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Two popular premium SUVs – but one has the upper hand

There are few rivalries as fierce as the fight between German car makers BMW and Mercedes-Benz. But which one produces the best medium-sized luxury SUV?

The BMW X3 is a brilliant medium luxury SUV. It exudes just about every aspect you’d look for in a prestige car – cabin technology, sophisticated looks, high-end materials, and a set of cracking powertrains.

But the model’s been around since 2017 and its price keeps creeping up with only minimal changes. That leaves a huge gap for newer rivals such as the Mercedes-Benz GLC to saunter in and become the next best thing in prestige motoring.

As is tradition with lower-down-the-ladder Mercedes-Benz models, the new GLC reissues hallmark additions first presented on the S-Class limousine flagship of a few years ago. There’s a well-presented MBUX infotainment system with integrated augmented reality, sumptuous materials covering just about every interior surface, and a high-tech engine with 48-volt mild-hybrid technology for fuel-saving benefits.

By all means, this Mercedes-Benz should spank the BMW. It’s much newer, right? We’ve designed a luxury medium-sized SUV comparison to weed out a winner of this six-figure showdown.

Where the BMW X3 range contains multiple variants – our car is an xDrive 30i – the Mercedes-Benz GLC range only exists as a single variant for now. However, both of these cars line up fairly on price.

Let’s talk about the newcomer first.

How much does the Mercedes-Benz GLC cost in Australia?

The Mercedes-Benz GLC300 is the sole variant in the line-up – that is, until we see AMG GLC43 and AMG GLC63 versions next year – and it comes more expensive than ever. Its predecessor topped out at around $100,000 drive-away, but this new model (known internally as the X254) starts at $103,370 before on-road costs.

Add-on the optional Plus Package, which costs $6900 and brings niceties such as a Burmester 3D sound system, augmented-reality satellite navigation, Digital Light matrix LED headlights, and insulated glass, and the drive-away cost of this car equates to around $121,000.

Note, due to Mercedes’ special new agency sales model there is no haggling with Mercedes-Benz dealers these days either, so there is no getting around that lofty price tag.

The car gets an all-wheel-drive system fed by a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine and integrated 48-volt mild hybrid technology. It also utilises a nine-speed automatic transmission.

The Mercedes-Benz GLC subscribes to the brand’s latest design language which started on the S-Class, trickled down to the C-Class sedan, and is now seen on the GLC. That includes style points such as the new wide grille with a huge Mercedes-Benz emblem (which doubles as a radar sensor), new slimmer headlights, 20-inch alloy wheels, roof rails, and a set of side steps. All Australian cars get the AMG Line styling package as standard.

How much does the BMW X3 cost in Australia?

Powertrain-wise, it’s a similar affair in the BMW X3 xDrive 30i, but without the hybrid assistance. The X3 gets a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine that sends its power to all four wheels. That engine outputs 185kW and 350Nm, meaning it can’t quite match the specs of the Mercedes-Benz.

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But then again, it’s not as expensive as the Mercedes-Benz either. The old X3 30i starts more affordable than the Mercedes GLC, at $97,900 before on-road costs, but options on our car such as the metallic paint, speccy laser headlights, and panoramic sunroof blow this car out to around $117,000 drive-away, if you’re in Melbourne like us.

This is a mid-tier X3 model variant – the range actually starts at just over $80,000 for two-wheel-drive versions – but as noted, the car does quickly become expensive once you add some options.

In terms of styling, the X3 is one of the last BMW models to go without a gargantuan kidney grille, which is becoming commonplace on its remaining line-up.

Our car receives a set of option-up Laserlight headlamps, features a set of $2000 21-inch BMW Individual alloy wheels, roof rails, a panoramic sunroof, and it’s painted Carbon Black metallic. Like the Mercedes-Benz, this X3 gets sporty styling inside and out thanks to the M Sport styling package.

