I love a good pleasant surprise. Like when you guessed every answer on a test and still managed to clear a B-. The 2023 Mercedes-Benz GLC300 is my latest pleasant surprise because I didn’t expect much from the entry-level SUV but found myself enamored with it by week's end.
OK sure, the new interior and infotainment were completely baffling for the first few miles of use, and, from the outside, it just sort of looks like Generic Car Number 22, but the new GLC is hiding something within. That something is an honest-to-god understanding of what a luxury car should be. It’s serene, relaxing, and tailorable to anybody that drives it.
It might honestly be one of the few actual isolating and cushy luxury cars I’ve driven in a while. This thing is good, folks. And I think it’s an entry-level luxury bargain.
2023 Mercedes-Benz GLC300 Specs
- Base price (as tested): $47,100 ($54,100)
- Powertrain: 2.0-liter inline-four | nine-speed automatic transmission | rear-wheel drive
- Horsepower: 255
- Torque: 295 lb-ft
- Seating capacity: 5
- Curb weight: 3,968 pounds
- Cargo Volume: 21.9 cubic feet behind second row | 59.3 cubic feet behind first row
- EPA estimated fuel economy: 25 mpg city | 32 highway | 28 combined
- Quick take: Efficient family transportation with some luxury sprinkled in.
- Score: 8.5/10
Redesigned for 2023, the GLC300 remains the compact choice in the Mercedes range of SUVs as the high-riding equivalent of the C-Class sedan but has grown substantially, adding 2.4 inches of overall length and 2.5 cubic feet more cargo space. Along with that increase in space, the interior has been changed substantially to Mercedes’ new look with the portrait-oriented 11.9-inch MBUX infotainment screen and single-minded devotion to deleting physical buttons.
But even with the new ergonomics (which I’ll discuss in the driving segment), the inside of the new GLC looks and feels stunning. Upon closer scrutiny, some of the materials and features feel cheaper, like the turn signal stalks, the action of the cupholder door, and some general creakiness in the overhead console. Yet the huge, high-quality, high refresh rate screens dominate the cabin and are framed with excellently chosen textures and surfaces. The MB-Tex synthetic leather seats feel convincingly real and are supple with almost zero sensation of pressure points.
I’ll offer that it’s a cheap gimmick, but ambient lighting has a real knack for sprucing up an interior. No, I don’t care that other traffic (or my neighbors watching me test the truly excellent Burmester stereo at night) can see me wherever I go. The extra lighting is done beautifully in this Benz with a well-judged mix of indirect lighting and neon-like accent lighting, and a full-color spectrum plus mixed-color themes to choose from. You can’t mix colors on your own, but you can adjust brightness in three separate lighting zones. Cheap gimmick, but I’m buying it and loving it.
The most contentious part of the space is the infotainment display. It is Mercedes’ newest system that will eventually feature in all of its cars. While stationary, it’s responsive and clean but it frankly needs a tutorial to get up to speed with it before your first drive. Over time with the GLC I figured out the shortcut buttons to get to the major functions, but if you don’t know what you’re doing, prepare to do some serious menu hunting. My first drive was downright dangerous, but more on that later.
Underneath the aggressively normal sheet metal are a small array of mechanical changes from the previous GLC300. Notably, the GLC retains a spare tire, which is a shockingly rare commodity in luxury cars now. But Mercedes has put genuine effort into the unseen parts of the SUV, with a reconfigured 48-volt mild hybrid system now sandwiched within the transmission instead of running off the engine accessory drive, adaptive dampers, and a seriously impressive 0.29 coefficient of drag. Powering it all is a four-cylinder turbocharged engine with 255 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque.
Merc also went to town in quieting the GLC down, using acoustic film and sound deadening throughout the underfloor, acoustic dampers under the hood, and optional acoustic glass. For all of this effort, Mercedes says that the GLC is now quieter than the C-Class but won’t say by how much. Spoiler alert: the GLC is insanely quiet for the money. And it happens to drive quite nicely.
Driving the Mercedes-Benz GLC300
Okay, it’s no driver’s car. But it is imminently easy to understand: luxury and serenity over everything else. Well, except for the infotainment.
There’s no avoiding it–the infotainment is most likely going to be a disaster for everyone initially. Even with my Zoomer hands and brain manipulating the Benz, I had to take one decent drive around town to get everything configured to an acceptable state. With all systems on, which includes lane centering, lane keep, and auto stop-start, the car felt like it wanted to drive itself but only sometimes, and it mostly tried to veer off the road in the wide-open two-lane desert roads I’m used to. Paired with the haptic steering wheel buttons, you had to recalibrate to understand the thing.
While most cars offer a one-touch button to turn the systems off, the GLC forces you to either know MBUX well or menu hunt like an idiot for the first few miles. I’m going to save you time with this tip: hit the button with the car on it. That’s the shortcut for driving functions. But I still shouldn’t need to commit to two actions while driving. You can also swipe from the top of the screen down like an iPhone to reveal other functions.
Look, once you understand MBUX, it’s pretty usable and pleasant. But I cannot deny my initial experience with the car being annoying. I had to grow into the GLC and understand it, and that is the least luxurious thing about it. Everything else is damned stunning.
