Aging gracefully
THE GOOD
  • Handsome, luxurious interior
  • Smooth and comfortable drive
  • Very capable ADAS
THE BAD
  • Almost every bell or whistle you want is an option
  • Apple CarPlay and Android Auto don’t fill the screen
  • Temperature and volume controls lack precision

The next time you’re stuck in traffic, take a look around you.

Chances are at least a handful of the drivers stuck alongside you are in compact crossovers. They’re hugely popular these days, and it’s pretty easy to see why. You sit high up, they’re easy to get in and out of, you can fit a bunch of stuff inside, and they are comparably priced to their lower-riding sedan counterparts.

Models like the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V are the go-to choices in the mainstream market, but what if your funds are a bit more flush and you’d like a compact utility with some honest-to-goodness luxury? Well, there are plenty of premium options, too, and the 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class continues to age well after more than a half-decade on the market.

Styling: 8/10

When it comes to style, I’ve always considered the GLC-Class among the more elegantly designed luxury crossovers – although I’m not sure the facelift it received last year that made the front end look a bit like a frog was a change for the better. Another styling decision I’m not a huge fan of are the 19-inch wheels on this tester that, in relation to the rest of the aesthetics, look straight-up dinky. Bigger 20-inch alloys are available for $750 and fill out the wheel arches a lot better but aren’t likely to help out when it comes to ride comfort.

Despite being a couple of iterations old now (in the context of ’Benz cabins), this GLC 300’s interior is similarly pleasant to behold. Swaths of open-pore wood, classy brightwork, and soft-touch plastic look luxurious, and the optional ambient lighting ups the sense of occasion while driving at night. Design-wise, it’s all very tasteful and comforting. Build quality, however, leaves a little room for improvement. There were more creaks and rattles than I’d like, although not enough to be a dealbreaker.

Safety: 10/10

Equipped with the Intelligent Drive package, the GLC 300 provides a slew of active safety and semi-autonomous tech features. Adaptive cruise control worked well during testing and is able to bring this ’Benz to a complete stop on its own, while active steering assist negotiates most highway curves with great confidence and can theoretically even follow the path of another vehicle if lane markings are absent. Active lane change assist, meanwhile, worked as advertised and was able to change lanes for me at the flick of the indicator with no hiccups.

Put it all together and the semi-autonomous tech in the GLC-Class is really quite impressive and very much worth having. Not only did Mercedes’s systems simply work but its movements were fluid and natural. As good as this system is, though, this isn’t a self-driving vehicle by any means and should not be treated like one. The system does require steering input from the driver every several seconds to make sure of this.

When crash-tested by the United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the GLC-Class scored five stars overall and five stars in every area-specific category except for rollover risk, in which it scored four stars.

User Friendliness: 6/10

At first glance, the 2021 GLC’s single-screen setup might signal a relatively primitive infotainment experience considering Mercedes has since moved on to dual-screen setups masquerading as one big monitor and subsequently even bigger displays that appear to rise up from the lower centre console seen in the new S-Class and recently revealed C-Class (not to mention the frankly ridiculous “hyperscreen” that’ll come in the all-electric EQS). The aging GLC doesn’t feature Merc’s latest and greatest when it comes to infotainment, to say the least.

Even so, our tester’s lone 10.25-inch head unit running the brand’s most modern interface proved to be perfectly usable and the screen itself is still one of the highest quality in the industry. The sharpness, colour vibrancy, and accuracy on display here is reminiscent of a modern Apple product. It can be operated via touchscreen, touchpad, or via the right-hand BlackBerry-style thumb pad on the steering wheel, and all three methods work well.

The system’s biggest flaw, however, lies with its Apple CarPlay and Android Auto implementation. To start, the connections are wired, which wouldn’t be so bad if not for the fact that the only ports this car has are of the USB-C variety. So, if you’d like to use either of the phone-mirroring technologies, make sure you have a newer-style cable.

What’s more, once you do get connected, CarPlay doesn’t take up the entire screen, leaving a pair of ugly dark bars on either side that make it feel like the system is merely running an Apple CarPlay emulator rather than the full Apple CarPlay experience. I can’t imagine paying extra for this bigger screen (it’s part of the $4,500 Premium package; a seven-inch screen without CarPlay or Android Auto integration at all is standard) and not feeling short-changed after realizing CarPlay doesn’t take full advantage of it.

However, downsized phone integration isn’t the only small-but-infuriating annoyance here. The HVAC system only operates in whole degrees, meaning you can set it at 23 or 24 degrees Celsius but not, say, 23.5 like you can in many other modern vehicles, luxury or otherwise. If the Nissan Altima can set its cabin temperature to a just-right 21.5 degrees, why can’t this Mercedes?

It’s a similar story with stereo volume, too. Controlled by an admittedly nice-feeling knurled silver wheel, the volume control is weirdly imprecise. Of course, I’m not sure any one of these faults are significant enough to keep you or anyone else out of the GLC outright, but they all add up as subtle reminders that this isn’t quite the latest or greatest luxury crossover out there.

Practicality: 7/10

Par for the crossover course, there’s a good amount of space in the GLC’s seats. It’ll fit 549 L of cargo behind the second row, which is definitely adequate but notably less than what you get with the Audi Q5 or BMW X3; the Audi boasts 725 L while the BMW gets 813 L inside of their hatches without folding down any seats. Speaking of, 40/20/40-split power-folding rear seats are standard in the GLC and expands cargo capacity to 1,600 L.