Key details 2023 Mercedes-Benz GLC300 2023 BMW X3 xDrive 30i
Price $103,370 plus on-road costs $97,900 plus on-road costs
Colour of test car Obsidian Black metallic Carbon Black metallic
Options Plus Package – $6900
– Burmester 3D surround sound
– Augmented-reality satellite navigation
– Digital Light Matrix LED headlights
– Heat and noise-insulating glass
– ‘Guard 360’ stolen vehicle alerts and app connectivity
Visibility Package – $5400
– BMW Laserlight
– Panoramic glass roof
– Metallic paint
21-inch BMW Individual light alloy wheels – $2000
Price as tested $110,270 plus on-road costs $105,300 plus on-road costs
Drive-away price $121,024 (Melbourne) $117,119 (Melbourne)

How much space does the Mercedes-Benz GLC have inside?

It’s hard not to be wowed by the GLC300’s cabin on initial entry – it all looks and feels very luxurious. The space is dominated by an 11.9-inch touchscreen infotainment system on the dash, while the driver gets a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster to handle things like speed, rev counting, fuel data, and the like. But more on those systems shortly.

Materials use is done to a very high standard and the cabin ambience is top-notch. There’s a lot of light let in by the sunroof, while ambient lighting plays a hugely entertaining part once daylight is lost.

Everything falls ergonomically to hand – including the power seat switches up on the door card, gear selector stalk on the steering wheel, and touchpad controls for the screens by your hand positions on the steering wheel.

And there’s copious storage about the front seats including a retractable centre console lid, a dual-door centre console bin, wireless charger, and big door card pockets. It gets a set of cupholders in the fold-down centre armrest, but it’s not an intuitive solution and I’d much prefer slots next to the air vents.

The seats might be synthetic leather – as is becoming the norm in this day and age of sustainability – but they’re supremely comfortable and feel built to last the distance. They even smell pretty decent too.

The high-end experience extends to the second row of seats too. There’s a lot of space for your head – I’m 194cm and never had any troubles – while leg room is sizeable sitting behind my own seating position. I love the way the footwell lights up too.

Amenities-wise, the GLC stocks air vents, cupholders, map pockets, and ambient lighting.

Further back, the GLC scores a kick-sensor electric boot release that opens to a 620-litre cavity. The seats fold in a 40/20/40 format thanks to handy remote rear seat releases in the boot, while there’s a cargo cover to hide away your stuff. Under the floor sits a space-saver spare wheel.

How much space does the BMW X3 have inside?

Perhaps we should have started with the BMW because that Mercedes-Benz cabin is a hard act to follow. But it’s not all doom and gloom inside the X3’s cabin because it’s still a hugely functional and well-appointed space, if a little humdrum after the Benz’s futuristic outlook.

First-row passengers are treated to a great amount of head room and space for legs. There’s also great adjustability to get the perfect driving position (arguably better than the Mercedes-Benz) because the steering wheel has a greater range of movement and the mirrors are easier to position.

But while it all feels well built with quality materials, it doesn’t quite step to the lofty highs of what’s presented in the Mercedes-Benz.

As is becoming increasingly common for BMW, it has let the interior run too far without significant updates and it’s all starting to look dated in comparison to its rivals. It’s still functional, but doesn’t contain the same feeling of quality and luxuriousness of the Mercedes-Benz GLC.

There is enough storage thanks to bits like the roller-top centre console tray (with two cupholders underneath and a wireless phone charger) and a decent centre console bin, while door cards can hold a couple of bottles each.

The second row is a bit tight behind my own driving position. There’s limiting leg room mainly, but it just generally felt more closed-in and cosy than you’d expect for a mid-size SUV. But it does have air vents, cupholders, two USB-C ports, and map pockets.

In the boot, the BMW X3 stocks a 550-litre space and it’s an easy loading effort due to the absence of any load lip – you can simply slide in your luggage or bags without encumbrance. Under the floor there’s hide-away storage for valuables, and netted pockets behind the wheel wells protect loose odds and ends too.

