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2023 Mercedes-Benz GLC300 Review: Fresher but Still Frustrating

mercedes benz glc 300 2023 01 exterior front angle scaled jpg 2023 Mercedes-Benz GLC300 | Cars.com photo by Aaron Bragman
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Detroit Bureau Chief Aaron Bragman has had over 25 years of experience in the auto industry as a journalist, analyst, purchasing agent and program manager. Bragman grew up around his father’s classic Triumph sports cars (which were all sold and gone when he turned 16, much to his frustration) and comes from a Detroit family where cars put food on tables as much as smiles on faces. Today, he’s a member of the Automotive Press Association and the Midwest Automotive Media Association. His pronouns are he/him, but his adjectives are fat/sassy. Email Aaron Bragman

The verdict:  If you can look past its frustrating touch-sensitive controls, the redesigned 2023 Mercedes-Benz GLC300 compact SUV is a luxurious, comfortable and smooth operator.

Versus the competition: The latest interior upgrade and excellent driving dynamics help to cement the GLC’s position as a leader in this luxury class, but it’s smaller than some front-wheel-drive-based competitors, with less backseat room and a tighter cabin.

The compact luxury SUV category is a hot one right now, with the entry-level models playing a critically important role in attracting new customers to their respective brands. Mercedes-Benz’s entry, the GLC SUV that’s based off the C-Class sedan platform hasn’t had a big update since its introduction as a 2016 model. With the C-Class getting a big redo for 2022, we knew the more popular GLC wouldn’t be far behind, and here it is.

Related: 2023 Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class: Trickling Down the Tech

The GLC is among Mercedes’ most popular models in the U.S., so big changes weren’t expected — and big changes were not delivered. But that’s OK; the GLC had a winning formula, so the automaker just improved on what it was already apparently doing right. But part of those changes involved updating the GLC’s interior with a lot more touch-sensitive panels and controls, something that we have not enjoyed in other Mercedes-Benz products. Do the same frustrations now apply to the GLC SUV?

Yep. You better believe it. Here we go again.

Squint if You Need To

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We’ll start with the styling, which wasn’t broken before and hasn’t been with the extremely mild update for 2023. Believe it or not, a lot has changed from the ‘22 to ‘23 GLC — it’s more than 2 inches longer overall. But from a styling standpoint, the headlights and grille are new, and the taillights are a bit slimmer. The SUV’s width is unchanged, but subtle design changes are meant to emphasize width over tallness. The outgoing GLC was an attractive, if not terribly distinctive, SUV that was very much in keeping with the look of the rest of the Mercedes-Benz lineup, and the new one just furthers that aesthetic.

With the arrival of the Mercedes-EQ electric vehicle lineup and its jellybean looks, it seems there’s been some effort to have the internal-combustion models more closely resemble the electrics, as evidenced by the shape of the grille and headlights. It’s subtle enough, however, that most people are likely to have a hard time distinguishing a ‘22 from a ‘23 model — at least from the outside.

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Careful What You Touch

That won’t be a problem on the inside, as the new interior apes what Mercedes has done in the C-Class. The previous central touchscreen and physical controls below it have been replaced by a vertically oriented 11.9-inch touchscreen that’s next to a 12.3-inch digital instrument panel. The new touchscreen is larger, clearer and features the latest MBUX multimedia system for greater functionality and features. However, the loss of buttons and physical controls for both audio and climate control functions is a move in the wrong direction. Increasingly, German luxury automakers are confusing “technology” with “luxury” by loading a ton of features into a confusing display that’s distracting and difficult to use on the fly, and also loses the kind of tactile feedback you get from quality buttons and switches. The MBUX system’s voice controls can help, but you don’t always want to have a conversation with your car when a simple button push would do.

