THERE IS GOOD reason we find ourselves here. And I’m not talking about where I am standing, which is before a long drag strip and between two souped-up Germans with enough performance technology to dazzle your revhead uncle. I mean, how did we get to the point where $150K and the desire for a fast medium-size SUV summons a long list of choices, all capable of frightening any muscled-up rear-drive sedan? Or where the record for the fastest SUV Nurburgring lap is something you can even recall? It’s 7:42.2, by the way, for an Audi RS Q8.
Wind time back a couple of decades and the overlap between performance driving and SUVs stood separate as black and white. Buying habits have changed that. The SUV’s popularity has forced manufacturers to mix the historically exclusive concepts in chase of the status-seeking or speed-craving niche. And as this test is about to prove, the results are still fanning out in many shades of grey.
Within that spectrum are the newly updated Mercedes-AMG GLC63 S and Porsche Macan Turbo. Admittedly, we hoped a third contender would join them. BMW’s X3 M was due to weigh in after clobbering the Jaguar F-Pace SVR and Alfa Romeo Stelvio Q in a recent comparo, but we were told none were available at the time of test. So word on the segment’s true champ will have to wait.
We’re still in for fireworks. Yes, watching an SUV romp around the Nurburgring is still unnerving, a bit like watching a tamed lion put out its paw for a human to shake. However, the GLC63 S did just that after seven tense minutes and 49.3 seconds in 2018, claiming the then-record lap for an SUV.
Powering it to such fame was, of course, the veritable twin-turbo V8 that AMG dishes out in all its uber-muscle cars. It comes in the C63 S’s M177 wet-sump guise, with single-scroll BorgWarner turbos helping push 375kW and 700Nm through its 4.0 litres. A nine-speed wet-clutch automatic transmission manages the grunt, assisted by the E63’s all-wheel drive system (sans rear-drive Drift Mode, sadly – or possibly sensibly).
AMG’s tweaked the exterior for 2020 with relatively minor changes. It has ditched its old C-Class-like headlights for newly shaped units that hug a gaping ‘Panamericana’ grille. Then, on top of a new colour and wheel design, there’s a fresh infotainment system inside while new AMG Dynamics chassis electronics watch your every step. And/or misstep.
There is one more, and very important, change we’ll mention later, but first let’s meet Porsche’s updated Macan Turbo. The big news here is the Turbo has welcomed a 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6 pinched from the Panamera range. It’s best known in Audi’s RS4 and RS5 models, but as far as Porsche is concerned, it’s its own engine. It’s smaller, though the turbochargers are coupled within the vee, boosting response and helping extract 30kW more than the original 3.6-litre twin turbo V6.
Porsche has added some tweaks to bolster its appeal, like whopping 390mm/356mm brake discs that feature a tungsten carbide coating said to quicken response and reduce wear. The front and rear ends are also remodelled. But there’s a feeling, still, that even with 324kW and 550Nm in total the Macan is outgunned in this company.
Review: 2020 Porsche Macan GTS
Porsche claims the Macan Turbo hits 100km/h in 4.5 seconds from rest, while a $2390 Sport Chrono package, that gifts its powertrain a ‘sport plus’ mode and the seven-speed PDK transmission more aggressive gear shifts, cuts that down to 4.3 seconds with launch control. Let’s see about that.
Sliding on to its smooth leather driver’s seat, the seating position welcomes you aboard in a nice posture. And as you turn the ‘key’, the engine fires to life with a gravelly rort to remind us that while it’s smaller, and all Macans are turbocharged, this particular variant badge deserves respect.
Review: 2020 Mercedes-AMG GLC43 coupe
Grasp the lever, slot it into ‘D’. Find the rotary dial on its steering wheel and spin it to ‘S+’. Load the brake. Build the revs. The rev needle pings off a 5000rpm stall as the engine wails in anticipation. Release the brake and then... whack! Its 550Nm hits like a comet that’s crashed into the back of you.
Even with an electronically controlled multi-plate centre clutch metering the 2.9-litre’s grunt between the front and rear axle, the Macan Turbo bucks as it shoots forward as if it’s missing a metre from its wheelbase.
Nevertheless, its V6 spins free and the 6800rpm redline looms fast in first gear. The PDK swiftly shifts at 6500rpm or can hold until 6900rpm in manual mode and bounce the revs off the cut-out.