This car does not have any spare wheel whatsoever – it utilises run-flat tyres.

2023 Mercedes-Benz GLC300 2023 BMW X3 xDrive 30i
Seats Five Five
Boot volume 620L seats up
1680L seats folded
550L seats up
1600L seats folded
Length 4716mm 4708mm
Width 1890mm 1891mm
Height 1640mm 1676mm
Wheelbase 2888mm 2864mm

Does the Mercedes-Benz GLC have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto?

Infotainment is handled by an 11.9-inch touchscreen that sits in portrait orientation. It feels as though it’s angled slightly towards the driver, which enhances at-a-glance visibility when you’re driving along.

The MBUX software features some incredible technology and is refreshingly easy to use, whereas some other systems overwhelm with features. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity are included if you’d prefer to switch over to those systems.

Map screens display beautifully on the big, wide screen, while most settings are easily called up using shortcuts or a quick few presses.

I’m a huge fan of the augmented navigation that shows you a live camera view of the road ahead, then overlays directional arrows to show which direction you’re headed. It’s a seamless system that genuinely helps to explain exactly which way you should go.

The car gets a 15-speaker Burmester sound system that sounds great to my ears, and also has a good amount of adjustability to get the settings just how you like.

In front of the driver is a digital instrument cluster that you can configure in all kinds of ways – my favourite being the full-screen map display.

Does the BMW X3 have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto?

The BMW’s tech front isn’t so impressive. There’s screen real estate for sure, but it’s BMW’s older system that might irk some prestige car buyers looking for the latest and greatest.

The 12.3-inch infotainment screen displays clear maps and a functional menu system that is dead easy to navigate your way through. Fans of the Apple CarPlay or Android Auto systems are free to wirelessly connect to one of those alternatives, though I’m content with using BMW’s proprietary system.

There’s also a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster screen and head-up display, but these driver-centric displays don’t have quite the same customisation as you’ll find in the Mercedes-Benz.

Is the Mercedes-Benz GLC a safe car?

The current-generation Mercedes-Benz GLC was safety-tested by ANCAP in June 2023 to a five-star standard.

Breaking it down, the Mercedes scored 92 per cent for adult occupant protection, 92 per cent for child protection, 74 per cent for vulnerable road user protection, and 84 per cent for safety assistance systems.

Is the BMW X3 a safe car?

The BMW’s ANCAP safety score is decidedly old by today’s newer standards, but nevertheless, the car earned five stars in November 2017. This rating is due to expire at the end of 2023. Keep in mind, the way ANCAP evolves its testing regime means that an earlier score may not be the equivalent of a current rating due to assessment changes.

Individual scores of 93 per cent for adult occupant protection, 84 per cent for child protection, 70 per cent for vulnerable road user protection, and 58 per cent for safety assistance were awarded.

At a glance 2023 Mercedes-Benz GLC300 2023 BMW X3 xDrive 30i
ANCAP rating & year tested Five stars (tested 2022) Five stars (tested 2017)
Safety report ANCAP report ANCAP report

What safety technology does the Mercedes-Benz GLC have?

To earn a five-star safety rating from ANCAP, Mercedes-Benz hasn’t skimped with the active safety inclusions.

It gets autonomous emergency braking (with pedestrian and cyclist detection, and junction assist), lane-keep assistance, lane-centring for the adaptive cruise-control system, lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, and a 360-degree camera.

Handily, the adaptive cruise-control system can even change lanes for you when enabled on a freeway – and it does an excellent job.

Mercedes-Benz fits the GLC300 SUV with dual frontal, side chest-protecting, and side head-protecting airbags. It also comes with a centre airbag to protect front seat occupants’ heads from clashing together in an accident, plus a driver’s knee airbag.

What safety technology does the BMW X3 have?

