Following our international test drive, it’s time to take a closer look at the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLC on local roads. It’s a vital vehicle for the brand too, with the luxury medium SUV sector growing in popularity with Australian buyers.
If you factor in the popularity of Audi Q5, BMW X3 and Volvo XC60, not to mention the quality of those entrants, you understand why the GLC needs to be primed to take the fight to the established players.
Mercedes-Benz knows that design is important in this segment - you don’t just appeal to buyers on price or brand here. As such, subtly revised styling is key to the 2020 model, including a revised grille, new LED headlights and tail-lights, revised rear bumpers and new alloy wheel designs.
Importantly, the GLC still looks like a GLC, which is exactly what fans of the three-pointed star will expect.
It’s inside the cabin, where the biggest changes have taken place - and that’s in the move toward higher-tech inclusions, better infotainment, and an interface matching that of the newest vehicles in the Mercedes-Benz stable.
There’s a new 10.25-inch screen mounted in landscape - rather than portrait - mode, and the system is controlled via the clever MBUX platform, which we’ve previously tested in A-Class. You can read our previous stories to check how the system works, but think of it as you would the control system within your smartphone.
A quick ‘Hey Mercedes’ gets the conversation going, and from there, you’ll be able to tell the vehicle what you need.
As we’ve come to expect from a range of manufacturers, there is now more than one way to work with the system too. Touchscreen, voice, a trackpad like you’d find on a laptop, and a touch-sensitive pad on the steering wheel.
What this new system does, is ensure the GLC feels more premium - as it should - and changes the way you experience the vehicle either as a passenger or from behind the wheel.
One thing we noted on the international launch still remains. Mention ‘Mercedes’ inadvertently in conversation and the system interrupts your navigation or music because it thinks you are speaking to it.
It’s a minor thing to note, but it does happen and it happened to us a few times at launch. Try shooting in-car video without mentioning what you’re driving…
The driver also gets a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster, which is crisp and beautifully designed, and also customisable to suit your desires. I was one who initially questioned the move away from traditional gauges, but I’m a convert now. Especially the clarity with which the new systems have been executed.
Tech-savvy buyers will like the Qi wireless charging pad, which for some reason, didn’t make my smartphone as hot as most of the others I’ve tested since they have become more common.
There’s the usual array of storage and comfort options you’d expect in this segment, but the main update is the infotainment and tech, which brings the GLC firmly inline with the competition - and in some senses ahead of it.
There’s been some discussion that the addition of MBUX for example, doesn’t look (or feel) as seamless as it does inside the cabin of the A-class, but keep in mind there is a vast difference between releasing an all new platform and adding significant tech upgrades to an existing platform.
For what it’s worth, I reckon the GLC feels all the better for the inclusion.
In general, the cabin feels premium and comfortable. There’s enough room in the second row for family buyers, the seats are nicely sculpted and contoured front and rear, and there’s plenty of adjustment for drivers of all heights up front.
Headroom in the second row is also quite good, and there’s enough luggage space for family duties too - 580 litres with the seats up, and you get easy to access switches to drop them down too.
At launch, we tested the GLC 200 and GLC 300 models, both on sale now. Mercedes-Benz Australia expects the 300 to be the volume seller in the range.
Later, we’ll see a full raft of model grades, including the usual AMG fare. Both 200 and 300 are powered by four-cylinder engines, the former generating 145kW and 320Nm, the latter making a more generous 190kW and 370Nm.
The GLC 200 gets from 0-100km/h in 7.8 seconds and uses a claimed 7.8L/100km of fuel, while the GLC 300 does the dash in 6.2 seconds and uses a claimed 8.1L/100km. Our launch driving was done almost exclusively on traffic-light country roads, so the fuel use figures were as low as the claims would suggest.
Both engines are fitted with petrol particulate filters in Europe, but they won’t be here due to regulations, basically. One thing that did surprise me at launch is how punchy both engines are.
Obviously the 300 feels faster, because it is, but both engines hit nicely just off idle, and sound decent up to redline too, not something you might expect in this segment. They don’t feel sports car-like by any means, but they deliver a decent note and solid acceleration through the mid-range.
Another factor that impressed, was the GLC 200 in RWD form. That model will continue to be the sharpest tool in the pricing shed, and I didn’t notice any dramatic drop off in grip or balance, switching out of the AWD (rear-wheel biased) into the RWD model.
It still feels balanced, competently tied down and more than sporty enough for the potential buyer.
I reckon the nine-speed auto (despite going into the ‘one cog too many zone’ for mine) is smooth and competent as well. It shifts up through the gears at pace neatly, doesn’t take too long to work itself out on kick down, and executes a roll-on overtake well, too. It's well matched to both engines too, in that it doesn’t visibly work better with one than the other.
It’s often difficult on launches to keep track of which vehicle, with which engine, has which suspension package underneath it.
There are three suspension systems you can opt for: steel springs with conventional dampers, steel springs with adaptive dampers, and adaptive air suspension. Each have their merit depending on budget and desire, so you’ll need to keep that in mind as a buyer.
What I will say is this. The adaptive system Mercedes-Benz uses is tuned toward the sports end of the spectrum, as you might expect. It works well too, and the GLC is an SUV that is pretty effortless to drive quickly. It never feels ponderous, heavy or unbalanced.
You can push pretty hard if you want to and it points where you want it to point.
The counter though, is that the GLC in any suspension configuration defaults to what I’d call a firm ride. In terms of bump absorption and comfort, the GLC won’t provide a plush, magic carpet style ride on bodgy road surfaces.
Our test vehicles bottomed out more than once on the harshest sections of country road we traversed. Steel springs with conventional dampers are going to be firm on large wheels and low profile tyres for example, while the adjustable air suspension will offer the best mix of sports ability and comfort, but it does come at a cost.
The GLC is an SUV that wears its popularity fairly well illuminated. It’s not difficult to see why Australian buyers like it as much as they do. And I think this mid-life upgrade adds to that appeal in terms of relevant, user-friendly tech and infotainment. The new engines are a bonus, really.
How good is the GLC against the competition? Comparison tests await, but for now it’s another impressive member of the extensive Mercedes-Benz SUV lineup.