Jaguar F-Pace S vs. Mercedes-AMG GLC43 vs. Porsche Macan GTS Comparison
Motor Trend Article
Everyday Heroes: We test three luxury SUVs focused on performance without forgoing all-weather capability
A few weeks later we piled into their family Honda Odyssey to unfurl the weekend car. I was skeptical until I saw the British Racing Green Triumph TR6, replete with proud Union Jack flags on its hindquarters, sitting in a nondescript barn.
Suddenly, I got it.
Back in the day (you know, the ’90s), family-oriented enthusiasts didn’t have choices when it came to a car adept at hauling around the family, dealing with winter’s fury, and blasting along a country back road once the snow cleared.We’ve come a long way.
Sport-utility vehicles have evolved dramatically from bulky, clunky body-on-frame beasts to serene car-based commuters with hints of luxury. But the sport side of the equation—the creation of a tall, go-anywhere, four-door sports wagon—has been notably absent.
There must be some compromises: It has to be big enough for five folks and their luggage. And it’s going to have all-wheel drive because, according to the Department of Transportation, 70 percent of the country’s population lives where at least 5 inches of snow fall per year. We Americans like to be prepared.
Thankfully, Jaguar, Mercedes, and Porsche now have three new SUVs that fit this steep bill, all for the price of a loaded Chevy Suburban—so long as you’re willing to sacrifice that rarely used third row.
The Porsche Macan GTS is designed to bridge the performance gap between the lower-spec Macan S and higher Macan Turbo. The Macan GTS starts off with the S’ 3.0-liter twin-turbo V-6, which gets revised ECU tuning to give it a healthy 360 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque. The V-6 is paired with Porsche’s PDK seven-speed twin-clutch automatic with power being sent to an all-wheel-drive system equipped with optional brake-based torque vectoring. The GTS also gets the Turbo’s electronic dampers mated to a standard air suspension with a lowered ride height. All this starts at $68,250, or $89,070(!) as tested for our heavily loaded example.
Jaguar’s new F-Pace S, meanwhile, is the brand’s first SUV. Built on the same platform as the XF sedan, the F-Pace is the most powerful SUV here; its 3.0-liter supercharged V-6 churns out 380 hp and 332 lb-ft of torque. The V-6 sends power through an eight-speed automatic to a rear-biased all-wheel-drive system with electronic torque vectoring. The big Jag starts at $58,695, with our loaded example driving off the lot for $72,018.
The Mercedes-AMG GLC43 swaps out the GLC300’s four-cylinder engine in favor of a 3.0-liter twin-turbo V-6 making 362 hp and the most torque of the trio at 384 lb-ft. Its AMG-tuned V-6 gets paired with a nine-speed automatic, and the AMG air suspension gives the GLC43 a sportier ride versus non-AMG GLCs. Our lightly optioned GLC43 is the value play of the group; it tested at $63,505 but starts at $55,825.
Picking the best sporty all-weather family sportster from this trio wouldn’t be easy in sunny Los Angeles. Instead, we decided to order a set of winter tires for each, loaded the tires into the cargo hatches of our trio to simulate a full complement of passengers, and pointed our noses northeast toward snowy Steamboat Springs, Colorado, 1,000 miles away.
My Way or the Highway
The Porsche Macan GTS isn’t the smallest, but it feels like it. The cabin is cramped and gets uncomfortable after an hour or so behind the wheel. The seats give up too much comfort in exchange for sporty support. Dynamically, the Macan delivers the thrill of acceleration, sprinting from 0 to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds. That’s the quickest run here—and on standard all-season tires to boot. It ties the Mercedes (shod with summer tires) with a 13.4-second quarter-mile run, but at a slower 99.1-mph trap speed. The uprated front brakes from the Macan Turbo help the GTS nail the 60–0 stop in 112 feet, and it lays down brand-appropriate numbers in figure-eight testing with its 25.0-second time at 0.75 g average.
