Stuttgart’s mid-size SUV is impressive but hardly a thrill
One day, the SUV bubble will burst. I remain sure of this today despite the fact it’s a prediction I first started making over 15 years ago and which now seems even further from coming true than ever before.
To a car manufacturer these machines are manna from heaven because they disprove the long-held belief that you can make money out of cars either by making a huge number for a small margin or vice-versa. SUVs do both, and none more so than top of the range models from premium brands. And of them all, it is Porsche that has led the way, first with the Cayenne which soon outsold all its other models combined, and then the Macan which outsold the Cayenne and turned Porsche into the most profitable car company on earth. So no surprises that everyone else is trying to snatch a slice of the action for themselves.
Well, you can’t accuse Mercedes-Benz of not entering into the spirit of the occasion. Compared to even the most powerful version of the next generation of Macan which goes on sale later this year, this GLC 63 S has two more cylinders, 70 additional horsepower and a frankly ridiculous 0-62mph time of 3.8sec, where I expect the Porsche will not get much below 4.5sec. What’s more you can choose your GLC in either conventional SUV configuration or ‘coupé’ form though why you’d choose to pay more for a car that’s uglier and less practical I cannot say.
By contrast I liked the look of the SUV, appreciated its sumptuous interior and enjoyed its bull-in-a-china shop performance. Best of all, it’s not too big and is sufficiently compact to thread quickly and confidently down A and B roads.
And yet something didn’t quite gel. In part it’s because I’ve recently returned from driving some prototypes of the next Macan and was wowed all over again by how fluent it feels given its weight and the fact it’s still based on the previous Audi Q5; quicker though the Benz undoubtedly is, it never felt as cohesive as the Porsche. For all its speed, this is a slightly remote driving experience.
Perhaps we should not be too surprised by that, as this is still a high and heavy SUV, and it’s true it is the Porsche’s extraordinary ability to disguise its mass that makes it the exception to the rule. But Porsche doesn’t make a conventional estate car on the same platform and with the same powertrain, so no uncomfortable comparison to the traditional way of doing this job can be drawn. Mercedes does. And the truth is the C63 S estate is easily the best car of its kind you can buy. Yes, it lacks the four-wheel drive hardware used the GLC, which is why it appears slower on paper (it isn’t), but it’s over 200kg lighter has hardly any less boot space, handles like a dream and uses not much more than two-thirds of the fuel, and that’s before the revised version with the GLC’s nine-speed box goes on sale later this year.
So the way I see it, if you want the world’s best mid-sized high-performance family hold-all buy a C63, but if you absolutely have to have an SUV, the slower but sweeter Macan Turbo is a better bet.