Comfort: 8/10

Smoothness and comfort are what luxury crossovers like this basically live for and the GLC 300 doesn’t disappoint. The seats are nice and comfortable, as is the ride. Bumps are smoothed over without fuss and the cabin remains quiet and serene on the highway. Heated front seats are standard but ventilated front seats will cost an extra $1,200. Heated rear seats command an additional $550, meanwhile, while a heated steering wheel adds another $250.

Power: 7.5/10

Packing a 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder making 255 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque, this GLC 300 is adequately quick for a crossover of this type. Turbocharging means torque is available at low revs, at a moment’s notice, providing enough pace to overtake in most real-world driving situations. Like a good waiter, the GLC 300’s engine isn’t the star of the show but it quietly does its job and takes you where you want to go promptly and valiantly. If you need more grunt, there’s always the Mercedes-AMG GLC 43 or ground-pounding GLC 63.

Driving Feel: 8/10

Despite its lack of sporting pretension, this non-AMG grade GLC is still a decent handler. Through a thick layer of insulation, the steering is fairly precise. It’s light and comfortable for cruising and commuting but can become satisfyingly heavy in sport mode. The body feels composed through bends and the brakes are firmly – and reassuringly – nice to use, too.

Fuel Economy: 6/10

The 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLC 300 has been rated by Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) at 11.3 L/100 km in the city, 8.5 on the highway, and 10.0 combined. This being a luxury crossover, premium fuel is required, and observed fuel economy after a week of mixed driving came out to be 10.8 L/100 km, according to in-vehicle data. Next to its competition from Audi and BMW, however, the GLC is the least efficient. Both the Audi Q5 and BMW X3 in comparable trims are rated at 9.3 L/100 km combined.

Features: 7/10

The GLC 300 Mercedes provided for this test came decently equipped, but then it better have considering it had more than $13,000 worth of options. That’s almost enough to buy an entire Chevy Spark.

$4,500 of that went towards the Premium pack, which is required for essentials like the bigger screen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, wireless charging, and the panoramic sunroof. Another $2,100 was dedicated to the perhaps-not-as-essential Premium Plus package (active parking assist, 360-camera, foot-activated tailgate release, 64-colour LED ambient interior lighting, and light-up front door sills). Those who’d like to experience the impressive semi-autonomous driving functions must pony up $2,700 for the Intelligent Drive package. Even after all of that, Mercedes still charges an additional $250 for the piecemeal heated steering wheel as well as another $890 for the fairly unremarkable grey paint.

Options conspicuously left out of our tester were the $1,500 head-up display, $500 rear window shades, and the $1,000 sound system upgrade. More positively, though, the soft-close windows that slow down as the glass approaches the top of the door frame were a nice touch.

Value: 6/10

With a starting price of $49,900 before fees and tax, a base GLC-Class is priced middlingly compared to the base versions of its aforementioned rivals. But like those other luxury rides, a GLC with the features you probably want will cost quite a bit more, as we’ve already learned.

As tested, the GLC 300 you see here costs $63,465 before destination (a figure that Mercedes Canada does not list itself since it apparently varies between regions).

Those shopping in this segment looking for a bit more value, however, aren’t completely out of luck because an absolute top-of-the-line Acura RDX Platinum Elite can be had in the mid-$50,000s while the imminent and brand-spankin’-new Genesis GV70 will be available with more power and more standard equipment for less money.

In absolute base form, the GV70 2.5T Select will boast 300 hp, 311 lb-ft, a standard 14.5-inch screen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a digital instrument cluster, driver assistance aids, and wireless charging – all for the GLC-mirroring starting price of $49,000. Give Genesis the same $63,000 you’d pay for this as-tested Mercedes and you’re looking at a Prestige-trim GV70, the most expensive and well-equipped copy available before stepping up to the 375-hp 3.5T Sport.

To be fair, reeling people into the showrooms with a deceptively low starting price and then charging up the nose for options people actually want is far from a Mercedes-only trick but pretty much expected in its section of the brand-cachet food chain. The Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class is a prestige product, and if you’d like to own a prestige product that’s actually equipped like one, prepare to pay for the privilege. After all, it wouldn’t be much of a Mercedes-Benz if everybody could afford one, now would it?

The Verdict

Even in its sixth model year, the GLC-Class is a solid vehicle. It’s comfortable, luxurious, and drives relatively well while looking prestigious and dignified. The availability of some very impressive semi-autonomous driving tech doesn’t hurt, either. However, prepare to pay extra for that tech, most of the other options you want, as well as the clout that comes with parking a Mercedes in your driveway over some other, more value-conscious alternatives.

But if you have the cash and can live with a couple of small usability annoyances, the lushly practical 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLC 300 can still be a pretty nice buy.

Competitors

Specifications

Engine Displacement 2.0L   Model Tested 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLC 300 4MATIC
Engine Cylinders Turbo I4   Base Price $49,900
Peak Horsepower 255 hp @ 5,800–6,100 rpm   A/C Tax $100
Peak Torque 273 lb-ft @ 1,800–4,000 rpm   Destination Fee N/A
Fuel Economy 11.3 / 8.5 / 10.0 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb   Price as Tested $63,465
Cargo Space 549 / 1,600 L seats down  
Optional Equipment
$13,465 – Graphite Grey Metallic Paint, $890; Intelligent Drive Package, $2,700; Premium Package, $4,500; Premium Plus Package, $2,100; Sport Package, $1,500; Dark Ash Open-Pore Wood Trim, $250; Trailer Hitch, $800; SiriusXM Satellite Radio, $475; Heated Steering Wheel, $250