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Our First Spin in a 2023 Mercedes-Benz GLC Prototype

Our First Spin in a 2023 Mercedes-Benz GLC Prototype

Hybrid power and new tech elevate the GLC's standing

  • New GLC will feature mild hybrid and plug-in hybrid powertrains
  • Projected to feature Mercedes' newest interior design and safety features
  • Our drive of a prototype vehicle illustrates improvements to comfort and interior space
  • Introduces the second GLC generation for 2023

What is the GLC?

Even though it's been on sale since the 2016 model year, a strong foundation and continual improvements mean that the Mercedes-Benz GLC still outshines many of its newer competitors. In fact, the GLC has only just recently been beaten at the top of our rankings of small luxury SUVs, with the Genesis GV70 edging it out to take the title for 2022.

That underlines the well-rounded ability of this compact SUV, and Mercedes is building upon these strengths with its upcoming replacement. Given the runaway success of the current model, it may come as no surprise that the changes for the redesigned GLC are incremental rather than radical. The new 2023 Mercedes-Benz GLC promises greater interior and trunk space, improved refinement, and a more expansive choice of infotainment and entertainment technology, as well as enhancements to the suite of standard and optional driver aids. We recently got the opportunity to test-drive a prototype version at Merc's winter testing facility in Sweden.

How does the GLC drive?

While specifics haven't been confirmed by Mercedes' U.S. arm, we should be getting a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine in the base model. The motor is estimated to produce 265 horsepower and 406 lb-ft of torque — a significant improvement over the current GLC 300's 255 hp and 273 lb-ft. The major boost in torque is due to a 48-volt mild hybrid system that incorporates a starter-generator into the nine-speed automatic transmission. That'll help boost fuel economy by allowing the engine to shut off and coast under light loads. As with the outgoing model, the GLC will be available with either rear- or all-wheel drive.

In addition to the standard mild hybrid, Mercedes-Benz will offer as many as three different plug-in hybrid (PHEV) choices. One will be a diesel plug-in hybrid not sold here, though the other gasoline models will likely be shipped stateside. The standard PHEV will likely be badged GLC 300e, with its electric motor boosting the four-cylinder engine by adding 135 hp and 324 lb-ft. Mercedes-Benz is claiming that according to the European WLTP testing cycle the plug-in hybrid allows an electric-only range of in excess of 62 miles at speeds up to 148 mph. Note that the WLTP standard typically yields more optimistic range results than the EPA's tests. The second PHEV is likely to be a sporty Mercedes-AMG model, its hybrid drivetrain tuned more for performance than economy. 

Our test of the GLC is of an early preproduction prototype, driving on ice and compacted snow, and it's powered by the diesel that we won't get here. Therefore, our findings won't be comprehensively applicable to the U.S. model. Still, we're immediately struck by the exceptionally quiet cabin, which is almost totally isolated from engine and exterior noise. The sense of calm is impressive, and it's partially thanks to a new noise suppression matting that Mercedes-Benz uses in the transmission tunnel.

Our test GLC had the optional air suspension, which adds rear-wheel steering, and the ride is nicely composed, even on the rough, hard-packed snow of the test area. More relatably, it rode with similar composure from our perch in the passenger seat on the roads leading to the test area. The steering is light and accurate, with maneuverability around tighter bends and stability at speed both aided by the optional rear-wheel steering system. Driving it in Comfort and Sport modes on the slippery surface demonstrates just how well integrated the traction and stability systems are. The unobtrusive assistance in the Comfort mode allows easy progress, while the systems' higher thresholds in Sport reveal the chassis' inherent balance and sure-footed stability. We're familiar with the nine-speed automatic from its installation in other Benzes, and it proves just as slick and quick in its shifting here, as it does in the closely related redesigned C-Class. 

How comfortable is the GLC?