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That touchy problem continues on the steering wheel, where Mercedes has included the latest touch-sensitive controls on the spokes of the wheel. That means there are now areas of the steering wheel you can’t touch unless you want to change a setting, or the volume, or another feature. Having an area of the steering wheel you can’t touch is bonkers to my mind, but welcome to the latest and greatest.

These really are the only two issues in what is otherwise a lovely update to the interior. The cabin materials in the 2023 GLC look more upscale and luxurious than in the outgoing model, and even the MB-Tex imitation leather looks and feels high-quality; you’ll never miss real cowhide. The front seats feel lifted right out of the C-Class — they’re comfortable and supportive, and of actually adequate size for big Americans, something that can sometimes be an issue in the compact SUV class. The backseat is a little tight in the legroom department, something that isn’t an issue with the GLC’s front-drive-based competitors, but it’s not an impossible place to spend time. Negotiations between front- and rear-seat passengers will have to happen in order to get adequate rear legroom, but there’s plenty of headroom in the GLC’s backseat and the available panoramic moonroof helps the space feel airy.

Cargo capacity is up from the prior GLC even if passenger space isn’t, and that’s always a welcome development. The roughly 2.5 inches of increased overall length versus the outgoing model seems to have all gone to the back, where you now get 21.9 cubic feet of cargo room, according to Mercedes-Benz measurements, instead of 19.4 cubic feet in the old model. Knock the rear seatbacks down and you have even more space, but Mercedes hasn’t published just how much just yet.

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A Solid Standard Powertrain

One area of improvement that was decidedly successful was the powertrain, as the GLC300 is now fitted with a 48-volt mild-hybrid system augmenting its turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. It makes 255 horsepower, the same as before, but torque increases from 273 to 295 pounds-feet. A standard nine-speed automatic transmission sends power to the rear wheels or all four if you opt for the 4Matic all-wheel-drive system.

The GLC300 is good for what Mercedes-Benz says is a 6.2-second 0-60 mph time, and after spending a few days with the SUV, I believe it. The powertrain is quick and responsive, and unlike some competitors, it reveals no sign that it’s a mild-hybrid system. There’s no obvious distinction between electric and gasoline power in the GLC, it’s just a smooth, seamless rush when you plant your right foot. The transmission’s shifts are just as silky, without any harshness or abruptness or the annoying rubber-band sensations that plague Mercedes’ dual-clutch automatic transmissions in the GLB and GLA SUVs. There are different drive modes if you want something more aggressive and sporty, but it’s a fine-driving SUV in its normal mode.

The steering is highly boosted, which is expected — ease of use is generally valued more highly than sporting character in this class. The rear-drive nature of the GLC really only comes through when you’re flogging the thing through twisty roads, something that most of them aren’t likely to experience in the course of normal family duty. Overall, the GLC drives like an expensive vehicle. Ride and handling is nicely balanced, with well-controlled body roll and a supple ride. Noise isolation is excellent, too. Combined with the comfortable ride, the experience is more limousine than sports sedan, but that’s exactly what buyers are looking for in this class.

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Pricing and Availability

The new GLC hews to Mercedes-Benz’s new trim strategy, with a trio of trims called Standard, Exclusive and Pinnacle. The cheapest GLC300 Standard with rear-wheel drive begins at $48,250 (all prices include $1,150 destination fee), with the Exclusive ringing in at $50,500 and the Pinnacle starting at $52,600. The 4Matic all-wheel-drive system adds a flat $2,000 to these prices. My test vehicle was a GLC300 Exclusive with RWD and a few careful options, including the Driver Assistance Package, 19-inch wheels and a panoramic moonroof; it rang in at an as-tested price of $55,550.

That’s nowhere near the top end of how the GLC can be equipped and priced, but it’s solidly smack in the middle of the segment from a pricing standpoint, meaning Mercedes-Benz is keeping the GLC in the fight for buyers in this competitive class. The car itself is a solid offering, and if you can get past the massively annoying touch-sensitive controls, it’s a worthy competitor in the class.

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