The top-selling Mercedes-Benz GLC and GLC Coupe have been given an important update, to better tackle competitors such as the Audi Q5, BMW X3/X4 and Volvo XC60. This quick launch drive is from the international event, ahead of the Australian product rollout due in the third quarter of this year.
The revised range picks up new entry engines that we’ll be looking at here, overhauled infotainment software, a greater array of suspension configurations, and safety technologies trickled down from ritzier fare such as the S-Class limo.
You’d need an eye for detail to immediately spot the exterior changes to the refreshed GLC, but they exist. The reshaped grille gets an optional diamond mesh backing with single or twin-louvre inserts. Both get new ‘high performance’ LED headlights and tail lights, tweaked rear bumpers and new alloy wheel patterns.
The changes are far more evident on the inside. The lower portion of the centre fascia is the same, but the 10.25-inch landscape screen is new, and runs the company’s MBUX infotainment system familiar from the new A-Class, though oddly enough not found in the updated C-Class which shares much of the GLC’s architecture.
The configurable user interface is cleaner and easier to navigate than before, with simple tabs scrolling horizontally. The old rotary dial controller has been replaced by a flat trackpad like your laptop’s, but the system also operates via a new touchscreen, a little touch-sensitive pad on the steering wheel spoke, or conversational voice control.
This system is activated by the voice command ‘Hey Mercedes’, and can change the station, find a destination, dial your phone, and handle more advanced functions such as asking for the passenger seat heater to be switched on. The directional mic means the system knows which cabin occupant is speaking, and tailors responses to suit.
Of course, the downside is any time you happen to say the world 'Mercedes' in idle conversation, the system chimes in and asks what you want, cutting whatever audio you're listening to like a rude party guest. You can switch the voice assist off but unlike BMW's version, you can't change the callout that invokes it.
Perhaps the coolest bit, through, is the augmented reality navigation mode pilfered from the EQC, in which a moving blue arrow is laid over the top of live front camera footage, and juxtaposed with a conventional overhead map, pointing you in the right direction. Trust us, it goes from gimmicky to great within a few minutes of use.
This screen combines with a 12.3-inch digital instrument readout with three display layouts, with all manner of information menus that a touchpad on the other wheel spoke sorts through. The information overload is topped-off by a head-up display projecting onto the windscreen.
Of course, it all looks a touch ad hoc compared to MBUX’s layout in the new-from-ground-up A-Class, first-ever GLB and co, where the centre screen and driver instruments are all integrated in one large piece. Naturally, the logistics of totally overhauling a cabin for a mere upgrade was deemed too much in this case.
Familiar Benz touches such as the delightful chrome window switches and Burmester speaker covers, seat buttons on the doors, plane-like round ventilation controls and the availability of various trims from real wood, to glossy plastic or brushed metal remain. New touches include a Qi smartphone charging pad, different key fob, and a system that changes the car’s scents and lighting based on the mode you choose.
It remains a proper luxury experience with some flair, and a more modern-contemporary touch.
The back seats remain pretty spacious in the regular GLC, with rear vents and climate controls and comfortable leather seats. The boot is a decent 580 litres in capacity, and little switches in the loading area flip down the middle seats gracefully.
The Coupe’s headroom in the rear is much tighter as you’d expect, for anyone over 180cm in particular, and the boot is 15 per cent less capacious despite having a larger aperture. At the same time, it’s more practical than your average GT passenger car, which it’s clearly trying to pilfer sales from.
There are also more driver-assist functions to option, expanding on the usual stuff like AEB and blind-spot monitoring. The active cruise control system brings the vehicle to a halt and can automatically get it going again, and can talk with the traffic sign assist system to adjust to speed limits (contingent on global region). There’s a new auto lane-change assist function and an emergency swerve system, and a trailer-reversing assist.
The entry-grade twin-scroll turbo-petrol engines are brand new. The GLC200’s old 135kW/300Nm 2.0-litre is replaced by a new unit with 145kW/320Nm, taking one-tenth off the 0-100km/h time (now 7.9 seconds). Fuel economy on the European cycle is as low as 7.1L/100km (NEDC, not WLTP).
Meanwhile the GLC250 has been replaced by the GLC300, with its 2.0-litre unit going from 155kW/350Nm to new outputs of 190kW/370Nm, cutting the 0-100km/h time to a sprightly 6.2 seconds without any fuel-use disadvantage over the GLC200. This engine will be the top-seller.
Both engines get the de rigeur EQ Boost system, comprising a 10kW/150Nm electric motor boost active while the turbo spools, and a single belt-driven starter/alternator that works with recuperated, otherwise wasted, brake energy that charges the small battery onboard.