The Mercedes-AMG GLC43 is happier cruising the highways than its German compatriot. Its air suspension rides softly in Comfort mode, and the engine thrums quietly with the transmission in ninth gear. The cabin is a nice place to be, too, with its comfortable seats and an uncluttered design. As soft as the Mercedes feels, it wakes up when you dip into the throttle. The engine pulls strongly, and the squat of the rear suspension under hard acceleration reinforces its status asan autobahn rocket. Accelerating from 0 to 60 mph takes 4.7 seconds, and it also hits the quarter mile in 13.4 seconds, but at 104.3 mph. Thanks to its tire-grip advantage, the Mercedes manages a test-best 60-mph stopping distance of 109 feet and the second-quickest figure-eight of 25.2 seconds at 0.75 g.
The F-Pace S manages the difficult task of remaining engaging while cruising the interstate. With a high driving position and its extra length versus the other two SUVs, the Jaguar’s cabin feels open and roomy. Its interior quality doesn’t match that of the Mercedes, but it’s a nice place to spend some time. The Jag’s supercharged V-6 quiets down nicely on the freeway, but it wakes up and sounds epic when you light the wick. The F-Pace will do 0–60 mph in 5.2 seconds and the quarter mile in 13.8 seconds at 100.6 mph. It’s the slowest of the three, but it doesn’t feel it. The F-Pace’s best 60–0-mph stop was 115 feet, and its figure-eight performance was a 26.1-second lap averaging 0.69 g.
Rocky Mountain High
After our daylong slog on the highway, we were desperate for some entertainment. As we crossed into Colorado, we pointed our SUVs up the mountain roads of the Continental Divide.
Out of its element on the highway, the Macan shines blitzing up a back road. “It’s very capable and confident,” associate editor Scott Evans said. The Macan’s steering is quick and accurate, even if lacking in feel, and the $1,490 optional Porsche Torque Vectoring + system works hard to get the Macan’s butt turned quickly and pointed in the right direction. Although the Macan is great on a back road, senior features editor Jason Cammisa said its PDK transmission shifts are not as quick as in other Porsches. “Shifts are either brutally harsh in Sport Plus, or it interrupts power, which defeats the purpose of dual-clutch transmissions,” he said. The Macan’s V-6 could also use a bit of refinement—the two turbos are slow to spool below 2,000 rpm, and the engine feels as if it’s running out of steam as it nears redline.
he F-Pace S manages to carry over the fun factor it had on the highway into the windy roads. With the Jag’s drive mode selector in Dynamic, the F-Pace drives like a tall station wagon. Its steering is quick and communicative, and the V-6 responds promptly to throttle inputs, never leaving the driver wanting for more power. Despite the Jaguar being on steel springs compared to the air-sprung Mercedes and Porsche, the F-Pace’s ride and body roll were well controlled; the suspension damping kept the frostbitten road from upsetting the crossover’s balance. “It feels tight and responsive in a curve, always ready to pounce on the next one,” Evans said. “Without a doubt it’s the most fun and emotionally rewarding to drive.”
In Sport Plus mode, the Mercedes proved pretty adept at navigating a corner. Its nine-speed automatic helps keep the revs high and the engine on the boil. Steering is linear and responsive, rivaling the Jaguar for the best handling of the trio. Despite the AMG’s sporty settings, the GLC43 is more softly sprung than the other two crossovers. Sure, the air suspension firms up, but there’s more body roll in the Mercedes, sapping a bit of driver confidence and speed in corners compared to the Macan and F-Pace.
Once in Steamboat Springs, we called our buddies at the Bridgestone Winter Driving School to borrow one of their tracks.
Bridgestone’s research shows 28 percent of drivers outfit their vehicles with winter tires—the rest instead opting to run all-season tires year-round. So to reflect how Americans actually drive, we’d first test each vehicle’s all-wheel-drive system on stock tires and then swap a set of manufacturer-provided winter tires to see how things changed.
That posed a particular quandary for the Mercedes-AMG. Although the Merc comes with standard all-season tires, our test vehicle came outfitted with Michelin Latitude Sport 3 summer tires. They’re designed with soft rubber and shallow tread depths for maximizing performance in warmer conditions. They also typically begin to lose their effectiveness as temperatures approach 45 degrees. At below-freezing temps and on snow or ice, they’re like attempting to ice skate on rollerblades.
