Buying a luxury SUV is confusing. There are so many sizes, so many options and so many brands all offering what would, on paper at least, seem like a great purchase.
On the smaller end of the scale, the likes of the Porsche Macan GTS and Mercedes-AMG GLC43 go head-to-head for dominance in the all-important performance SUV war of the Germans.
The Porsche Macan is arguably the one SUV that, for the last few years at least, has truly put the ‘Sports’ into that acronym - the model which all other models are now benchmarked against.
The Macan range is vast and extensive, but the GTS version gets more power, uprated interior and a few other bits and pieces thrown in, compared to the regular S. It’s Porsche’s way of still dragging you up from the Macan S when you can’t go all the way to the Macan Turbo.
Its German rival comes from the folks at Mercedes-AMG, which now have a consistent and progressive line up of '43' models that are clearly below a 63 both in performance and aesthetics but still offer some of the drama and street cred of a true AMG.
Pricing and equipment
If you’re buying either of these two vehicles, spending well over $100k on a small performance SUV is already a mental battle you’ve won.
There is no reason you need either of these two vehicles, but you want one - and that’s as good a reason as any.
The Porsche Macan GTS starts at $109,200 (plus on-road costs – the Porsche drive-away calculator for this particular pre-June production model says the SUV costs $121,910 drive-away in QLD, without options) but if you understand Porsche ownership, expect to pay at least another 15k more for the car you actually want.
It's worth noting that here, despite its tall asking price, we're talking about a car that doesn’t even have keyless entry as standard. That will set you back $1690.
The options on our test car included a panoramic sunroof ($3790), Bose surround sound system ($2650), metallic paint ($1990), park assist ($1660), white coloured instrument dials ($1150), connect plus with Apple CarPlay ($1090), red seat belts ($990), black roof rails in aluminium finish ($750) and power steering plus ($650).
Oh, and how can we forget, the Sport Chrono pack - basically a ‘mandatory option’ if you want to own a Porsche that will actually do Porsche things. That will cost you another $2690.
So, altogether, our particular test car came in at $126,610 plus on-road costs.
On the other hand and rather surprisingly, the $101,400 Mercedes-AMG GLC43 had just the one option for metallic paint ($1990). The Mercedes-Benz Australia website has the GLC43 listed at $111,308 drive away in QLD without options.
The price difference between these two German rivals on paper is only around $8000, and around 10k if you take dealer delivery fees into account. An attempt at negotiating may help ease that burden slightly, but, given the high demand for both cars, it’s unlikely there will be any meaningful discount.
In terms of equipment, the Mercedes-Benz is the clear winner here with a high-level of standard kit that includes a Sunroof, keyless entry, Apple Carplay, surround view parking system and a huge standard list of active safety features, nearly all of which are boxes that need ticking on the option kings over at Porsche.
Then again, no one buys a Porsche to save money on options. So, whilst the Mercedes-Benz is the best-equipped of the two here – by a substantial margin - that’s not reason enough to buy one for everyone.
Engines and drivetrain
Both of these cars use a six-cylinder, turbocharged petrol engine.
The Porsche is powered by a re-tuned version of the 3.0-litre V6 twin-turbo engine as found in the petrol Macan S, the GTS offers 265kW at a screaming 6000rpm with 500Nm of torque available between 1750 and 4000 rpm.
This increase of 15kW and 40Nm over the S is gained through more efficient induction and exhaust flow, and upping the turbo boost pressure to 1.2-bar (the S runs 1-bar of boost). It tips the scale at 1895kg.
On the other hand, the Mercedes-AMG GLC43’s 3.0-litre turbocharged unit pumps out 270kW of power at 5500-600 rpm with 520Nm of torque between 2500-4500 rpm. It weighs 1845kg giving it not only more power and torque, but also a better power-to-weight ratio.
That might also explain why it's quicker from 0-100km/h at 4.9 seconds compared with the Macan’s 5.0 seconds (or 5.2 if you don’t tick the sports chrono option and miss out on launch control).