The new GLC's wheelbase only grows by half an inch, and while that's relatively small, it does manifest inside as a more spacious cabin. The effect, in the rear seats in particular, is enhanced by the narrow shoulders of the front seatbacks, which give rear passengers a good view through to the front. Headroom and legroom are decent in the front and two outer rear seats, with the middle seat more appropriate for children or smaller adults.

The impression of comfort is further bolstered by the aforementioned quiet of the interior in the tough conditions of our test drive. We'll need to test it on the road to be absolutely certain of these impressions, but based on our early drive in the GLC, it'll be even more serene than the very comfortable outgoing model. 

How's the GLC's interior?

As a prototype, the GLC we're driving and riding in is wearing interior trim coverings to keep things secret until its official reveal later this year. It's not able to cover everything, though, and with so many of the functions, both drive- and comfort-related, contained within the large central screen it has to be uncovered while we drive it. What's obvious is that Mercedes-Benz has lifted the GLC's interior pretty much entirely from the new C-Class, which is no bad thing. That means there's a 12.3-inch digital instrument panel, which offers a degree of configurability to suit your preferences. There's also a 11.9-inch vertically oriented screen situated between the driver and passenger.

What materials and surfaces that can be reached under the covers reveal themselves to be of high quality — similar, again, to the redesigned C-Class. Mercedes-Benz has yet to announce the trim levels, but we're likely to see GLC 300, GLC 300e and an AMG model above those. The interior materials and equipment will change as you climb the range, with the AMG model certain to get more sporting seats and trim. Visual packages such as the AMG Line from the existing GLC are likely to continue to be offered. We'll confirm the GLC's interior specification and options when we sample a production model at the launch later this year.

How's the GLC's tech?

Connectivity, entertainment, infotainment and convenience features are all enhanced for the 2023 Mercedes-Benz GLC. Featuring the second incarnation of Merc's impressive MBUX interface, that central touchscreen contains everything from augmented reality-enhanced navigation to an Energizing Coach that alters several interior functions to promote well-being on a journey. Much of that tech is optional, and Mercedes-Benz has yet to confirm standard equipment, but connectivity via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto will likely be standard across the range. One of the more interesting features is a 360-degree parking camera, which also shows what's under the body when using the off-road driving mode, to help when driving the GLC on a trail.

The control of all that tech is well integrated, with all key functions easily accessed via the large central touchscreen, with submenus for lesser used functions proving relatively quick and easy to find. The new steering wheel incorporates touch control surfaces allowing further control of many functions, as well as what's displayed ahead of you on the digital instrument screen. If that's too much trouble, saying "Hey Mercedes" and asking it to turn up the heat, change radio stations, call Mom or execute other commands works pretty slickly, too. There are improved driver aids as well such as expanded functionality of traffic sign recognition, an automated parking system and a trailer assist function.

How are the GLC's storage and towing?

The previous GLC's storage capacity of 19.4 cubic feet wasn't exactly class-leading. The new version's cargo area grows to 21.1 cubes, which is still bested by many of its rivals.

Towing figures haven't been released yet, but it's not unreasonable to expect the new GLC to be broadly similar to the existing model, which again trails the best of the competition. If it's not big, capacious or able to tow as much as you'd like it to, Mercedes-Benz's salespeople will happily point you in the direction of the GLE, though for most small families, the GLC's practicality won't be found lacking in too many areas overall.

How economical is the GLC?

Since we only drove a prototype, we cannot provide any official fuel economy figures. What we can say is that with the adoption of that 48-volt mild hybrid tech with the integrated starter-alternator in the automatic transmission, the new GLC should return better gas mileage and emit fewer particulates than the car it replaces. The new plug-in hybrid model's generous range estimates should allow owners to do a sizable portion of their daily driving without ever needing the combustion engine.

Edmunds says

The current GLC has been a consistently strong performer against its competition, though it has been recently dethroned by the Genesis GV70 in the small luxury SUV class. Based on our limited test drive of the redesigned model, the 2023 Mercedes-Benz GLC might have what it takes to snag the crown once more.