BMW fits the X3 with dual frontal, side chest-protecting (front), side curtain (front and rear), and a driver’s knee airbag. It doesn’t get a centre airbag like some newer cars.

Active safety kit for the X3 xDrive 30i includes autonomous emergency braking (with pedestrian detection), blind-spot warning, adaptive cruise control, and lane-departure warning. It also scores a surround-view 360-degree camera system.

These systems all function very well without annoying the driver, and handily much of the X3’s safety kit is controlled using a handy button below the infotainment screen. Push this button and you can configure how you want the active safety systems to alert you to any impending danger or to turn them off altogether.

How much does the Mercedes-Benz GLC cost to run?

Mercedes-Benz was one of the first prestige car brands to move to a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, which has now become the unofficial industry standard.

Servicing should be completed at either 25,000km or 12-month intervals, which is also generous.

Service packages are offered upfront at the point of purchase for three-, four-, or five-year plans. They cost $3100, $4200, and $6500 respectively. This is very expensive.

Insuring the GLC300 on a comprehensive insurance policy costs $2551 each year. This is a comparative quote for a 35-year-old male driver living in Chatswood, NSW. Insurance estimates may vary based on your location, driving history, and personal circumstances.

How much does the BMW X3 cost to run?

Conversely, BMW was a laggard when it came to new-car warranties, but it now offers the same five-year/unlimited-kilometre coverage as Mercedes-Benz.

BMW services should take place on a conditional basis, basically as the car requires. The brand also offers a capped-price upfront plan (BMW Service Inclusive), but only for a single five-year or 80,000km period. It costs $2400.

Insuring the X3 xDrive 30i on a comprehensive insurance policy costs $2215 each year. This is a comparative quote for a 35-year-old male driver living in Chatswood, NSW. Insurance estimates may vary based on your location, driving history, and personal circumstances.

At a glance 2023 Mercedes-Benz GLC300 2023 BMW X3 xDrive 30i
Warranty Five years, unlimited km Five years, unlimited km
Service intervals 12 months or 25,000km Condition-based
Servicing costs $6500 (5 years) $2400 (5 years)
Fuel cons. (claimed) 7.7L/100km 7.9L/100km
Fuel cons. (on test) 7.9L/100km 8.8L/100km
Fuel type 95-octane premium unleaded 95-octane premium unleaded
Fuel tank size 62L 65L

Is the Mercedes-Benz GLC fuel-efficient?

Against Mercedes-Benz’s combined fuel consumption claim of 7.7 litres per 100 kilometres, our car did a sustained 7.9L/100km over the course of a week on freeways and suburban streets. The car maker requires the 62-litre fuel tank to be refuelled with 95-octane fuel.

Is the BMW X3 fuel-efficient?

BMW’s fuel-efficiency claim for the X3 xDrive 30i is marginally higher at 7.9L/100km (combined) but the car fared much worse in the real world. We returned a fuel consumption of around 8.8L/100km during our week. Like the Benz, BMW requires the 65-litre fuel tank be refuelled with 95-octane fuel and above.

What is the Mercedes-Benz GLC like to drive?

Interior comfort and cabin quality are only half the battle for prestige SUV buyers. They’re also looking for a suitably premium drive, and the Mercedes-Benz GLC delivers a fantastic driving experience all around.

It’s powered by a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine that outputs 190kW and 400Nm. That’s a punchy set of outputs coming from a 2.0-litre powertrain, and it certainly feels as such in practice.

Press your foot into the throttle and the car suitably changes down gear and serves up the right amount of torque for any given situation. As well, the car uses a nine-speed torque converter automatic transmission that easily manages to serve up the right gear at the right time.

The GLC300 is underpinned by a 4Matic all-wheel-drive system, and even though the time we spent with the car was sunny and dry, we did not have any trouble with traction whatsoever. Mercedes-Benz says that this car will do a scant 6.2-second run from zero to 100km/h – pretty impressive for what is not even a performance SUV.