The Michelin summer tires got us to Colorado despite freezing temps, but on snow they quickly ran out of capability. The Benz’s all-wheel-drive system, permanently set in a 31/69 front/rear torque split, does an admirable job of getting the AMG GLC43 accelerating ever so gently, but the second you get too eager with the throttle, steering wheel, or brakes, all bets are off.
After a few laughs sliding around helplessly, we swapped for a set of Michelin Latitude Alpin winter tires, which proved to be plenty capable. Although it accelerates smoothly from a snowy standstill, you have to be careful through corners because the Benz’s fixed torque split induces understeer into turns more often than not. Attempting to get the GLC43 to turn quicker by inducing oversteer with the throttle results in the traction and stability control systems desperately grabbing at the brakes to regain control. “The stability control is clearly tuned for the occasional slippery surface, not full-time winter driving,” Evans said. If you turn off the nannies and put the GLC into one of its sport modes, the AMG is capable of some beautiful, fluffy drifts through snowy corners.
Riding on a set of Michelin Latitude Tour HP all-season tires, the Porsche Macan GTS was a solid performer in the snow. Although there isn’t a dedicated winter weather mode in the Macan, either, Off-Road mode proved to be a fine substitute in trickier conditions. That said, the Macan’s normal drive mode does a good job of sending power to the wheel with the most traction. “The computer manages the front/rear torque split smartly,” Evans said. “Stability control gives you more throttle as you unwind the wheel rather than just clamping down on everything until every wheel stops sliding.”
Once equipped with the same winter tires as the Mercedes, the Macan GTS is nearly unstoppable in the snow. The Porsche’s all-wheel-drive system and its torque vectoring help ensure that the Macan had plenty of grip. With its electronic nannies quieted, the Macan evokes the 911 rally cars of yesteryear. “It’s beautifully balanced in the snow,” Cammisa said. “It’s neutral under gentle trail braking, but the engine’s output goes 50/50 front/rear immediately on power, making drifts tough to initiate with the right pedal.” Evans agreed, adding that it takes a good goosing of the throttle to get it sideways.
he F-Pace is a surprising rock star on its stock all-season tires. Riding on Goodyear Eagle F1 Asymmetric AT tires and left in its default drive setting, the Jaguar was sure-footed even under hard acceleration and braking, thanks to its Adaptive Surface Response system. It’s obvious Jag engineers spent lots of time across the hall at Land Rover. With the F-Pace’s drive select system in Rain/Ice/Snow mode, the F-Pace gets even better, handily accelerating up icy hills even with a tire handicap. “It’s the best car here for the everyday driver in inclement weather,” Evans said.
With a set of Yokohama WDrive winter tires—admittedly an outdated tire design, neither asymmetric nor directional—the Jaguar is a monster. It practically accelerates and turns as if it were on pavement. Things get even better once you turn off the nannies. Put the transmission in manual to keep the V-6 singing, and the F-Pace becomes an absolute drift machine. Its chassis is wonderfully balanced with quick steering, and its rear-biased all-wheel-drive system does an exceptional job of keeping the Jaguar pointed where the driver wants it.
he Porsche Macan GTS was a solid performer in our back-road and winter-weather testing, but its road-trip manners and wonky transmission tuning left us cold, resulting in a third-place finish. There’s also the issue of its sticker price; the Macan is not anywhere near $20,000 better than the others.
With a lower sticker price and a more luxurious interior, the Mercedes is a better value than the Jaguar. It’s also supremely comfortable on the highway and can hold its own when you drop the hammer. However, its fixed all-wheel-drive torque split simply made it less capable and less fun than the other two in the snow, relegating the GLC43 to second place.
The Jaguar F-Pace expertly manages competing demands of being a family mover, highway cruiser, and back-road bomber. Saddle that with its exceptional snow performance and spacious cabin, and the Jaguar just edges out the Mercedes for the win. Yes, this means our SUV of the Year has been beaten on a wintry playing field. But in this case, the top-trim Jag’s winter-weather edge and more engaging drive experience is enough to give F-Pace top billing over the comparable Mercedes.
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Date Posted: March 14, 2017