Both vehicles utilise an all-wheel drive system for traction and basic off-road ability, with the Porsche utilising a dual-clutch transmission and Mercedes sticking with a more conventional auto.
The Macan GTS gets Porsche’s seven-speed Porsche Doppelkupplung shifter, or, for those of us that can’t speak German, PDK. Mercedes-Benz has opted for a nine-speed gearbox, or 9G-Tronic which features a hydrodynamic torque converter.
Officially, the Porsche uses 9.2 litres of premium fuel per 100km, compared to 8.8 litres for the Mercedes. Interestingly, it has a 75L fuel tank compared to the GLC’s 67L, which, despite its higher fuel usage, still gives it a higher range per tank.
Neither returned anywhere near their claimed fuel economy, both ranging in the 13-14L mark. If you’re buying one of these to save on fuel, you’re doing it wrong.
There was a lot of contention as to which one of these two cars has a nicer interior during our testing process.
This writer picked the Porsche for its elegant use of space, extremely high-quality cabin material on every noticeable surface and a beautifully mounted crystal clear 7.0-inch infotainment screen.
On the other hand, the ridiculous number of buttons both on the centre console and on the roof can be a bit overwhelming.
The GLC’s interior looks pretty much just like a C-Class, because it’s based on the same platform. That means a floating 8.0-inch screen with chrome highlights for the aircon vents and some material that over time may no longer look as classy as it once did.
Touching the surfaces of both cars makes it evident the Porsche has a noticeably better built and screwed-together interior, with really sturdy parts ranging from the air-con vents to the buttons and even just panels that complete the centre console and surrounding bits.
On the Porsche, not one flexed or felt easy to remove. The same can’t be said of the Mercedes.
Neither car has much to boast about when it comes to infotainment, though.
The Mercedes COMAND system is more sophisticated and offers more options, but the speed and usability of PCM in the Macan is better. Both can learn a thing or two from BMW’s iDrive for both speed and usability, however. In the meantime, just use Apple CarPlay.
The front seats of these two cars are not made equal. Whilst Mercedes-Benz does offer optional seats on the GLC, the Macan GTS’ standard seats were far more supportive than those in its rival. That meant a better driving experience through the twisty stuff, being held in place and feeling comfortable to push harder and harder into each bend - rather than holding the steering wheel to keep ourselves in place, as was the case with the Merc.
Also, $990 for red seat belts in the Macan is definitely worth it, just to break up the otherwise very dark interior.
Moving on to the back, it’s evident the Macan is not for everyone. There is noticeably less legroom and although the Macan measures just 1926mm wide compared to 1890mm for the GLC, the space for the middle rear passenger is somewhat compromised in the Porsche to the point of being almost useless.
You can indeed fit two child seats in the Macan comfortably, but in the GLC you have a chance of also fitting someone in between, a near impossibility in the Macan.
It’s also worth noting that our test Macan’s ISOFIX points were positioned at a very strange angle, which didn’t bode well for our two ISOFIX child seats, which fit perfectly into the GLC (and hundreds of other cars we’ve tested).
The Macan has a 500-litre boot capacity, 50 litres less than the GLC. Nonetheless, you can easily fit a full-size pram and some shopping around it in either SUV.
As for which has the best overall cabin: If you need space and practicality, you’d go for the GLC. But, if in terms of actual build quality and cabin ambience, it's hard to fault the Macan.
The GLC43 is rather tough looking, while the Macan, at least in this colour (it would look a lot better in the GTS hero Carmine Red - a $5800 option) looks a little boring.
The Porsche is so dark that the GTS badges almost blend in to the rear of the car. The GLC43’s pumped guards and rear wheel angle make it look a lot meaner than its rival.
You would be interested to note that the GLC has skinnier tyres than the Macan on the back, even though – looking dead-on from the rear at least – it looks much, much wider.
This also says something about the character of each car: one is trying its best to look angry and aggressive, the other lets its character do the talking.
It sounds cliché, but there is nothing quite like driving a Porsche. Be it a base model four-cylinder turbocharged Macan, or a 911 GT3 RS.
