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 AWD ID.4 model is on its way.

Volkswagen

There was a lot of buzz when VW introduced its 2021 ID.4 all-electric crossover with rear-wheel drive earlier this year, but there's plenty more now that the Wolfsburg automaker has added an all-wheel-drive version. The 2021 VW ID.4 AWD gets another motor onboard this compact SUV that brings all-wheel-drive traction. The SUV appeals to buyers in the snow belt states but will also tickle the fancy of performance enthusiasts. Now with motors on both the front and rear axle, there is nearly fifty percent more power, with impressive gains to horsepower and torque as well as the added battery-electric boost to that scoots the 5-seater from 0-60 mph in 5.7 seconds (the RWD model took 7.5 seconds to achieve the same).

2021 VW ID.4 AWD An extra motor brings AWD to the ID.4.Volkswagen

On sale now, the 2021 VW ID.4 AWD Pro starts at $44,870, before federal or other incentives; this is a $3,680 premium over the rear-drive model. The AWD Pro S starts at $49,370; both models are eligible for $7,500 income-tax credits. It's worth noting that current delivery estimates for the AWD Pro are running into 2022. The AWD Pro trim has been rated by the EPA at 249 miles (only 11 miles less than the Pro RWD) while the AWD Pro S has been validated at 240 miles (as compared to 250 miles). The AWD Pro has been rated at 102 MPGe for city driving/90 highway/97 combined; the Pro S gets 93/98/88. Both are rated at 2,700 towing. Competitors include the Ford Mustang Mach-E and Tesla Model Y.

While the AWD and RWD look the same outside, one exterior badge designates the newest variant with an "AWD" badge, plus it gets 0.6 inches of added ground clearance, slightly bigger brakes and sway bars. From the front, the electric SUV has smoothed jelly-bean styling that is highlighted by standard LED headlights and standard black roof rails that sit atop the body-colored roof. From the rear, it wears hatchback-like looks.

2021 VW ID.4 AWD The ID.4's cabin is tidy and upscale, no matter the model.Volkswagen

We drove both the Pro and Pro S versions, with different premium interior trims and found the Gradient Package ($1500) visually upscale and appealing. It brings a black roof with silver rails, along with 20-inch wheels and the availability of King's Red Metallic paint, as a $395 option. The Pro is well-equipped with attractive trim elements and an impressive collection of communication and infotainment technologies. Pro S comes with a glass roof with an electrically-retractable shade and front seats with leatherette upholstery and 12-way power adjustments (including four-way lumbar support and a massage system).

We drove the new ID.4 AWD over a course of 160 miles along a variety of roads to sample its handling and ergonomics. The interior has a clean and open feel with good visibility. Controls and gauges are well-placed and the seatbelts are height-adjustable, while a configurable console holds different drink sizes and has removable cupholders. A futuristic LED "Light" strip with 10 different ambient lighting selections extends across the dashboard and pulses with directional signals, incoming phone calls, navigation prompts and other in-cabin inputs (optional is 30-color lighting selection on the Pro S). Driving is also a bit futuristic with no stop/start button; the vehicle senses the approaching key and can start climate control, unfold side mirrors, unlock doors and illuminate door handles at night, among a number of other high-tech features. There is 30.3 cubic feet of stowage behind the rear seats and up to 64.2 cubic feet with the second row folded. Under the floor storage holds the charging cable and small items. Pro S has an adjustable trunk floor that can be raised and lowered and a ski passthrough.

Pushing the brake pedal triggers the ID.4 to begin motoring, with the option of a "D" mode for typical driving or "B" for a more regenerative driving experience. Travel Assist brings semi-autonomous driving. Notable is the fun and responsive torque-on-tap, well-balanced direct steering and a suspension system that allows the small compact to maneuver well through traffic and along twisty roadways, as well as an impressive turning radius. The vehicle dynamics control system is integrated with the stability control system and an electronic differential to seamlessly engage the front axle, when needed. Volkswagen has added a different asynchronous motor to the front with a permanent-magnetic synchronous motor at the back for a combined 295 hp. and 339 lb.-ft. of torque.

2021 VW ID.4 AWD The ID.4 AWD will start shipping in early 2022.Volkswagen

Carried over are 82-kWh battery packs and the 5 to 80 percent fast-charging time of 38 minutes, when using 125kW fast-charging. VW says it can add 62 miles of range in 10 minutes; home charging on a Level 2 charger is projected to take approximately 7.5 hours for a full charge.

Of note: VW includes three years of complimentary charging up to 125 kW, with any ID.4 purchase or lease; VW Group's Electrify America charging network has over 650 stations and more than 2,700 fast chargers.

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The Santa Fe Hybrid offers plenty to like.

Hyundai

The 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid is all-new for 2021, and features an impressive list of standard features, great safety scores, and family-friendly space. If you're looking for a new SUV, it's hard to imagine a better fit for an urban family, or any other family, for that matter. Beyond a few small complaints, the Santa Fe Hybrid offers plenty to like.

Here are three things to like about the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe.

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid The Santa Fe Hybrid brings great passenger space and an upscale interior.Hyundai

It offers plenty of passenger and cargo space

The Santa Fe offers roomy seating for up to five adults with more than reasonable head and legroom in both rows. Second-row passengers have room to move, and don't end up jockeying for position with taller front-seat passengers. When the SUV is packed with people and needs to haul gear, it's more than capable of doing that, too, as it offers 36.4 cubic feet of space behind the second row and up to 72.1 cubic feet with the second-row seats folded down. Making the space more accessible, power-folding second-row seats and a hands-free power liftgate are standard.

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid All trims come decked out with safety equipment.Hyundai

It delivers excellent fuel economy

The Santa Fe Hybrid returns impressive fuel economy numbers, especially in town, making it an excellent urban family runabout. The EPA estimates that the SUV can deliver 33 mpg in the city, 30 mpg on the highway, and 32 mpg combined. The Santa Fe Hybrid Blue returns 36 mpg in the city, 31 mpg on the highway, and 34 mpg combined. That's several miles per gallon better than the standard Santa Fe and better than some sedans.

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid Fuel economy is better than many smaller cars.Hyundai

It earned great safety scores

The 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe earned a Top Safety Pick award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). That score is due in part to the Santa Fe's Good marks in crash tests, but the SUV's long list of standard safety kit helps, too. All models come with forward collision-avoidance assist with pedestrian, cyclist, and junction turning detection, lane keeping assist, driver attention warnings, lane following assist, and a rear occupant alert system. Optional features include blind spot collision-avoidance assist, rear cross-traffic collision-avoidance assist, a parking distance warning system, and a highway driving assist system.

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