With a fresh face for its 2020 midlife update, the Mercedes-Benz GLC range needs to tread carefully. In 2019, it was Australia’s favourite prestige medium SUV and Benz’s second biggest seller behind the C-Class.
In the case of the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLC300 4Matic, the mid-range model appears as a new-to-the-range variant, though in reality the GLC300 steps in where the old GLC250 left off.
More than just a bigger badge, though, the GLC300 brings more robust engine outputs, tweaked specifications and equipment, but – of course – wears a more expensive list price to match.
You’ll now pay from $79,700 before options and on-road costs for the GLC300, whereas the 250 before it kicked off from $71,361 plus ORCs. To help cushion the blow somewhat, you now get 190kW and 370Nm from a new 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder petrol engine, compared to 155kW and 350Nm in the old.
As before, a Benz-developed nine-speed torque converter automatic sends those outputs to all four wheels. Mercedes calls all its all-wheel-drive systems ‘4Matic’, though in this instance you get a rear-biased system, unlike the front-wheel-foremost system of the smaller GLA.
Equipment highlights for the GLC cover things like LED headlights, leather-look seat trim with a leather-wrapped steering wheel, dual-zone climate control, 64-colour ambient lighting, cruise control with speed limiter, push-button start, electrically adjustable front seats, a powered tailgate and more.
Moving up to the GLC300 adds extras like keyless entry, wireless phone charger, side steps, adaptive LED headlights, privacy tint and 20-inch alloy wheels. My favourite thing about the old GLC was the size of its centre storage, but wireless charging shrinks that space down. Whereas you used to be able to fit a box of Favourites chocolates in there (no fooling), there's now only room for a phone, and I'm not sure how I feel about the change.
New for the updated GLC range is Mercedes-Benz MBUX, a more user-friendly infotainment system with a 10.25-inch central display and linked 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster controlled by a console touchpad, steering wheel capacitive buttons, touchscreen inputs or conversation voice instructions.
It’s a system leaps and bounds ahead of the older COMAND system, but the learning curve is steep. If you’re new to MBUX, expect a slew of off inputs until you master the system and its huge scope of abilities. From there, it's as second-nature as using your phone and possibly more comprehensive in some respects.
As for voice control, telling the car you’re hot or cold adjusts the climate control easily enough, and the system knows if it’s the driver or passenger talking. Asking for a navigation address is fraught with difficulty, however. Asking for something simple like ‘nine Main Street, Carlton’ seems to result in completely incoherent matches… ‘Navigating to 735 St Kilda Road, East Doncaster’ where there’s no fit, match or even similarity to the spoken instruction.
Here’s hoping a future update does a better job with Australian accents... Or anything that isn’t textbook British English spoken in a BBC newscaster voice, it seems.
Safety is important, so while the GLC wears a five-star ANCAP rating, it was awarded in 2015. Features include nine airbags, driver-attention monitoring, 360-degree camera, active blind-spot assist, rear cross-traffic alert, autonomous emergency braking, active lane-keeping assist, evasive steering assist, active braking assist with cross-traffic detection and more.
The interior is a mix of upmarket and down. Yes, the infotainment is the star, and there’s a pleasant and familiar look, feel and heft to the seat trims and door cards, but a stark lack of quality in the interior plastics.
The air vents creak when you touch them, plastic surrounds for the buttons on the console flex as you press them, and the dour satin-silver spear through the dash would look at odds in a Kia, let alone a Benz with its hand out for $80K.
Be that as it may, the LED light show within, and the lure of the infotainment, will likely appease more buyers than it offends.
On the road, things improve slightly. The GLC300’s turbo four makes the most of its strong, torquey mid-range. Even though peak torque comes on tap down low, the engine feels linear as it rises and falls through its mid-range. At high revs it quickly runs out of puff and sounds strained, so it's best not to push too hard – realistically, there’s no need to if you let the engine do what it does best.
The transmission smarts mean you’re never caught in the wrong gear on the go, and shifts are silky smooth on the move. However, because the transmission starts in second gear in comfort mode, the GLC300 can feel ponderous, as though it’s labouring to get a start in swift traffic. In more relaxed driving it’s less of an issue.
The ride comfort is about as divisive as you’ll find. The car we tested was supplied with the standard fixed, or passive, dampers as opposed to the optional adaptive or air ride suspension available. While Euro cars usually stick to a firm-to-fidgety ride, the GLC300 has a long loping quality that should be absorbent and cushiony, but somehow still manages to feel out fine imperfections before bottoming out alarmingly over speed humps and spoon drains.
No other car through the CarAdvice garage in recent memory found its bump stops quite so often (not even the ‘hydraulic cushioned’ Citroen C5, and it’s designed to do so). The only way to get cleanly over neighbourhood speed humps is to slow to a crawl, much to the chagrin of following traffic.
Not all urban calibration is as errant, however. Finger-light steering, completely free of intrusion from road-surface inputs, makes for an easy to punt about nature. There’s still a sense of stability on the open road, but eager over-assistance makes navigating tight city laneways and cramped parking bays much easier to endure.
Then there’s fuel consumption, which brutally lets the GLC down again. Officially, the GLC is rated at 8.1L/100km. In stop-start traffic heading to and from the office, the figure would easily push beyond 15.0L/100km, highway consumption dropped to low eights, and after a week of mixed use things settled at 12.3L/100km.
At least from a practicality point of view, the GLC has the comparable C-Class Estate beaten. A higher roof, longer wheelbase, and rear seat pushed slightly further back mean passengers have more space to stretch out in.
The 550L boot one-ups the wagon’s 440L claim, and if you’re often on gravel roads or spend winters at the snow, the GLC’s all-wheel drive adds peace of mind not found in the rear-wheel-drive C300. All in, not a bad collection of upgrades for your $2600 up-spend.
In terms of accommodation, the driver seems to do worst of all. The GLC's footwell is narrow, and the pedals are pushed to the right creating a somewhat side-saddle driving position and offset feel. The front passenger has no such gripes, although the long-legged amongst us might find the glovebox slightly intrusive.
In a show of force, Mercedes-Benz has recently upgraded its warranty from three years to five, leaving BMW, Audi, Jaguar Land Rover and Volvo behind (though expect changes to follow), and finally joining mainstream brands with a minimum five-year warranty.
Services are set at 12-month or 25,000km intervals, with a choice of ‘Service Solutions’ plans offering either pay-as-you-go options for the first three services ($600, $950, $1150 each or $2700 all up). Alternatively, there’s a pre-paid option (which can also be rolled into your finance) at $2150 for three years, $2950 for four years or $4650 for five years inclusive of all filters and fluids described in the service schedule, but not wipers or brake pads and discs.
While it isn’t without its issues, the Mercedes-Benz GLC300 seems to get interior size, comfort and practicality. Empty-nesters won’t feel dwarfed, young families won’t feel squeezed, and urbanites should be happy with the positioning.
It’s a tough market out there, though, so the GLC is by no means a default option. Strong competition from BMW, Audi and Volvo means hard going for Mercedes-Benz, and as a buyer, those competitors absolutely warrant your attention if you’re looking for a prestige medium SUV.