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2021 Mercedes-Benz GLC fights to stay No. 1 in premium compact-crossover sales

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLC 63 SUV

by Chuck Giametta

What changes will make the 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLC different?

Little of note after model-year-2020 styling, features, and power updates. That midcycle refresh should sustain Mercedes-Benz’s best-selling vehicle and America’s most-popular premium-compact crossover to its next full redesign, likely for model-year 2023.

Until then, the GLC will remain a handsome and rock-solid five-seater offering two body styles, four engines (including a plug-in hybrid and a 503-horsepower V-8), and a wealth of technology. It’ll again slot into this German automaker’s crossover lineup between the subcompact GLA and the midsize GLE.

It’ll also share showrooms with two other Mercedes compact crossovers: the GLB, which is less expensive and comes with a kid-sized third-row seat; and the EQC, a 402-horsepower all-electric with an estimated 280-mile range and $69,000 base price. The EQC is set to launch during 2021.   

Should I wait for the 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLC or buy a 2020?

2020 GLC 63 SUV

Buy a 2020. The ’21 isn’t expected to add much worth waiting for, but it’ll almost certainly cost more. Plus, Covid-19-related disruptions could delay its release and trigger attractive deals on 2020 GLCs as Mercedes tries to recover lost sales.

Indeed, GLC demand fell 15 percent through first-quarter 2020, in a segment down 16 percent. It nonetheless maintained its lead over the rival Acura RDX, BMW X3, Audi Q5, and Cadillac XT5, each of which suffered even steeper declines. Some GLC sales were likely lost to the GLB, which was introduced for model-year ’20 starting at $37,595 and got off to a healthy start.

With an estimated $44,500-$86,100 base-price range, the 2021 GLC will return as a squared-up wagon Mercedes calls the GLC SUV, and as a sportier, costlier fastback variant it calls the GLC Coupe. Expect the ‘21 lineup to again offer both body styles in basic GLC 300 trim and in higher performance Mercedes-AMG GLC 43 and Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 form. The GLC 350e plug-in hybrid should remain exclusive to the SUV, the super-performance Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S exclusive to the Coupe.

The GLC 300 SUV will offer a choice of rear-wheel drive or Mercedes’ 4Matic all-wheel drive (AWD). All other 2021 GLC models will come with 4Matic.

Will 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLC styling be different?

2020 GLC 300 Coupe

Nothing more than a new color or two. The ’21 GLC will carry over the minor facelift that came with the 2020 refresh. It included new grilles, reshaped front and rear facia, slimmer LED headlamps, and revised taillights. Mercedes-AMG models will continue with unique styling cues, including more aggressive front ends and larger wheels on low-profile performance tires. Expect 18-, 19-, 20-, and 21-inch alloy wheels – some available in black – to remain standard or optional, depending on model. 

Interior updates also will repeat, highlighted by a standard tablet-style, 10.25-inch dashboard infotainment touchscreen controlled in part by a center-console touchpad. As with the new, configurable 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, the touchscreen display is crisp and thorough. It’s augmented by some control buttons and scroll wheels, but the finicky touchpad is still no substitute for a well-designed rotate-and-press knob. The proprietary voice-command software is programmed to react to “Hey, Mercedes” but irritatingly responds anytime it detects the word “Mercedes.”

2020 GLC 63

Imbedded navigation should again be standard on the GLC 63 and 63 S and optional for other models as part of the Multimedia Package. It features MBUX Augmented Video for Navigation, which overlays onto the infotainment screen a live view of the road superimposed with street names, guidance instructions, and other map data. This interesting tech would be more helpful with less lag between instructions and reality.

The cabin will again be impressive overall. Switchgear and panels please the touch. Standard wood trim in a selection of veneers, with carbon fiber available on AMG models, sound upscale notes. Optional on the GLC 300 SUV and GLC 350e and standard otherwise is ambient LED lighting adjustable to 64 colors.

2020 GLC 63 SUV

Leather upholstery should again be standard only for the GLC 63 S. Look for basic leather or Nappa hides to remain optional on the other models in place of the automaker’s quality MB-Tex vinyl (MB-Tex with Mercedes’ Dinamica faux-suede inserts should again be standard on the AMG 43 and 63). All models will return with a Nappa-wrapped power tilt/telescope steering wheel, with dedicated Nappa/Dinamica wheels for the AMGs.  

