Liz Kim | April 3, 2020
Mercedes-Benz realized early on that crossover utility vehicles (CUVs) were the way of the future. With their generous cargo area and high seating position, CUVs offer a little of everything for a lot of people.
After proving successful with the mid-sized ML, Mercedes debuted the compact GLK in 2008, which was a huge hit. And it became even more popular when the GLK morphed into the GLC in 2016. Now, the Mercedes GLC is one of the best-selling luxury vehicles in America, behind only the Tesla Model 3 and Lexus RX in popularity in 2019. That also makes it the most popular Mercedes, period.
For 2020, Mercedes offers the GLC in various flavors, starting with the GLC 300 in rear-wheel or all-wheel-drive configurations. The GLC 350e plug-in hybrid offers pure electric driving for a short distance before it works as a traditional hybrid. If that’s not your thing, there are a couple of muscle-bound AMG models for good measure. There are even GLC coupes, for those who care more about swoops than groups of passengers.
This year, the GLC gets a light refresh to ensure its appeal. Subtle exterior styling updates, interior improvements, technology upgrades, and a boost in horsepower are sure to keep luxury SUV buyers interested.
For this review, J.D. Power evaluated a GLC 300 equipped with rear-wheel drive, a Premium Package, a Multi-media Package, a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, a Burmester sound system, and several exterior trim and illumination upgrades. The price came to $49,070, including the $995 destination charge.
Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the 2020 Mercedes GLC, it is helpful to understand who buys this compact premium SUV, and what they like most and least about their vehicles.
In terms of gender and age, Mercedes GLC owners align almost exactly with owners of all compact premium SUVs. According to J.D. Power data, 56% are male (vs. 55%) and a GLC owner's median age is 59 years (vs. 58). The big difference between the two groups is median annual household income. Owners of the Mercedes earn $170,714, while owners across the segment earn $156,990.
Similarly, Mercedes GLC owner sentiments about vehicles align with those of the entire segment. Differences include preference of buying from a domestic company (23% of GLC owners vs. 34% for the segment), avoidance of buying vehicles with potentially high maintenance costs (73% vs. 81% for the segment), and willingness to pay more for an environmentally friendly vehicle (60% vs. 57%).
Owners say their favorite things about the Mercedes GLC are (in descending order) the driving dynamics, exterior styling, engine/transmission, seats, and the interior design and visibility and safety in a tie. Owners indicate their least favorite things about the Mercedes GLC are (in descending order) the climate control system, storage and space, infotainment system, and fuel economy.
In the sections that follow, our expert provides her own perceptions about how the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLC measures up in each of the 10 categories that comprise the J.D. Power 2019 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study.
The GLC’s styling is best described as conservative, with inoffensive lines and curves making for an arguably handsome, if nondescript, vehicle.
For 2020, Mercedes gives the GLC a new grille, revised front and rear bumpers and lighting, updated wheel designs, and new paint colors, which freshen things up a bit. Fear not; the enormous, three-star insignia is still as prominent and sparkly as ever. At night, a $500 upgrade allows it to glow in the dark. And really, isn't this the only accessory that matters?
My black test vehicle wore gigantic 20-inch wheels, which made the fairly basic GLC 300 stand out among the swarms of other black Mercedes SUVs that patrol the streets of my Southern California suburb.
Step inside the cabin of the GLC and premium appointments with design flair and top-notch materials will greet you.
My test vehicle had a black interior with dark trim, which doesn’t allow the design to shine even though it brings out the sparkly bits in stark relief. A new steering wheel includes touch-sensing controls for the driver information center and infotainment system.
Although the MB-Tex upholstery was fake leather, it felt nice and supple, and the wood trim on the dashboard is the real deal. Three round vents take a prominent place in the center of the control panel under the big infotainment screen, giving the cabin a distinctive and fanciful appearance. At night, available 64-color ambient lighting adjusts to fit your mood.
Equipped with 14-way power adjustable front seats, the GLC 300 offered a surplus of comfort. Heated front cushions are standard, too.
In the back, things are tight, as expected in a compact vehicle. Carrying two passengers of shorter stature posed no problem, but three adults will not be comfortable. And while legroom wasn't plentiful, the soft front seat backs helped improve comfort for the longer-limbed.
Controlled using a neat row of well-marked piano key-style buttons, the GLC’s dual-zone automatic climate system proved effective at warding off chills on a drizzly early spring day. Those with more to spend can choose upgrades such as three-zone climate control, ventilated front seats, and heated rear seats.
One of the more important improvements to the 2020 GLC is a new Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX) infotainment system. It should resolve owner dissatisfaction with the previous technology.
