Behind the Wheel

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLC Review: Robust power, disappointing technology dominate the SUV's refresh

The GLC is a family hauler that provides sufficient space for four adults on a short road trip.

Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

Vehicles are all about the user experience. Whether it's how comfortable the seats are, how easy the infotainment system is to use, or how obtrusive the safety technology is, automakers are attempting to tick every box in every vehicle, within their (and the customer's) budget constraints.

The 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLC goes a long way in checking boxes for the average buyer. The model won't be winning awards for cutting edge design anytime soon, but there's nothing wrong with that. Its exterior design is pleasant enough, especially with the minimalist grille on the GLC 300.

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLC The minimalist grille on the GLC really enhances its appearance.Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

As tested, the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLC 300 is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that achieves 255 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque. The engine is paired with a nine-speed automatic transmission. Its get up and go is good enough for daily driving and acceleration off the line is inspired. Still, this version of the GLC just isn't that exciting.

Front-wheel drive is standard in the model and all-wheel drive is available. Mercedes has updated the SUV's handling for the 2020 model year and it delivers with an engaging ride in a car that stays planted in daily driving situations without many complaints.

However, the steering wheel's control (not steering wheel controls – those operate as expected) leaves a lot to be desired. The wheel passes along every uneven bit of tarmac to the driver's hands consistently requiring a firm grip on the wheel. However, steering is sharp so adjustments can only be slight without causing major deviation from the route.

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLC This SUV has its shifter and other controls on the column in the same places the automaker keeps similar equipment in other vehicles.Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

Mercedes has outfitted the GLC 300 in premium materials that are befitting its $50,000 price tag. As is expected, the Germans have given the model excellent fit and finish.

What wasn't expected is the GLC's numerous, very noticeable mediocrities. Let's start with small item storage. Don't expect much and you'll still be disappointed. Owners will have to make do with the center console and little else.

The car's wireless charging pad is located under the center stack and behind the cupholders. Its slim space means that while phones fit, getting a hand in there to get the phone is a pain, especially when the cupholders are full. Also, the in-cabin lighting system illuminates the screen of any phone charging in a way that is distracting while driving, especially in the dark. This is clearly a case of "where to stick it" rather than thoughtfully planned design execution.

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLC The car features a 10.25-inch infotainment touch screen.Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

In the center of the dashboard sits a standard 10.25-inch touchscreen. The picture is sharp and the system's response to touch is quick. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard.

Gone is the rotary dial in the center of the console that controlled the infotainment screen and worked so well. There instead is a touch pad that, while operationally functional, is not nearly the gem of a solution to navigating the infotainment system that the dial was. Its functionality allows swiping and pushing to select while offering a proper amount of feedback.

Still, to scroll through your favorite channels, you either have to swipe by each one individually or go to the screen that lists a few and swipe up or down to find what you want. If the user wishes to change the channel by swiping through to see more previews, then there's more unnecessary scrolling. Even scrolling between favorites takes too much attention leaving eyes off the road for too long.

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLC The touch pad seems to be the answer to a question no one was asking.Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

Want to skip the scrolling and just input the station you're looking for? While that's a slightly easier scenario thanks to the ability to use a finger as a stylus and write the number of the channel, the system has a heck of a time trying to differentiate between zeroes and the letter "o".

The touch pad is sensitive, which is both good and bad. Its location makes it possible to frequently change the channel just by brushing up against the pad. Reaching for a phone in the wireless charging tray almost always resulted in a brush against the pad during the test week.

Simply put, this touch pad is the answer to a question no one was asking.

The GLC comes standard with a long list of safety and driver assistance technology. While most work as advertised and expected, there are two big missteps that were evident after a week of testing.

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLC The cockpit of the GLC is set up nicely and allows for the driver to easily reach all the controls.Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

Mercedes technology reads both speed limit and minimum speed limit signs the same. It's easy to be driving along at a clip, say 75 mph, pass a minimum 40 mph speed limit sign on the road, and have the technology slow the car from 75 to near 40 mph in a jiffy, no matter how close the car behind you is to your tailgate, night or day. A driver has to stomp on the gas to override the action. That is unacceptable.

While there are numerous algorithms for lane centering technology, getting a car to stay in the middle of a lane is something a handful of automakers do well. In the GLC, the technology allows for a ping pong effect where the SUV mildly dances from one line to the other in an effort to stay centered. Driving on the highway at speed, with the technology activated, is maddening at best.