All ’21 GLCs will again have heated power front seats, the AMG variants featuring extra-bolstered buckets. Although cabin volume is around the class norm, passenger comfort is an asset. Rear legroom is good, but front-seat tracks intrude on foot space. As with most rivals, three adults in back will rub shoulders. And the Coupe’s sloping roofline robs tall rear occupants of the generous headroom they enjoy in the GLC SUV.

2020 GLC 63 SUV

The fastback also cuts into cargo volume. The GLC Coupe is about 3 inches longer overall than the SUV, but with 17.4 cubic feet behind the rear seatbacks and 49.4 with them folded, trails it by 2 and 7 cubic feet, respectively. Still, luggage space in both is slightly below class average. A power liftgate is standard; hands-free operation is part of the Parking Assistance option package.

Any 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLC mechanical changes?

2020 GLC 63 SUV

Unlikely, after GLC 300 and GLC 43 gained 14, and 23 horsepower, respectively, in the 2020 refresh. Corresponding SUV and Coupe models will again share powertrains. GLC 300s will reprise a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 255 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque and a nine-speed automatic transmission. They’ll do 0-60 mph in around 6.1 seconds. That’s roughly on par with direct rivals, but few match this 2.0-liter for smooth response.

The GLC 350e will again pair that turbo four with an electric motor for 315 net horsepower and a prodigious 513 pound-feet of torque. With an initial charge from the grid range is about nine miles on electricity. After that, the 350e behaves like a conventional gas/electric hybrid, automatically transitioning among gas, battery, and combined power. This is a well-sorted system. Working amicably with a seven-speed automatic transmission and aided by the electric motor, response is sharper than the GLC 300 and 0-60 takes about 5.6 seconds.

Serious performance will again begin with the GLC 43. Its 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged V-6 of 385 horsepower and 384 pound-feet of torque should get it to 60 in 4.7 seconds. It uses a sport-tuned nine-speed automatic. Like the other AMGs, it gets a firmer air-spring suspension and enthusiast calibrations for the GLC’s standard Dynamic Select system, which has driver-selectable powertrain, suspension, and steering modes.

AMG engines hand-assembled by one worker, as signed badge attests

Dialing up the thrills is a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 tuned to 469 horsepower and 479 pound-feet of torque in the GLC 63 models and to 503 and 516, respectively, in the GLC 63 S Coupe. That’s good for 3.8 seconds 0-60 (3.6 in the GLC 63 S) and ferocious merging and passing. All GLC 63 models use a multi-clutch nine-speed automatic transmission, which, in our tests, tended to introduce some lag away from a stop and, at around-town speeds, jolting gear changes with throttle application after coasting.

Every 2021 GLC will drive with uncompromised composure, the AMG models with half-back agility. Mercedes tailors 4Matic’s rear-drive bias, along with a host of driver-selectable powertrain and suspension settings, to the mission of each GLC model. Ride compliance diminishes as wheel sizes increase, reaching quite firm in the tautly sprung AMG 63 and 63 S.

In all, the GLC 300s strike an appealing balance between comfort, handling, and price. The GLC 350e deploys its technology transparently for better performance and economy, but at a roughly $7,500 premium over an AWD GLC 300. The AMG 63 and 63 S are hard-muscled crossovers not fully appreciated at less than racetrack speeds. That leaves the GLC 43 in the sweet spot: usefully faster than the non-AMGs but without the sometimes-brutal character of the 63 and 63 S.

Will 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLC fuel economy improve?

2020 GLC 63 SUV

Unlikely. Expect 2021 GLC EPA ratings to mirror those of 2020. That means each ’21 GLC model should remain slightly more fuel efficient than most direct competitors.

Look for the ’21 GLC 300 SUV to rate 22/29/24 mpg city/highway/combined with rear drive. With AWD, it and the GLC 300 Coupe should again rate 21/28/24 mpg. The 2021 GLC 350e should return at 56 mpg-e running on electricity alone. Mpg-e is the EPA’s calculation of the mile-per-gallon of gasoline equivalent. Running as a conventional hybrid, the plug-in should again rate 25 mpg city-highway combined.

Expect the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLC 43 models to again rate 18/24/21 mpg and the GLC 63 and 63 S models 16/22/18 mpg. Premium-grade 91-octane gasoline should remain a requirement for all GLC models.