It is deafeningly obvious that the GLC is one of the quietest cars I’ve been in for a while because all I could hear was my tinnitus. At 80 mph, you could actually whisper to your front-seat passenger. It’s not a complete isolation chamber, but it's more like putting in a really decent set of earplugs. Road and wind noise were virtually non-existent, even in a 20-mph crosswind. It is a huge trump card for this otherwise unassuming SUV.
And with a tall, commanding seating position with excellent visibility and cabin airiness, the best thing I could say is that I could do practically indefinite miles in the car with supreme comfort. I braved a 2.5-hour drive from the very northern part of Los Angeles County down to its southern coastlined extremity and felt decently refreshed when I got out.
That confusing infotainment and confused ADAS fades away quickly on the highway. Then, the systems become very good. The lane keep was functionally seamless and just as smooth as a human driver on well-marked highways. Automatic lane changing feels like a gimmick until I experienced this one (and the BMW i5’s), where it is truly smooth and safe. Adaptive cruise worked well but was the weakest link in the ADAS chain. It wasn’t aggressive enough in keeping up and accelerating with traffic but was far too aggressive in approaching slower traffic, taking until the last “Oh god, this robot is gonna rear-end a Porsche” second to slow down.
The stereo is one of the best I’ve heard in a long while, only bested by the absurd Naim stereo that Bentley shoehorns into its cars. I’m dead serious. It’s crisp but rich, with a wonderful tonal warmth that flatters any piece of music that you stream through it. The three-channel equalizer works well in small adjustments indicating some quality behind the scenes. Mixed with the quiet cabin, it becomes a rolling reference-quality studio monitor. And that isn’t just me, because I brought a professional musician friend along to test it and he corroborated my claims.
When it comes to driving the GLC, there isn’t much to say. It’s all clearly engineered to be forgettable and easy, with medium-weight doughy steering, a long and soft brake pedal, excellent ride quality over larger bumps, decent isolation of cracks and potholes, and a slightly strange powertrain. While the engine is smooth, it's a gasoline engine that sounds almost exactly like a diesel. It has an unrefined tone but is isolated extremely well. And the nine-speed automatic transmission is reasonably smooth but easy to confuse into a rough shift and slow to respond to manual commands. It’s not great to truly drive, but it's great at breezily ferrying you around at your suggestion.
The Highs and Lows
What you really pay for in the GLC is the quietness, the wow factor of the interior, the stereo, and the ride quality. And for the $54,100 as-tested price, it is a true luxury bargain. It knows what it is at its core: a comfortable SUV.
But there are some lows. Particularly in the refinement of the drivetrain and MBUX. While MBUX grows on you, you never stop wanting for a simpler system. The engine and gearbox also bring the party down a little bit. They’re tuned to be forgotten but definitely don’t live up to the luxury standard that the GLC300 is selling.
Mercedes-Benz GLC300 Features, Options, and Competition
The segment that the GLC competes in is one of the hottest in the business. It’s up against some reasonable competition in the BMW X3, Audi Q5, Alfa Romeo Stelvio, Jaguar E-Pace, and Volvo XC60. All of these cars start in the low-$40,000 to low-$50,000 range in comparable spec.
While the GLC300 is the only current trim of the 2023 GLC, there will likely be a future AMG model that competes higher upmarket. For now, the GLC300 is available in rear-wheel-drive or 4Matic all-wheel-drive and has plenty of optional extras. My tester had the $1,950 Driver Assistance Package and the $2,250 Exclusive Trim that includes surround view, Burmester stereo, enhanced ambient lighting, illuminated door sills, and satellite navigation. Other options were the $350 MB-Tex synthetic leather dashboard, $1,500 panoramic sunroof, and $600 optional wheels.
Otherwise, the GLC comes loaded up as standard with the same MBUX system, ambient lighting, keyless entry and go, MB-Tex seats and interior panels, blind spot monitoring, heated front seats, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, adaptive dampers, and a sunroof.
Rated for 25 mpg in the city, 32 mpg on the highway, and 28 mpg combined, the GLC300 is ahead of the segment in terms of fuel economy with most other vehicles in the segment landing a couple of mpg behind the Benz.
Observed economy was 30.2 mpg over 380 miles, with mostly highway, 50 miles of city traffic, and some canyon driving mixed in.
Value and Verdict
The 2023 Mercedes-Benz GLC300 is really quite lovely. It’s no enthusiast machine but does have its priorities straight. It doesn’t attempt to be a sporty compact SUV, it focuses on the real prize of being comfortable and relaxing to drive every day. Sure, it has some wow-factor gimmicks, but the truth is that most of them are done really well.
It feels like a more expensive car than it is and has the substance to back it up. Whisper quiet, fuel-sipping, and isolating, the GLC is wonderfully uncorrupted from the mission of passenger comfort. And yes, MBUX makes about as much sense as doing your own taxes for the first time but does fade into the background after some experience.
It values comfort above all else and delivers on the serenity it promises. At $54,100 the GLC300 is a serious luxury bargain.
Want to talk GLC300? Hit my line at firstname.lastname@example.org