That all being said, the mechanics of the GLC are mostly great, albeit not that exciting. The new infotainment and safety technology could stand a thorough once over by someone not invested in reinventing the wheel.

For $50,000, buyers are better off going elsewhere to check out the BMW X3 or X4, Volvo XC40, Porsche Macan, or Acura RDX. Each executes its features list better than the GLC.

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The Tahoe has three available powertrains.

Photo courtesy of Chevrolet

When I write car reviews, I don't typically say very much about the engine and drivetrain unless there's something particularly interesting or unique about it.

I believe most car buyers don't really care about things like zero to 60 mph times or how many gears a transmission has. Those are features and statistics, and they're an imperfect measurement of an automobile.

I'm a fan of the Good-Better-Best school of cars, and it looks a bit like a bell curve. There aren't any genuinely terrible new cars sold today, so at worst, you're getting something that's Good. I'll call that the bottom 20 percent of the market. Sometimes these cars have engines that really are too weak and should probably be avoided, and I'll mention that in my review.

2021 Chevrolet Tahoe Duramax Diesel Diesel-powered versions of the Tahoe look just like gasoline-powered Tahoes.Photo courtesy of Chevrolet

Then there's the class of Better, or the middle 60 percent. When I review these cars, I'll include a throwaway line about the engine or drivetrain as it's not worth mentioning in depth. They get the job done, but there's nothing to get excited about.

Then there's that top twenty percent where the magic happens. Whether it's the perfect majesty of a Rolls-Royce V12, the throaty bark of a Lamborghini V10, or even the brilliance of a Toyota Corolla Hybrid's effortless 52 miles per gallon — these are engines worth discussing.

And so it is again with my test car this week: the 2021 Chevrolet Tahoe. We've already reviewed two of the Tahoe's sister vehicles, the GMC Yukon and the Cadillac Escalade. Despite being from the same family, they're definitively different branches.

But under the hood of the Tahoe is an engine that is so firmly lodged in the Best category that I can't help but write hundreds of words about it. It's the 3.0-liter six-cylinder "baby" Duramax turbodiesel that was in the works at GM for more than a decade.

It gives terrific fuel economy (for a giant truck, anyway) and fantastic torque in everyday driving. I find it far preferable to the extraordinarily thirsty 6.2-liter V8 that I had in the Yukon and the Escalade and heartily recommend it to anyone buying a GM full-size SUV or half-ton pickup. That's even more impressive because the 6.2-liter V8 is already an upgrade over the smaller 5.3-liter V8 that comes standard in most Tahoe trims.

2021 Chevrolet Tahoe Duramax Diesel The engine is a mighty six-cylinder.Photo courtesy of Chevrolet

It sports 277 horsepower, which doesn't sound like a lot, but horsepower is a poor quantifier of engine performance. Because it's a diesel and because it has a turbocharger, the baby Duramax has gobs of torque with which to pull away from stoplights or accelerate on a hill, or when you're trying to pass someone and you need to accelerate from 55 to 75 mph as quickly as possible.

The Tahoe's diesel engine excels in all these scenarios while delivering an EPA-estimated 21 mpg in the city, 28 mpg on the highway, and 24 mpg combined in the RWD trim that I drove. That's a healthy improvement over the 16 mpg combined from the 6.2L and four-wheel drive-equipped Yukon. It's worth noting that the four-wheel drive diesel fares a little worse, getting 22 mpg combined, but that's still far better than the traditional gasoline engine.

It does all this, and it can even tow up to 8,200 pounds when properly equipped, but most people will never tow anything heavier than a small horse trailer or a boat with their full-size SUV. If you're hauling that much weight on the regular, you've likely opted for a heavy-duty pickup.

The irony of the Volkswagen dieselgate scandal is twofold. For one, some were pulling similar testing shenanigans that Volkswagen was — it's just that VW was the first to get caught. And second, those VW diesel engines were fantastic. They were torquey and excelled in everyday driving, pesky pollution aside.

2021 Chevrolet Tahoe Duramax Diesel Diesel Tahoes are branded with the Duramax name.Photo courtesy of Chevrolet

There's a dirty secret to the horsepower numbers that most carmakers cite: they peak at very high RPMs that average drivers will never reach. But torquey turbocharged engines like this baby Duramax? It generates 95% of its 460 pound-feet of torque at just 1,250 RPM, and then peak torque runs all the way from 1,500 to 3,000 RPM. That means you're in the prime torque band nearly continuously.