Sonically the Turbo sounds as racy as the old 3.6’s hard-edged howl, and it should with a $5050 Sports Exhaust as installed on our test car, but in practice the engine’s delivery doesn’t punch as hard in the low-to-mid range. And that’s where the Macan needs it most given it’s packing 1950kg, or an extra 20kg around its hips since the refresh.
But Heathcote Raceway reinforces Porsche’s increasingly well-known modesty when it comes to claimed acceleration figures. Although the Turbo’s V6 needs a wind-up, its strong top-end develops the pace to nail 100km/h in 4.09 seconds. And while that’s two tenths quicker than claimed, it more astonishingly smashes the previous-generation Turbo Performance Pack’s 4.4sec 0-100km/h claim, even when its 3.6-litre packed 50Nm more than this car and equal power.
An extra short first gear is the new Turbo’s secret to levering itself off the line. Rather than soar to 62km/h at 6700rpm as the old 3.6 could, the Turbo now reaches 55km/h at 6800rpm. Again, third is also significantly shorter, wrapping up at 144km/h instead of 162km/h.
It’s no surprise, then, that the Turbo’s short-legged acceleration eventually tapers off to 179.35km/h when it crosses the line in 12.35sec. That’s certainly quick, but as we’re about to find out, not quick enough.
Switching into our Selenite Grey AMG GLC63 S brings a different theatre, even if there are some similarities between these Stuttgart exports. After you thumb the glass-look start button the bonnet erupts with a deep, energetic throb that shakes you in its leather seats.
Spin the wheel’s rotary dial a few clicks until the LED-screen displays ‘S+’. Then slacken the ESP mode, pull down the transmission stalk behind the wheel and burble to the start line. Load the brake and throttle, revs will then snarl as they bounce off 3500-3600rpm, then release.
In that first moment, as 700Nm hunts for the path of least resistance, you can feel the forces trying to wring the chassis into a knot. The left front wheel lifts, and as the steering errs to the left you’re suddenly adding right lock to keep straight.
After the chassis steels itself, during a moment where the Porsche would nudge itself ahead, the powertrain’s brute force takes over. The AMG’s torque-laden rpm range could easily work with four gears, let alone nine. Still, the wet-clutch auto makes good use of the entire 7000rpm, crisply up-shifting at 6900rpm with a little kick in your back as if the car’s digging in its spurs as it continues to explode forward.
The twin-turbo V8 growls on an octave lower than the Turbo and belts the AMG along to 100km/h in 3.9sec and past the finish line in 12sec. Sure that there’s more in it, I soften the dampers, turn the ESP off completely, and line up for another shuttle launch. It works. And the AMG logs a 3.76sec/11.96sec pass with 185.49km/h on board, convincing me that with some torque control in first gear it could go even faster.
And not only on the drag strip would this help the AMG’s case. After breaking free for the hills it wobbles on the way into its first corner. It’s surprising given the car’s sharp steering and direct feel off centre. The air suspension, too, is well judged to offer absorbency and control.
It’s these attributes that encourage you to press on in the AMG, hustling its 265mm- and 295mm-wide respective front and rear paws to a point where you’re confident enough to rush the throttle. And then the ESP steps in. We know the AMG is big, but we didn’t think a former lap record holder would be this unsure of itself. It happens again in the next corner. As it turns out, new Continental CrossContact rubber might have something to do with it, since we had no such issue with the 2018-spec GLC63 S coupe that wore Michelin PS4 S tyres.
Even the new AMG Dynamics’ ‘Master’ mode can’t unlock the cornering speeds the AMG should achieve, and it won’t allow more entry-speed either. The ESP distrusts the tyres so much, it intervenes even when the system is supposedly off.
The Turbo and its open rear differential score a more-relaxed ESP and grippier Pirellis. The extra grip’s concerning at first, exaggerating the roll after tipping in on its soft steel spring setup. The speed-sensitive steering fails to add any reciprocal feedback weight, either.
But if you trust the Turbo’s ability you’ll find a more dynamically rewarding car. The way its steering, suspension balance and grip come together when you commit produce a more fluid handling SUV, transitioning from one input smoothly into the next until you’re brimming with enough confidence to drive it on the outside rear tyre.
Still, you’ll pick the Turbo for winding roads only to avoid the AMG’s pedantic ESP system, because the AMG otherwise works brilliantly. The nine-speed wet clutch transmission offers instant throttle response and assuring shifts under load. It will smoothly drop into low gears as well.
