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When last I settled behind the wheel of the Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class, I came away largely impressed with the design and performance. But I also complained loudly about the outdated COMAND cabin tech, not to mention all the missing driver-assistance features.
I don't usually expect much from mid-cycle model refreshes -- maybe a bit more power, a massaged look or new headlamps -- but Mercedes, it seems, has listened to my pleas. The updated 2020 GLC-Class now boasts the company's new Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX) infotainment suite in the dashboard and a host of advanced driver assistance systems, along with a few other minor tweaks.
For 2020, it's out with the old and in with the new MBUX infotainment system, housed in a 10.25-inch display. Yes, it still has a goofy-looking tablet-tacked-onto-the-dash design, and the bezels are still pretty meaty but the screen uses a higher-resolution display and the wider aspect is a more efficient use of the dashboard's visual space.
The interface contained within that display is also more customizable and better organized than before. The home screen features large icons for the major sections of the menu that can be quickly swiped between using either a touchpad controller on the center console or a thumbpad on the steering wheel. The control scheme is much simpler and intuitive than the old COMAND knob, and means that you can control the entire system without ever removing a hand from the wheel.
The new voice-recognition tech is also much more useful, with better natural-language understanding, connected destination search and an always-listening hotword that allows drivers to simply say, "Hey, Mercedes" to get the software's attention. I don't find that last bit hugely useful -- the voice command button is just a thumb flick away, after all -- but it's a nice bit of digital flash.
Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are standard for drivers who'd prefer to go that route, though the 2020 GLC only offers USB-C ports, so make sure you've made that switch. Fortunately, there's also a wireless charging pad (a $200 option) as a backup. Based on my experience with other MBUX-equipped Benz vehicles, I can say that Android Auto and CarPlay work great when using the touchscreen directly, but can be a hair clunky to get around with the touchpads.
Should you go without smartphone connectivity, you can opt for Mercedes' $1,250 onboard navigation software, which is quite good. I particularly like the MBUX augmented reality turn-by-turn directions. When approaching a turn, a camera feed of the road ahead appears on the screen with a floating virtual arrow indicating where you need to turn. This seems frivolous for basic turns, but this tech really comes in handy when encountering complex intersections or in areas with poor signage.
In addition to the main display, the GLC-Class' MBUX system can also be had with an optional fully digital instrument cluster ($750). This 12.3-inch screen is customizable and controlled via a second thumbpad on the left spoke of the steering wheel. The GLC's cluster is similar to the one found in the A-Class, CLA-Class and S-Class, but lacks a few of the more complex customization options. Still, it's a huge visual improvement over the 2019 model that works well when matched with new ambient lighting hidden around the cockpit.
Checking the box for the Driver Assistance Package ($1,700) adds the new generation of Mercedes's Distronic adaptive cruise control, which is able to automatically adjust the preset cruising speed based on the speed of the vehicle ahead, posted speed limits, navigation and traffic data or upcoming bends and road junctions. Personally, I'm not a huge fan of my cruising speed changing all of the time, but drivers who live in areas where speeding is more closely policed (or are just a more relaxed driver than I am) may find value and improved safety in the new functionality. Distronic also features improvements to its stop-and-go functionality, making it more consistent when used in heavy traffic.
Meanwhile, the lane-keeping assist system has been upgraded to lane-centering assist, now more actively working to keep the SUV between the lines at highway speeds. The new suite also includes lane-change assist -- a feature that debuted just a few years ago on the S-Class -- which adds a bit of steering assist to lane changes at speeds over 50 mph when the turn signal is activated. The functionality is so transparent that I usually can't tell that it's doing anything, especially since two hands on the wheel are a requirement, but I think that's a good thing in this case.
Under the GLC300's hood is a new version of Mercedes' 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 engine. At 255 horsepower, it makes 14 ponies more than the 2019 GLC, but the 273 pound-feet of torque remains the same. The new engine is mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission, and the GLC300 can either be had with rear- or all-wheel drive.
Overall, the engine is slightly more refined in its operation, but the performance doesn't feel much different from before, despite the extra power. Fortunately, the GLC still offers a good amount of power for this class and the transmission is buttery smooth with its shifts.
I would have liked a fuel economy improvement from this updated engine, but the 2020 GLC300 4Matic hits the same 24 miles per gallon combined estimate as last year. That breaks out to a stated 21 mpg city (down by one) and 28 mpg highway (up by one) -- still not much of a change there. The rear-wheel-drive GLC300 also stays the course with its 22 mpg city and 24 mpg combined estimates, but bumps up to 29 mpg highway, two more than the 2019 model. With most of the competition hovering around the 25-mpg combined mark with AWD, Mercedes-Benz is at least competitive.
Overall, this is the same great comfort-oriented performance that I've always loved in the GLC300, so maintaining the status quo here is still quite good.
Aside from the new tech, there aren't many surprises to be found within this updated GLC-Class. The cabin is fairly spacious for a small SUV with excellent materials throughout and solid construction. Benz's restrained design still has good bones after all of these years and -- with the 2020 updates and this example's optional Designo Black and Platinum White Pearl Nappa leather trim -- still boasts one of the best-looking interiors in this class.
Outside, the GLC gets new upper and lower grille designs and an almost imperceptible tweak to the headlamps' shape. Out back, the LED taillamps have also been redesigned. This example features 20-inch AMG wheels -- a $750 upgrade atop the $1,600 AMG Line styling package -- and a satisfyingly deep shade of Cardinal Red metallic paint, an additional $1,080 upcharge.
It's a little more expensive than its competition but, with the 2020 model year updates, the GLC-Class still has good legs and is a solid choice in this class of compact luxury SUVs. The GLC300 starts at $43,495 (or $45,495 for 4Matic all-wheel-drive models) including a $995 destination charge. As tested, my example has a whopping $22,100 in options, including styling, tech and feature upgrades, bringing it to $64,605 as tested.
That's a bit of sticker shock, but I've come to appreciate the flexibility that this sort of à la carte packaging offers. For example, picking less expensive paint and leather colors (I recommend Brilliant Blue metallic with Cranberry Red seats) and being more careful with options finds a pricing sweet spot with all of the great new tech for just over $50,000 -- still not cheap, but competitive.
The competition includes vehicles such as the Audi Q5 and BMW X3. Personally, I prefer Audi's MMI even over the vastly improved MBUX system, but give the Benz the edge for comfort and performance. I'd also toss Lincoln's Corsair into the melee as a dark horse with its solid performance and excellent tech, but maybe not as nice a cabin, even though it costs a lot less money than its European counterparts.
Mercedes already had a solid performer on its hands with the GLC and took a light touch to this mid cycle refresh, fixing the few issues I had with it while retaining what works. The end result breathes new life into this compact crossover.