In plain English, that means it's way better to drive. It's more fun, it's more efficient, and thanks to all manner of fancy technology, diesel engines aren't weird and finicky anymore.

Yes, you should probably plug it in if you park it outside in frigid weather. But other than that one minor caveat, this diesel is nonpareil.

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The Ford Explorer Timberline joins the 2021 Explorer King Ranch as a new model for 2021.

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Following in the footsteps of the Raptor and Tremor versions of Ford trucks, the 2021 Ford Explorer Timberline debuts with a host of new equipment designed to make the popular SUV a more capable off-roader. Like what Subaru is doing with its Wilderness packaging, Ford will carry over the Timberland trimmings to multiple models.

"Ford is delivering on more capable SUVs with Timberline. Consumer data has shown us that now more than ever, customers want to get outside and explore nature with friends and family," said Kumar Galhotra, president, Americas & International Markets Group, Ford Motor Company. "Timberline hits a new sweet spot with these customers who want an ideal combination of passenger space, moderate off-road capability and great manners around town."

The Explorer Timberline has a new Forged Green Metallic exterior color. It has a blackout treatment on the headlights and taillamps, as well as the Ford oval. Timberline badges feature on the C-pillars and lift gate. Red Ember tow hoods are at the front and rated at 150 percent gross vehicle weight.

2021 Ford Explorer Timberline

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

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LED fog lamps, a Carbonized Gray grille, and dealer-installed Ford Performance auxiliary lights with a 160,000-candelas output come on the vehicle.

The 2021 Explorer Timberline comes standard with four-wheel drive with torque vectoring technology that works to distribute the right amount of torque to each wheel. It also has a Torsen limited slip rear differential, which helps prevent wheel spin.

Ford's Terrain Management System is also standard, allowing drivers to select between seven drive modes depending on road conditions. The Ford Bronco and Bronco Sport have a similar system. Hill Descent Control is also standard.

Steel skid plates line the front and rear underbody of the vehicle protecting the engine and transmission. Ford has given the model a 0.8-inch ride height increase and heavy-duty shocks that were originally developed for the Explorer Police Interceptor. Steering calibration, stabilizer bars and springs are specially tuned for Timberline – including an exclusive front rebound spring that helps prevent sudden jarring off-road.

The new Explorer has an approach angle of 23.5 degrees and maximum departure angle of 23.7 degrees, plus minimum ground clearance of 8.7 inches.

The rig rides on high-sidewall Bridgestone Dueler P265/65R-18 all-terrain tires with a tread pattern designed to balance off-road traction and on-road quietness. The shoes are wrapped around high-gloss painted aluminum wheels that feature a laser-etched Timberline logo.

Explorer Timberline is powered by a 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine that produces 300 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque. It is paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission.

For customers who need to tow RVs, ATVs and boats to their adventures, the standard Class III Trailer Tow Package brings 5,300 pounds of towing capability.

The interior sports a Deep Cypress color way that is matched with an Ebony headliner, overhead console, pillar trim, grab handles, visors, and moonroof shade. The instrument panel has a Stone Mesh appliqué while other colors feature elsewhere. Satin Silver Twilight is on the center stack, steering wheel bezel and door armrest trim; Deep Cypress on door trim panel inserts; Deep Tangerine stitching on the seats, steering wheel and door trim; and Timberline logos on the front seats.

Rubber floor liners are standard and ActiveX cloth seats inserts are designed to be cleaned easily and keep bottoms in place on rough terrain.

Standard Ford Co-Pilot360 and Co-Pilot360 Assist+ technology features that include Intelligent Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop-and-Go and Speed Sign Recognition, Lane Centering, Evasive Steering Assist and voice-activated touch screen navigation. A 360-degree camera also comes on the model.

Buyers can choose three Outfitters packages – Outfitters SkyBox, Outfitters MegaWarrior and Outfitters FrontLoader. All three packages combine all-weather floor mats, crossbars and the selected Yakima rooftop accessories for customers to take even more equipment with them on their next adventure.

The 2021 Ford Explorer Timberline is available to order now and arrives at Ford dealers this summer joining the Explorer King Ranch and new Platinum grades in the company's lineup.

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