The damping, too, backs off nicely in comfort when you’re loping along. But the car’s whole structure tends to thuds as its wheels glance off potholes – revealing the downside to the AMG’s sharp responses. Other driveability gripes? The nine-speed can sometimes be cranky when taking off, spoiling the great throttle feel on tip-in supplied by a torquey V8.
As for the Turbo, its PDK is faultless in all conditions. Yes, the V6 can feel a bit lethargic under foot while cruising as 550Nm works harder to motivate its mass, but it’ll sip 12.6 litres per 100km compared to the AMG’s tested 13.8 litres.
While the Turbo lacks the AMG’s damping travel, it’s more comfortable over gnarled roads because of a more forgiving primary ride. It’s not as a nice place to sit, though, and the AMG’s brakes offer finer modulation.
Where the Turbo makes a stronger case is on value. At $142,200 before on-roads, even with options like this example’s ‘Crayon’ paint ($4970) and Power Steering Plus ($550) it still undercuts the AMG at $156,520 all-up. Yes, the AMG’s equipment list leaves you wanting for little, but it also leaves you with less, since it costs $164,600 before on roads.
Despite that, this contest washes out in the AMG’s favour. While it’s expensive and wanting for grippier tyres, there’s still brutal speed on offer and that V8 powertrain is undeniably endearing. We love its gangster vibe.
Meanwhile, without all-vanquishing straight line punch and dynamics, the Macan never really lives up to its namesake by Porsche standards, leaving the AMG a more defined and attractive shade in this competitive spectrum of grey.
|Mercedes-AMG GLC63 S||Porsche Macan Turbo|
|Body||5-door, 5-seat SUV||5-door, 5-seat SUV|
|Engine||3982cc V8, DOHC, 32v, twin-turbo||2894cc V6, DOHC, 24v, twin-turbo|
|Bore x stroke||83.0 x 92.0mm||84.5 x 86.0mm|
|Power||375kW @ 5500-6250rpm||324kW @ 5700-6600rpm|
|Torque||700Nm @ 1750-4500pm||550Nm @ 1800-5600rpm|
|Transmission||Nine-speed wet-clutch automatic||Seven-speed dual clutch|
|Suspension||Multi-links, adaptive air dampers, anti-roll bar (f); multi-links, adaptive air dampers, anti-roll bar (r)||Multi-link, adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar (f); multi-links, adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar (r)|
|Steering||Electrically assisted rack-and-pinion||Electrically assisted rack-and-pinion|
|Brakes||390mm ventilated drilled discs, six-piston calipers (f); 360mm ventilated discs, single-piston calipers (r)||390mm ventilated discs, six-piston calipers (f); 356mm ventilated discs, single-piston calipers (r)|
|Wheels||21.0 x 9.5-inch (f); 21.0 x 10.0-inch (r)||21.0 x 9.0-inch (f); 21 x 10.0-inch (r)|
|Tyres||265/40 R21 (f); 295/35 ZR21 (r); Continental CrossContact UHP||265/40 R21 (101Y) (f); 295/35 R21 (103Y) (f/r); Pirelli P Zero|
|Price||$164,600 (as tested)||$156,620 (as tested)|
|Pros||Thunderous noise; insane acceleration; sharp feedback; nicely damped; brilliant front seats||Cushy ride; sweet steering; high grip limits; driving position; premium cabin; flexible power|
|Cons||Harsh secondary ride and auto engagement; under-tyred; questionable ESP smarts||Feels a bit tubby; engine needs a wind-up; bland front seats; feminine looks|
|Star rating||4 out of 5 stars||3.5 out of 5 stars|
|Mercedes-AMG GLC63 S||Porsche Macan Turbo|
|0-400m||11.96 sec @185.49km/h||12.35 sec @ 179.35km/h|
|SPEED IN GEARS|
|1st||56km/h @ 7000rpm||55km/h @ 6800rpm|
|2nd||92km/h @ 7000rpm||94km/h @ 6800rpm|
|3rd||133km/h @ 7000rpm||144km/h @ 6800rpm|
|4th||182km/h @ 7000rpm||197km/h @ 6800rpm|
|5th||247km/h @ 70000rpm||257km/h @ 6800rpm|
|6th||270km/h @ 6330rpm*||270km/h @ 5695rpm*|
|7th||270km/h @ 5450rpm*||270km/h @ 4700rpm*|
|8th||270km/h @ 4550rpm*||N/A|
|9th||270km/h @ 3800rpm*||N/A|