This system doesn’t just slightly cut fuel and emissions, and fill in any engine lag, but also makes the driving experience smoother by activating the stop/start while you’re rolling very slowly, and running car functions with the engine decoupled while driving downhill. Mercedes calls this function ‘coasting’.
It's a welcoming thing that these base entry petrol engines are notably punchier and smoother than before - though hardly sonorous - yet have slightly superior fuel use and lower emissions.
On a side note, European versions of the engine are fitted with an expensive petrol particulate filter, but it’s not added to either US or Australian models because regulations don’t demand them, and the precious metals therein are expensive as hell. Mercedes-Benz claims our sulphurous 95 RON petrol is nevertheless compatible with their PPFs if needed.
Both of these engines are mated to a permanent all-wheel-drive system with a rear axle bias, which can be enhanced with individual wheel braking and various off-road modes that change the throttle and gearbox mapping, and ESC parameters. A GLC200 with rear-wheel drive should also continue as a price-leader.
The nine-speed automatic with a torque converter remains, and is still occasionally shunty on down-changes and lacks the overall ‘crispness’ and decisiveness of the BMW X3’s ZF eight-speed unit. It’s hard to spot more often than not, but Mercedes’ driveline engineers haven’t quite nailed the management of this one, we think. Sorry.
We’ll leave the revised versions of the hardcore 375kW 4.0-litre BiTurbo GLC 63 AMG S V8 to another review due shortly.
There are also new 2.0-litre Euro 6d diesels in place of the old 2.1 unit, making 120kW/360Nm (GLC200d) or 143kW/400Nm (GLC220d), dashing to 100km/h in 8.9s or 7.9s respectively, and using 5.2L/100km. There’s also a top version of the same unit (GLC300d), with 180kW/500Nm, that sends the GLC to 100km/h in 6.2sec and uses 5.7L/100km.
These diesels don’t get EQ boost but share the rear-biased permanent AWD system, and nine-speed automatic. We can’t say we spent much time behind the wheel, though they’re pretty quiet at idle. Based on sales locally, petrol is very much the priority for Australia, though one of the GLC220d or GLC300d could come.
There’s no official word on a replacement for the outgoing GLC350d’s potent 190kW/620Nm V6 diesel, though scuttlebutt suggests a GLC400d six could be coming.
On this note, a GLC petrol plug-in hybrid (PHEV) with 50km electric driving range is also on the cards for us as soon as the end of 2019, but likewise there’s no official confirmation outside of Europe, the US and China for that.
Underneath there are three suspension modes, kicking off with steel springs and passive dampers, going up to steel springs with adaptive dampers that change in stiffness depending on mode or surface, and Air Body Control air suspension that can raise the vehicle height at low speeds for off-roading.
Oddly, the launch program near Stuttgart comprised some pretty heavy off-road trails, with moguls, offsets and log runs, plus a muddy water crossing, which the GLC breezed through. It's tricky little off-road external cameras worked a treat, ditto the brake-torque-vectoring system. Almost no GLC buyers in Australia venture off the beaten path, but they can if they wish to...
Depending on how large the diameter of your alloy wheels and slim your tyres are, the ride on steel springs with either damper can be a touch harsh and brittle over things like road joins and potholes, whereas the air suspension is just magnificently smooth. It’ll be an extra-cost option, but one worth considering if you value comfort.
The final piece of the puzzle is pricing, which we don’t know yet. The current range kicks off at $62,300 plus on-road costs for the GLC200 wagon, climbing to $71,720 for the GLC250 petrol, and $74,375 for the GLC250d diesel. Meanwhile the GLC Coupe wears a premium nudging $11,000 that’s frankly hard to justify objectively.
We’d imagine little would change on this pricing front, though you’re likely to get yourself a discount on the outgoing model in runout compared to this new one once it arrives around September.
In summary, as far as mid-life updates go, the GLC makeover is a good one. It’s not hard to see why these sell so well, given the classical design inside and out, and relatively accessible price point (for a Mercedes).
Sure, we’d love the A-Class’s glitzy dual-screen layout to feature, the nine-speed auto and ride quality on steel springs to be a smidge smoother, and the current lack of a GLC350d replacement to be addressed down the track by a mooted GLC400d.
But the improved base engine, sharper cabin technologies and tweaked looks keep the GLC sharp against its main rivals, and will see this model out until replacement, relatively well. We’ll bring you more specific Australian information at the launch in a few months.
There are a lot more images of the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLC in the Gallery Tab above.