Every single Porsche has an inherent dynamic quality to it that tends to not only set the benchmark for the ‘driver’s pick’ in its segment, but take what was there previously and extend it further.
In the case of the Macan GTS, that’s no different, for it remains the best in its class. The only aspects, and we have to emphasise ‘only’ here rather significantly, in which the GLC43 beats the driving experience of the Macan GTS is in ride comfort and exhaust note.
The Macan is just that little bit harsher on the bumps and poorly surfaced roads, while the GLC is much louder and more dramatic-sounding in Sports mode.
We took both cars through a mix of city and mountain driving and, although the GLC43 was more comfortable in the suburban brawl, the gearbox let it down ever so slightly at lower speeds, not providing the super smooth shifts of the PDK in the Macan.
On the open road, the GLC43 is typical Mercedes-AMG hooliganism at its best. It pops and crackles and guarantees turning heads (and rolled eyes) wherever it goes.
The Porsche, on the other hand, is far more refined - restrained - in its exhaust note. It’s not as loud and doesn’t have the same level of theatre to it. This can be a good thing or a bad thing, of course, depending on the buyer. (This writer would prefer a louder and more cracking exhaust from the Porsche.)
Through the mountainous roads leading up to Mount Nebo and Glorious and towards the Wivenhoe dam, we put the two SUVs back-to-back for a series of dynamic tests that saw the Macan come out on top with flying colours.
That’s not to say the GLC43 is not dynamically competent, because it is, and much more, but the Macan is truly in a league of its own. It hugs corners and accelerates through them like a sports car, rather than an SUV. In fact, we would go as far as to say it’s probably much better than a great deal of actual sports cars on sale today.
It doesn’t get unsettled mid-corner, even when sudden braking is applied, and we were also very impressed by how it handled forced understeer and just how much communication comes through the steering wheel (which really doesn’t need power steering plus, unless you prefer less weight on your wheel).
Overall, the Macan GTS’s dynamic ability is outstanding, to say the least. It remains the ultimate driver’s SUV in all segments.
The GLC43 does a superb job at speed, but close to its limit it starts to get a little soft and slowly fall apart. Leaning into corners (the sensation not helped by the unsupportive seats) becomes the norm and the steering is very light comparatively, regardless of what mode you stick it in.
Steering weight aside, it also doesn’t pass nearly as much data from the front wheels into your hands, leaving you guessing at the grip level available and thus unwilling to push harder even if there’s potential room for more speed.
Both of these performance SUVs will perform the occasional spirited drive just fine, it’s just that, the Macan would be the sort of vehicle you can actually take on a race track or a proper mountain climb and then go to Coles on the way home. The GLC43, not so much.
If all things were equal, the Porsche Macan GTS would be the clear winner here for its intended purpose of being a sporty and dynamically capable SUV.
Sure, it doesn’t have the ride compliance and drama of the AMG GLC43 and it lacks the rear space of its German rival. Yet, it presents a higher quality interior with far more focus on the ‘drive’ than anything else. It’s a Porsche and it doesn’t pretend to be anything else.
In saying all that, it’s hopelessly under-equipped, like most Porsches. It requires a barrage of options to make it comparable to the GLC, which only adds more to its purchase price and likely pushes a lot of potential buyers back in to Mercedes showrooms.
It’s also worth noting here that all orders now placed for a new Macan GTS will be subject to the price rise that comes in for June and future production models, which sees the on-road price rise to $127,143 (QLD), making the case for the GLC43 that little bit stronger.
Frankly, it all comes down to personal choice and willingness to spend. The Macan GTS is the better SUV and is our pick of the two here, but if you can’t justify its price differential, you won’t be disappointed with the well-equipped and rather good looking GLC43 AMG.
For that reason, we’ve given both these vehicles the same score, for while the Porsche is the better car, it is offset by its lack of equipment and noticeably higher price.
Listen to the CarAdvice team discuss this comparison below, and catch more like this at caradvice.com/podcast.