63 Coupe
Want all the high-riding style of a crossover SUV, but none of the headroom or cargo utility? Well, Mercedes-Benz is offering coupe versions of the GLC meant to go head-to-head with the BMW X4. GLC Coupes feature a chopped-top look and swoopy hatchback; it’s also available in GLC300, AMG 63 and 63 S versions. It behaves exactly like the SUV version of the GLC, with the same powertrains, same suspensions, same ride and handling characteristics. The biggest difference in how it feels 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 is even worse in the rain. The only reason to choose the coupe over the standard SUV is style, and that’s of questionable taste given that the choice of the coupe model comes with the stigma anyone conversant in automobiles recognizes as “you’ve spent a lot of money on something silly.” Our advice: Stick with the already stylish SUV version, and if you must have something more stylish, pop that extra cash into the AMG version, which provides both extra style and a lot more entertainment value.
GLC300, AMG GLC63 Pricing: Luxury and Speed Never Come Cheap
Starting price for the rear-wheel-drive 2020 GLC300 is $43,495 including destination fee. That price bumps up to $45,495 if you want 4Matic all-wheel drive and $50,995 if you want the GLC300 Coupe. Start adding safety features and fancy interior bits like the stellar heads-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 not even for the AMG version, which starts at $74,745 for the GLC63 and $85,095 for the GLC63 Coupe. Load up a GLC63 S Coupe and you’re coming perilously close to the $100,000 mark, which is a lot of money for a compact SUV
Despite the formidable price, this still is Mercedes-Benz’s most popular model — and for good reason. The combination of refinement, comfort, technology, safety, efficiency and utility for the GLC300 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.
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