Will the 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLC have new features?

2020 GLC imbedded navigation

There’s little to add, but we’d urge Mercedes to make key safety features standard instead of optional on all 2021 GLC models.

Every version of the GLC will again come with autonomous emergency braking designed to mitigate a frontal collision with another vehicle, object, or pedestrian. Also returning as standard will be blind-spot detection that alerts you to traffic in adjacent lanes or, when parked, to not open a side door if traffic’s approaching from the rear.

For model-year 2020, however, a buyer of even the most expensive GLC had to pay extra for some core driver assists other automakers include as standard on vehicles costing far less.

To get lane-departure warning with automatic steering correction, adaptive cruise control to maintain a set distance from traffic ahead, and cross-traffic detection required the $1,700 Driver Assistance Package, which was available only in combination with the aforementioned $1,250 Multimedia Package with imbedded navigation.

2020 GLC infotainment touchpad

In fairness, the Driver Assistance Package also contained some advanced tech, such as the company’s Active Lane Change assist, which automatically checks if it’s safe, then helps steer into the next lane upon turn-signal activation. It also included automatic braking to prevent you from turning unsafely across oncoming traffic, and cruise control that could adjust based on speed-limit signs and road curves. The package’s semi-autonomous lane-maintaining automatic steering allows the driver’s hands to be off the steering wheel for only brief intervals. Without driver intervention, it can automatically slow and then stop the crossover.

Rear-traffic detection was also part of the $1,290 Parking Assistance Package available on all 2020 GLC models. This package also included surround-view video, semi-autonomous parking into perpendicular spaces and into and out of parallel spaces, and hands-free liftgate operation.

2020 GLC SUV optional panoramic moonroof

Otherwise, the ’21 GLC will return a cornucopia of standard and optional equipment, from diamond-quilt contrast-stitched Nappa leather available for all models to $5,450 ceramic front brakes for the CLC 63 S. Of note for 2020 was the AMG Line package for the GLC 300. For a reasonable $1,600, it added AMG body styling, 19-inch AMG twin-spoke wheels, upgraded brakes, sport front seats, a flat-bottom sport steering wheel, brushed aluminum pedals, black headliner, and AMG floormats.

Expect every ’21 GLC to again include as standard heated power front seats with driver-seat memory positioning, a power tilt/telescope steering column, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, and full LED exterior lighting.

Will 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLC prices be different?

2020 GLC 63

They’ll almost certainly increase. For 2020, base prices rose $1,800-$2,300, depending on model. Increases for 2021 would depend on factors such as additional standard equipment – see our safety-feature discussion – but also on Mercedes’ response to depressed demand caused by the pandemic. In any case, expect 2021 GLC pricing to remain in the segment’s upper tier, generally tracking directly competing grades in rival lineups from Audi, BMW, Jaguar, Land Rover, and Porsche.

For reference, here are 2020 GLC base prices, including the manufacturer’s $995 destination fee. In the SUV body style, the 2020 GLC 300 started at $43,495 with rear-wheel drive and at $45,495 with 4Matic AWD. With 4Matic standard, the Mercedes-AMG GLC 43 was priced from $60,495, the GLC 63 from $74,745. Base price for the 2020 GLC 350e was $52,895.

Among Coupe 4Matics, base prices were $50,995 for the GLC 300, $63,995 for the GLC 43, $77,495 for the GLC 63, and $85,095 for the GLC 63 S.

Returning to the options list will be extra-cost paint colors ($720-$3,950), wheels ($500-$2,750), and the Advanced Lighting Package ($1,050-$1,650), which includes adaptive LED headlights, automatic high-beam assist, and on AMG models, ambient interior lighting. Leather upholstery and a power passenger seat with memory positioning should remain available for $2,050 on select models.

When does the 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLC come out?

2020 GLC 63 SUV

Barring Covid-19-releated delays, expect a 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLC release date in fall 2020.

Best 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLC competitors

Acura RDX, Alfa Romeo Stelvio, Audi Q5, BMW X3 and X4, Cadillac XT5, Jaguar F-Pace, Land Rover Discovery Sport, Lincoln Corsair, Range Rover Velar, Infiniti QX50, Porsche Macan, Volvo XC60

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to Carpreview.com two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for HowStuffWorks.com, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]