Drumroll, please – it’s time for another sport utility vehicle. Mercedes-Benz has revamped its best-selling SUV to compete in a stagnant market.
Other than most car critics, everyone seems to realize SUVs are popular because they’re easy. They’re easier to get in and out of than low-slung sedans. They’re easier for loading groceries. They make it easy to imagine yourself camping, seeing some trees, really getting out there – even if you probably never will. These are the sort of easy things that aging baby boomers and Gen-Xers appreciate in a vehicle.
It’s no wonder light trucks (pickups and SUVs) account for three out of every four new vehicles sold in Canada, according to the latest data from DesRosiers Automotive Consultants.
The appetite has become so ravenous that Mercedes will offer 24 different versions of the new 2020 GLC globally. There’s a hydrogen fuel-cell model, a mild hybrid, a plug-in hybrid, and a rumbly AMG version with a V-8 engine that sounds like Zeus with a bad case of indigestion. When it was originally launched in 2008 as the GLK, there was just one version.
When driving the revised GLC on a narrow, twisty road, the most striking thing is how far SUVs have come. There’s little body roll. The sensation of wallowing around corners in a big tall box is entirely gone. At any polite, legal speed the GLC steers and handles so crisply there’s little point in getting a C-Class, unless you really need every last ounce of handling prowess.
SUVs have become the default; everything else is a choice.
As a loyal fan of station wagons and sedans, it pains me to see how good SUVs have become. They’re still not as fun to drive as cars, but some SUVs, like the GLC, are so close it doesn’t matter for most drivers any more.
There are caveats to this praise. The 2020 GLC 300 will only be available with adaptive suspension as a (pricey) special-order option in Canada. Without it, the handling won’t be as crisp or comfortable.
The basic 2.0-litre engine in the GLC 300 is merely adequate. In Europe, the GLC 300 has a mild-hybrid motor. In North America, it doesn’t. The reason is that in some European countries, road taxes are partly based on how much carbon-dioxide a vehicle releases. In North America, that’s not the case. Europeans get the hybrid to avoid paying high taxes, while we get the regular motor that emits more CO2.
The mild hybrid adds $1,000 to $2,000 to the retail price of the vehicle, according to Ulrich Zillmann, project lead for development of the revised GLC.
Most buyers in North America will spend at least $2,000 on big wheels and extra leather options anyway, so the added cost hardly seems like a deal-breaker.
“The consumer is buying a vehicle, they’re not buying an engine,” Zillmann says. He’s right. The mild-hybrid motor would be a tough sell on the dealership floor. The benefits aren’t obvious on paper.
But from the driver’s seat, the hybrid makes the GLC feel as if there’s a bigger, beefier engine under the hood. Below 2,500 rpm – a constant with city driving – a nifty belt-driven alternator/starter can provide roughly 110 lb-ft of extra torque.
Without the hybrid boost, we suspect the 2.0-litre motor might feel a bit meek. However, Mercedes would be happy to upsell you any of the other models: the V-6 powered GLC 43, or the plug-in hybrid 350e, or even the fire-breathing, deeply entertaining and only slightly anti-social AMG GLC 63 S. Most of those models will be available in either fastback “Coupe” or regular SUV body styles.
The truth is that the Mercedes GLC will do just fine even without a mild-hybrid system and fancy suspension. As of March, the outgoing model was the best-selling SUV in its class, according to data from GoodCarBadCar. With this mid-life refresh – a little nip-tuck, some new technology – the GLC is even better placed to take the fight to Audi, Lexus, Cadillac, BMW and the rest in the continuing SUV arms race.
- Base Price: $48,000 (estimate)
- Engine: 2.0-litre turbo I-4 (GLC 300); 4.0-litre twin-turbo V-8 (63 S)
- Transmission: 9-speed automatic
- Fuel economy (l/100 km): TBD
- Drive: All-wheel drive
- Alternatives: Audi Q5, BMW X3/X4, Mercedes C-Class wagon, Lexus NX, Cadillac XT4/XT5, Jaguar F-Pace, Volvo XC60, Lincoln Nautilus, Infiniti QX50, Alfa Romeo Stelvio, Porsche Macan, Range Rover Evoque
There are only minor styling changes, including standard LED lights, and new paint and wheel options. The regular GLC is handsome, if unassuming. The Coupe is very assuming.
Feels as a Mercedes should, but it’s a shame the tiny seven-inch infotainment screen is standard. A bigger screen is optional. USB-C ports abound.
The base 2.0-litre engine (255 hp, 273 lb-ft of torque) will feel a bit weak without the hybrid boost, but the GLC 63 is (expensive) overkill for most people. Your best bet may be to wait for the coming plug-in hybrid or V-6 models. Handling is excellent.
RIP compact discs; the GLC ditches its CD player. In its place we get the excellent MBUX infotainment system. It’s light years better than the old system and on par with class leaders.
The GLC Coupe sacrifices 80-litres of trunk capacity for style, compared with the regular GLC.
Score: 7.5 /10
Small tweaks keep the GLC in contention for class-leader.
You’ll like this car if … you like SUVs at all, even a little bit.
The writer was a guest of the auto maker. Content was not subject to approval.
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