In addition to the 2.0-litre turbocharged powertrain, the GLC300 has a 48-volt mild-hybrid system that can add up to 17kW and 200Nm for short bursts, likely in the situation where you’re going for an on-road overtake. It’ll give you that little bit of extra power when needed, while on the flip side, the system can switch off petrol engine and run on that electric power when you’re coasting along without significant throttle input, thereby saving fuel.

One thing I’ve come to love in this car is its augmented-reality navigation system. The car will show a camera feed of the road ahead, and then overlay a graphic of directional information, which you can follow and head in your intended direction. It really helps when you’re in unfamiliar territory, and I’ve come to like it when I’m driving around town and going somewhere new.

In terms of steering, the GLC300 has a light steering feel that makes it really easy to manoeuvre in town. In terms of driving modes, the GLC gets an individual driving mode where you can change your own settings, or it also has an off-road mode where the car will prime itself for light-duty off-road use. Other modes you can cycle through include Comfort and Sport.

One area where the GLC300 really nails the brief is just how subdued road noise is inside the cabin. You’re not hearing anything coming from the wheels, nothing coming from the wind. It’s really quiet and refined in the cabin when you’re on the move.

A standout aspect of the driving experience, arguably its greatest asset even, is the way the GLC rides. The suspension is beautifully smooth and compliant over all kinds of bumps, shielding passengers inside from discomfort whether you’re going over speedhumps, road joins or potholed stretches of bitumen.

What is the BMW X3 like to drive?

Jump into the BMW X3 and everything feels a little bit tighter and a little bit harder-edged. It doesn’t take long to realise it is that little bit more of a sporting SUV.

Part of the reason why the BMW X3 will ride a little bit harder than the Mercedes-Benz is because the car has run-flat tyres. They have harder tyre sidewalls in the event of a flat and aren’t quite as compliant in absorbing road impacts.

Similar to the Mercedes-Benz, power in the X3 xDrive 30i is supplied by a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine that outputs 185kW/350Nm to all four wheels. But unlike the Mercedes-Benz, it doesn’t have that mild-hybrid technology, which can act as a little boost in times of high throttle load.

When it comes to acceleration off the mark, there’s not a lot in it. The X3 is 0.1 seconds slower to 100km/h compared to the Mercedes, so there’s slim difference despite the X3 being down on power. As for pure feel, it’s sprightly enough when you are leaning on the accelerator, and there’s good pick-up for good overtakes as well.

A factor that BMW’s got down to a fine art is its eight-speed automatic transmission. This thing is super slick. As soon as there are changing speed limits, more throttle applied and the car automatically serves up the right ratio. It’s really well rounded.

Just like the Mercedes-Benz, the X3 has its own individual driving modes, but one thing it doesn’t extend to is an off-road mode. You don’t get any xDrive mode in this car, which we’re sure probably won’t impact many of the buyers of these prestige SUVs, but the fact that the Mercedes has it is handy nice-to-have.

Vision-wise, you get a really good view of the road ahead, perhaps even better than the Mercedes-Benz.

But ride control is not nearly as compliant as you’ll experience in the Mercedes-Benz. The X3 hits road joins with a harder-edged effect and generally feels less comfortable on back roads especially.

Inversely, this helps the BMW X3 go through corners while keeping its composure – it’s not upset by mid-corner bumps. It definitely is the SUV that leans more into the sporty side of things.

For me, in my opinion, I don’t think that’s exactly what buyers spending $100,000 on a prestige SUV will want, especially when you’re not going to that full M or AMG level. The Mercedes-Benz is the more prestige-driving SUV, but equally doesn’t let up too much in terms of dynamic ability either.

