2020 Mercedes-Benz GLC300 and GLC63 first drive: Above and beyond

Overkill. Mercedes-Benz specializes in it. Comfort, safety, power and off road. Yes there is a Mercedes utility, a few of them actually, besides the G-Wagen, that can go way off the pavement. Mercedes proved this in the backwoods of Germany at an off-road park that featured mud, lakes, bumpy parts that threatened to twist the frame into a pretzel and your run-of-the-mill 60-degree inclines. The 2020 GLC300, with the adaptive suspension and off-road package, handled it all like a pro.

When I mention to the Mercedes engineer in the right seat that 90 percent of GLC buyers will never, ever, get this far off road he corrects me in a thick German accent. “More than that, ah!?” But the company does it anyway. And if you sell 1.5 million examples of the GLK/GLC since inception like Mercedes has, a certain small percentage of those will ford 11.8 inches of water, clear 9.6 inches of ground and climb up those crazy steep inclines. And they’ll use Hill Descent Control to keep them safe on the downside.

The 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLC300 and GLC63, on sale this fall, get a big facelift for the new year including a new grille, front and rear lower fascia and slimmer headlights. LED head and taillights are now standard and like always, the AMG-Line option sends some of the sportier styling elements down to the less powerful model.

The 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLC300 SUV goes on sale in late 2019.

The 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLC300 SUV goes on sale in late 2019.

The 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLC300 SUV goes on sale in late 2019.

The 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLC300 SUV goes on sale in late 2019.

The 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLC300 SUV goes on sale in late 2019.

The 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLC300 SUV goes on sale in late 2019.

The 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLC300 SUV goes on sale in late 2019.

The GLC63 engine is the same as last year, a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 making 469 hp and 479 lb-ft. The GLC63 S goes a bit higher to 503 hp and 516 lb-ft. That S version is, by the way, now the fastest SUV at the Nurburgring with a time of 7 minutes, 49.369 seconds. It can also blast to 60 mph in 3.8 seconds, honestly supercar numbers not long ago. The base engine in the GLC300 is a new version of the 2.0-liter turbo four making 255 hp and 273 lb-ft. That’s a gain of 14 hp over the 2019. Euro versions do get the new 48-volt EQ Boost setup, but we won’t see that here, yet.

The AMG has a nine-speed multiclutch transmission while the base model gets a conventional nine-speed automatic. The AMG comes standard with 4Matic Plus all-wheel drive; on the GLC300 it’s a $2,000 option.

All GLCs get adaptive suspension damping with comfort, sport and sport plus modes. AMG versions come standard with the Mercedes’ new three-chamber air suspension.

That new off-road mode comes with off-road-mode specific information in the new MBUX (Mercedes-Benz User eXperience) infotainment system. The 10.25-inch, high-definition central screen has a bunch of different view modes and features including augmented reality navigation, a multitude of camera angles and the rest of the usual stuff (radio/phone/media) just like its bigger GLE brother.

The rest of the cabin, in typical Mercedes overkill fashion, is gorgeous. AMG models can option carbon fiber trim. There’s also wood and a few other options for inlays. Touchpoints are always soft and the stitching looks impeccable. Burmester is the chosen audio upgrade and there’s both a standard gauge cluster and a 12.3-inch digital screen option. Redundant buttons on the central dash make it easy to switch between navigation, media and other settings. The main control point is a touchpad, which doesn’t work as well as the old rotary knob, but you can always say “Hey Mercedes” and tell it to turn the heat up or the radio down. It still seems more gimmick than useful to me.

A highlight is the AMG steering wheel on the upper level cars, which features tiny little thumb touchpads to control the big screens, and small customizable digital buttons for drive modes, exhaust sound, traction control, etc.

I’m 5-foot-10, but with a guy who’s 6-foot-2 in the passenger seat, comfortably, the back seat feels a little cramped for a full grown adult. However, when said man was in driving position, the rear area looked a lot more spacious. The cargo area swallows 19.4 cubic feet of stuff, about four medium-sized suitcases and a couple of bags.

At about 9 a.m. I fire up the 503-hp GLC63 S and set off toward the many forest roads of the German countryside near Stuttgart, where Benz’s HQ is located. I know this 4.0-liter engine, I love this engine. It’s a hot rod, and not just for an SUV. Expect to blow out almost everyone on the road from a stoplight, as long as they’re not in something from Italy or Bowling Green or Woking, England (McLaren). Throttle tip-in in sport plus and race is aggressive, probably too aggressive, but sport works just fine. The exhaust noise is mean and it’ll snap, crackle and pop if you let it hang in gear. Shifts at slow speed from the multiclutch transmission are a little jerky, but in the less aggressive modes it’s less noticeable. At high speeds, with the pedal planted on the autobahn, shifts are fine.

Both SUVs, the 255-hp GLC300 and 503-hp GLC63 S, are completely happy humming along at 110 mph on the unrestricted parts of the German highway system. Above that, the less powerful car struggles a bit to gain more speed, but I probably saw 117 mph, converted from kilometers per hour. The 300 is limited to 130 mph, the AMG will do 155 mph flat out.

In addition to the standard drive modes, with an extra “race” mode on the GLC63 S, those AMGs come with the company’s new AMG Dynamics modes that change parameters like the electronically controlled locking differential, ESP thresholds and more. Those modes are called basic, advanced, pro, and master in S models. Like the AMG GT 4-Door, there are a lot of combinations of exhaust sound, suspension, steering, power and transmissions to sort through. Thankfully you can find the one you like, set it to “individual” and stick with that. Or work through the combos, your choice.

On Sale: Late 2019

Base Price: $42,500 (GLC300); $73,750 (GLC63)

Drivetrain: 255-hp, 273 lb-ft, 2.0-liter turbocharged I4, nine-speed automatic, RWD or AWD (GLC300); 469-hp, 479 lb-ft, 4.0-liter biturbo V8, nine-speed multiclutch transmission, AWD

Curb Weight: TBD (GLC300); 4,486 lb (GLC63)

Pros: Supremely comfortable and stable at high speeds

Cons: Too many drive/dynamic modes, AMG is a little high strung at low speeds

In comfort mode, both the standard GLC300 and GLC63 are, well, comfortable. The GLC63 feels a step stiffer. Like the throttle tip in, sport seems to be a good medium on any surface besides smooth asphalt. All four corners are independently controlled, and talk to each other, so even if you’re in sport plus, it still tries to damp out the big bumps. The GLC300 comes standard with 18-inch wheels; the AMGs get 20s standard.

Mercedes is calling out the usual competitors: the BMW X3, the league-leading Lexus RX and the Audi Q5. And here’s where I would normally say “the BMW is sportier, the Mercedes is more luxurious and the Audi is in the middle,” but, the AMG has the sports-car/compact-crossover market locked down now with the biturbo V8.

Power-wise, the BMW X3 M comes close with 473 hp, but if you’re looking for true overkill, the GLC has it. Update: literally as I’m writing this BMW is bringing an X3 M Competition model to market with a matching 503 hp. Dammit, you guys.

So then, I guess I’ll refer to what I said above? No. For me, the GLC is currently the one to buy out of the three. The RX is great, but it suffers from doing everything very well and nothing amazingly. The now (as of 12 hours ago) mega-powerful top X3 M has the speed, but not the luxury accoutrement.

If you’re looking for overkill from your compact luxury SUV, Mercedes specializes in it.

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