2021 Mercedes-Benz GLC 300 4MATIC Review: The Self-Confident SUV

  • Classically handsome styling
  • High-quality cabin looks and feels the part
  • 2.0-liter turbo engine is smooth and has ample power
  • Cargo space falls short of rivals
  • Plenty of options to nudge the price up
  • Fuel economy is solid but not stand-out

Sometimes it can feel like there aren't any "regular" Mercedes-Benz out there. Plenty of AMG versions, or cars dressed up to look like they're AMG's handiwork, and even the odd Maybach for the luxe-chasers, but a standard, stolid car with the three-pointed star? That's the real rarity, it seems.

Then again, this 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLC 300 4MATIC seems to be trying its level best not to stand out. It may be riding on special 18-inch wheels – a $750 option – but with black paintwork, fulsome all-season rubber, and a marked absence of any sort of AMG styling package this is about as surreptitious as the automaker gets.

The GLC is the SUV cousin of the C-Class, and indeed it shares a platform with that sedan. It is, by German luxe standards, unexpectedly affordable: pricing kicks off at $45,200 (plus $1,050 destination). Even with a small handful of extras, this fairly restrained example clocks in at under $50k.

Mercedes' design is restrained, too. The smaller and cheaper GLB has a more traditional, chunky SUV aesthetic; if you want more visual glamor, there's the GLC Coupe with its curvaceous roofline. I suspect the GLC will age gracefully, though it falls short of being exactly memorable.

Under the hood is Mercedes' familiar 2.0-liter inline-four turbo engine, with 255 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque. It's paired with permanent 4MATIC all-wheel drive and a 9G-TRONIC 9-speed automatic transmission.

They're power numbers that look a little conservative, if you've been used to AMG excess, but they suit the GLC's composed demeanor well. Sure, even in Sport mode, you're not going to be flinging the SUV around corners and staging impromptu drag races away from the lights, but it's ample for everyday use and generally refined. 0-60 mph arrives in 6.1 seconds, Mercedes' 9-speed slurs its ratios with practiced ease, and you get the sense that the GLC is much happier in Comfort mode.

The same could be said for the cabin. As standard, you get seating for five, dual-zone automatic climate control, a 10.25-inch center touchscreen running the MBUX infotainment system, wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and power heated front seats. The liftgate is powered, too, while safety tech includes blind spot assistance, parking assistance, active brake assist, LED lighting front and rear, and Mercedes' PRE-SAFE Predictive Occupant-Protection System.

To that, Mercedes had added the 12.3-inch digital cluster upgrade ($750), the MBUX Interior Assistant ($200) – which responds to the "Hey Mercedes" wake-word and is surprisingly adept – plus heat and noise insulating front side glass ($150). The Multimedia Package ($1,295) throws in AR navigation – which floats directions above a live view of the road ahead on the center touchscreen – along with live traffic, nice but not essential, while the Premium Package ($635) adds SiriusXM, 64-color ambient lighting, and illuminated door sills.

Were it my money, I'd play things safe. The digital cluster upgrade and "Hey Mercedes" assistant are nice to have, but everything else can be safely skipped on top of the GLC's fairly generous standard spec. I can't say I minded the MB-Tex seats, either, which aren't leather but still feel just fine. They're likely easier to clean when the SUV is buried in family duties, too.

There, it's the 19.4 cu-ft of cargo space that probably counts as more important than dashboard tech or outright speed. Fold down the spacious second row and that expands to up to 56.5 cu-ft. You'll get more in a BMW X3, mind.

The BMW also promises a little extra fuel economy (from, it's worth noting, its slightly less powerful engine). From the GLC, you're looking at 21 mpg in the city, 28 mpg on the highway, and 23 mpg combined. Not bad, but the X3 nudges each up by 1-2 points. At least the Mercedes' figures are straightforward to hit in daily use.

2021 Mercedes-Benz GLC 300 4MATIC Verdict

Maybe not every SUV needs to pretend to be a sports car. Perhaps it's absolutely fine to be quiet, luxurious, handsome in a conservative sort of way, and relatively attainable. They're qualities the 2021 GLC 300 4MATIC has in spades.

Indeed, you could see the midsize Mercedes as a perfect reminder of just what the automaker has built its reputation on. Quietly proficient and amply cosseting, without straying over into excess. If you're in the market for a family SUV with lingering prestige, the GLC undoubtedly fits the bill.