Key details 2023 Mercedes-Benz GLC300 2023 BMW X3 xDrive 30i
Engine 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol
Power 190kW @ 5800rpm 185kW @ 5200–6500rpm
Torque 400Nm @ 2000–3200rpm 350Nm @ 1450–4800rpm
Drive type All-wheel drive All-wheel drive
Transmission 9-speed torque converter automatic 8-speed torque converter automatic
Power-to-weight ratio 96.4kW/t 104.6kW/t
Weight (tare) 1970kg 1768kg
Spare tyre type Space-saver Run-flat tyres
Tow rating 2400kg braked
750kg unbraked
2000kg braked
750kg unbraked
Turning circle 11.8m 12.0m

Should I buy a Mercedes-Benz GLC or a BMW X3?

From the outset, it should be noted that both these takes on a luxury medium-sized SUV are impressive. But one is much more compelling than the other, and its value equation stacks up far more convincingly in 2023.

No surprises here – it’s the 2023 Mercedes-Benz GLC300 that is the better car. It might start some $5000 more expensive, but you actually get more for your money including a more powerful (but more frugal) engine and a nicer cabin experience.

There’s marginally more space for your second-row passengers, as well as a larger boot cavity for all their accompanying luggage.

Those after a harder-edged driving experience might prefer the tactility of the BMW X3’s handling, but it doesn’t leave a huge gap (in terms of performance) to the Benz GLC, which still manages to offer discerning dynamics in most situations.

The BMW X3 was once one of the best prestige SUVs, but not in 2023 where it’s more expensive than the G01 generation has ever been, and facing new rivals like the excellent Mercedes-Benz GLC300.

We await the next-generation X3 (coming sometime in 2024) for a fairer fight, but for the time being, the new Mercedes-Benz GLC is the better car.

Overall Ratings

Drive’s Pick

2023 Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class GLC300 Wagon

8.2/ 10

8.2/ 10

2023 BMW X3 xDrive30i M Sport Wagon

7.6/ 10

7.6/ 10

Ratings Breakdown

Performance
2023 Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class GLC300 Wagon
2023 BMW X3 xDrive30i M Sport Wagon
Ride Quality
2023 Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class GLC300 Wagon
2023 BMW X3 xDrive30i M Sport Wagon
Handling & Dynamics
2023 Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class GLC300 Wagon
2023 BMW X3 xDrive30i M Sport Wagon
Driver Technology
2023 Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class GLC300 Wagon
2023 BMW X3 xDrive30i M Sport Wagon
Interior Comfort & Packaging
2023 Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class GLC300 Wagon
2023 BMW X3 xDrive30i M Sport Wagon
Safety Technology
2023 Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class GLC300 Wagon
2023 BMW X3 xDrive30i M Sport Wagon
Infotainment & Connectivity
2023 Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class GLC300 Wagon
2023 BMW X3 xDrive30i M Sport Wagon
Energy Efficiency
2023 Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class GLC300 Wagon
2023 BMW X3 xDrive30i M Sport Wagon
Value for Money
2023 Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class GLC300 Wagon
2023 BMW X3 xDrive30i M Sport Wagon
Fit for Purpose
2023 Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class GLC300 Wagon
2023 BMW X3 xDrive30i M Sport Wagon

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Tom started out in the automotive industry by exploiting his photographic skills but quickly learned that journalists got the better end of the deal. He began with CarAdvice in 2014, left in 2017 to join Bauer Media titles including Wheels and WhichCar and subsequently returned to CarAdvice in early 2021 during its transition to Drive.

As part of the Drive content team, Tom covers automotive news, car reviews, advice, and holds a special interest in long-form feature stories.

He understands that every car buyer is unique and has varying requirements when it comes to buying a new car, but equally, there’s also a loyal subset of Drive audience that loves entertaining enthusiast content.

Tom holds a deep respect for all things automotive no matter the model, priding himself on noticing the subtle things that make each car tick. Not a day goes by that he doesn’t learn something new in an everchanging industry, which is then imparted to the Drive reader base.

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