Mercedes-Benz has made its reputation selling elegant, sporty sedans that are equally at home on the Autobahn and Pacific Coast Highway. It faces an enormous challenge from the rapid shift in consumer preferences to crossovers and SUVs.
How do you translate that satisfying agile, rear-wheel-drive handling feel to a vehicle that doesn’t offer the same aerodynamics, balanced weight distribution or low center of gravity? Those are the factors that make driving German sports sedans so satisfying.
Mercedes is attacking the problem with its GLC compact crossover. This is a nicely designed, premium vehicle that offers comfortable seating, decent cargo space and the ride height U.S. consumers seek.
Although it doesn’t drive like a sport sedan, it offers enough fun to help Mercedes through this challenging market transition.
The change is dramatic. In 2013, Mercedes-Benz sold 334,344 vehicles in the U.S., 88,252 of them C Class sedans, its top seller that year. Mercedes sold 32,553 GLKs, now named the GLC. That wasn’t even 10 percent of the luxury automaker’s sales.
Last year, Mercedes sold 354,144 vehicles in the U.S. C Class sedan sales dipped to 60,410 from five years before. But GLC sales more than doubled during that same time to 69,728. The compact crossover is now Mercedes’ top seller in the U.S.
Mercedes has updated the model in several ways for 2020. A full redesign is underway but won’t hit the market for several years.
With a starting price of $43,495 – including destination fee – the 2020 model is a compelling vehicle for anyone shopping for a luxury compact crossover.
The styling changes add lines and chrome accents and a choice of large wheels to make the GLC look more aggressive and SUV-like. Mercedes also upgraded the interior, adding natural wood finishes and a standard 10.25-inch touch screen. A larger 12.3-screen is an option.
The 2020 GLC gets the automaker’s new generation Mercedes-Benz User Experience, or MBUX infotainment system. It is one of the better systems in the business and might wean a driver from Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The speech recognition works. That in itself is a technological achievement. The system uses “Hey Mercedes” as its wake phrase. While intuitive, it creates some funny results for anyone who has a conversation about the vehicle or the brand in the car, or who knows someone named Mercedes.
The automaker made multiple desirable features standard for the 2020 model. Those include blind-spot alert, LED headlamps and tail lamps, the Apple and Android phone connectivity systems as well as the 10.25-inch touch screen.
The standard configuration also gets an engine upgrade. Both the crossover and coupe models get a 2-liter, inline four-cylinder engine that produces 255 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque. That is 14 more horsepower than the previous model. The 0-to-60 mph time for both models is a spritely 6.1 seconds. While automakers love to brag about faster times, in fact, that’s more than enough for any everyday driving situation, especially if you are carting your family inside the crossover.
The powertrain has a nine-speed automatic transmission. A drive through upstate New York found that it’s decent but has a hiccup or two at lower speeds. It’s not as good as some less sophisticated transmissions, such as the seven-speed on the Porsche Macan crossover. Rear-wheel-drive is standard. The all-wheel-drive version adds $2,000 to the price tag.
MORE FAMILY THAN ADVENTURE VEHICLE
The GLC offers multiple driving modes, including eco for those who want to stretch the mpg. Off-road takes on sand, gravel and snow. There’s an offroad+ to tackle more challenging dirt. But that’s something only a handful of drivers will ever use. The GLC is more family car than adventure vehicle. The 2020 GLC also has standard adaptive cruise control and automatic emergency braking.
Other automakers are working to transition buyers from sports sedans to their sporty crossovers. Depending on the configuration, the GLC ably competes with the BMW X3, Audi Q5, Porsche Macan and Acura RDX. There are other luxury crossovers, but that’s the set buyers should consider.
The 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLC competes across this range by offering nine variants including coups, the high performance Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 and an AMG 43 and plug-in hybrid the automaker plans to launch soon.
The $74,755 AMG GLC 63 is fun to drive as it is powered by a hand-built 4-liter, bi-turbo V8 engine that produces up to 469 horsepower and 479 pound-feet of torque. The vehicle roars. But driving the AMG through the Hudson Valley made one think of how much more fun the trip would be in an AMG sedan.