A 12.3-inch touchscreen display dominates the upper portion of the dashboard, and the system includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration. You interact with it by using the screen, the steering wheel, or the center console touchpad, or by using voice commands.
From its intuitive smartphone-style operation at the screen to its quick response to input and impressive graphics, MBUX is state-of-the-art. What makes it special, though, is the natural voice recognition technology. It’s as helpful as the best voice assistants, which means it won’t cause distraction or make your pulse race with frustration.
My test vehicle included the Multimedia option package, equipping the SUV with a compelling augmented reality navigation system. Program a destination, and as you get closer to turns or the place you’re traveling to, video from a forward camera shows on the infotainment screen with an overlay of navigation instructions.
Burmester audio components were another option on the test GLC, and the speakers sounded terrific, well worth the $850.
Storage bins and cubbies within the cabin remain scarce, and those which exist are small, although I found the smartphone storage bin useful.
As with all crossovers, the bulk of the GLC’s utility is in the cargo area. Opening up the hatch reveals 19.4 cu.-ft. of space, while folding the rear seats gives you 56.5 cu.-ft. A side bin and underfloor storage help manage loose items. The standard 40/20/40-split rear seats help to maximize utility, and the power liftgate makes life easier.
With its slim roof pillars and wide greenhouse, the GLC offers good visibility all around.
Safety-wise, every Mercedes GLC includes a blind spot warning system and automatic emergency braking. Unusual standard safety features include an exit warning system, which sounds an alert if you're parked parallel on the street and try to get out when a car or a cyclist is coming up behind the GLC. The Pre-Safe Sound system is a Mercedes exclusive, sending out a tone just prior to a collision that helps to mitigate ear damage.
The test car did not have the reasonably priced Driver Assistance Package ($1,700). It equips the GLC with 13 useful features including active cruise control, active steering assistance, active blind spot assistance, active lane keeping assistance, and more. There’s even an Active Emergency Stop Assist system that can bring the SUV to a safe stop in the event of a medical emergency.
The IIHS gives the 2020 MB GLC Good scores for all its parameters, but it lacks a Top Safety Pick designation. NHTSA has yet to give an overall score, although it gets a 5-Star rating for its side crash test.
Push down on the GLC 300’s accelerator pedal and a new turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine springs into action. It makes 255 horsepower and 273 lb.-ft. of torque, and Mercedes says it can move the GLC from a standstill to 60 mph in 6.1 seconds. Indeed, the GLC 300 feels quite quick, handling merges onto the freeway, passes of slower traffic, and steep hill climbs with equal aplomb.
A quick-shifting, cleverly tuned nine-speed automatic transmission puts the power to the rear wheels, giving the GLC a decidedly sporty demeanor. Dwellers of cold-weather climates will want to look into the available 4Matic all-wheel-drive option ($2,000) to increase traction in slippery and icy conditions.
Note, though, that the transmission shifter is a stalk to the right of the steering wheel. In most vehicles, this stalk serves as the wiper controls. If you're GLC owners, you get used to this design soon enough, but until that time comes it's easy to nudge it to get the wipers going, and then get flustered when you realize your mistake and the GLC is now in Neutral.
The EPA says to expect about 22 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the open road, averaging 24 mpg overall. It's a far cry from the 20.8 mpg I got on my test loop of mixed driving conditions, making it easy to see why fuel economy is the least favored aspect of GLC 300 ownership.
It used to be that, among German luxury SUVs, Mercedes offered the least spirited to drive models, instead delivering a joyless, deliberately tank-like heaviness. That's no longer the case. While the GLC’s ride and handling qualities aren't necessarily superior to those provided by the Audi Q5 and BMW X3, it can definitely match those popular alternatives, with its suspension deftly managing weight around corners and soaking up bumps on city roads.
You’ll still detect a pleasing heft in its driving characteristics, encouraging you to pitch the GLC into turns with plenty of confidence. With its precise steering and robust brakes, you will break into a grin when you see a curvy road ahead. And for those who want even more controlled dynamics, Mercedes offers an adaptive suspension option.
Crossovers. People can’t get enough of them, so it's no wonder carmakers make endless variations of these successful vehicles. It used to be that the GLC (previously the GLK) was the baby Benz of the automaker’s SUV lineup. Now, it sits in the middle above the GLA and GLB and below the GLE and GLS.
Though the GLC is a compact SUV, it doesn’t force sacrifice. And while the test vehicle had standard trim with few options and a reasonable price tag, you can add all the performance, technology, and luxury you want thanks to a seemingly unlimited list of options.
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