Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class VS Porsche Macan
- Modest steering feel
- So-so warranty
- Pricey servicing
- Greatness made better
- Such driving thrills, for an SUV...
- Genuine Porsche personality, not just a trumped up Audi
- Lack of standard active safety gear
- Expensive options
If you’re in the market for a full-size, seven-seat, luxury SUV you’re obviously living life large. Big family, lots of friends, dogs and cats, and heaps of activity - horses, boats, camping?
You’re aiming at a six-figure bullseye between $130,000 and around $150,000. On a three-year novated lease, somewhere around three grand a month.
Mercedes-Benz Australia invited us to experience the car on a launch drive across city, suburban and rural roads.
|Engine Type||3.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Hybrid with Premium Unleaded|
When Kenny Rogers gets a facelift, he does the term justice. Have you seen him lately? He’s barely recognisable. It’s probably not often that Kenny and Porsche get mentioned in the same sentence, with the legendary Country singer and iconic sports car brand sharing few parallels.
Particularly when it comes to visual enhancements, that is, with the updated Porsche Macan barely qualifying for a lunchtime Botox analogy, let alone the standard facelift jargon we use to describe a mid-life refresh.
It’s been to the gym and sharpened up its wellbeing though, in an effort to keep what’s now the Porsche brand’s most popular model competitive among a whole host of other SUV rivals that have appeared in the 4.5 years since the Macan first hit down under.
Six months after it was revealed at the Paris motor show, the new Macan and Macan S arrive in Australia this week.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
The new Macan is only a smidge better in most areas, but it’s brought it up to date in most ways, but make sure you tick the option box for active cruise and AEB. That aside, it’s an astounding driver’s car for an SUV.
Given we haven’t driven the base Macan or any of the future variants yet, it’s impossible to nominate the sweet spot of the range, but the Macan S is a very good option.
Note: CarsGuide attended this event as a guest of the manufacturer, with travel and meals provided.
Do you wish Porsche had done more to the Macan? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.
As mentioned, the GLS is big; a step up from the already substantial model it replaces. Built with the US market in mind, in fact it’s produced in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, it’s more than five metres long, close to two metres wide, and over 1.8m tall. And there’s more than three metres between the axles, a 60mm wheelbase increase over the previous model.
And despite the size of the canvas, the Benz design team has managed to make the GLS look like a modern Merc. Signature elements include obvious ones like the slatted grille with a couple of three-pointed stars on the nose.
But there’s also, the carefully chiselled twin ‘power dome’ bonnet, scowling LED headlights and vents to aid front brake cooling and smooth aero performance around the front of the car.
The big beast’s off-road intent is highlighted by extensions around the wheelarches, with big optional 22-inch rims sitting underneath. The fact they look right-sized for the car speaks volumes about its scale.
The racy AMG Line package is standard, and a recess and pronounced character line, tightening the lower waistline is a familiar Merc treatment, plus alloy roof rails toughen the look while dialling up practicality.
The rear is relatively simple, borderline generic, with tapered tail-lights offering the only strong whiff of design personality. But believe it or not, thanks to careful detail sculpting of the body, and smoothing underneath the car it boasts a drag figure of Cd 0.32. Outstanding aero performance for a large SUV.
The driver and front passenger are presented with a sweeping dashboard dominated by twin 12.3-inch digital screens, one primarily covering the instruments, and the central screen managing the MBUX media system, including audio, nav, phone integration, car set-up, and more, plus ‘Hey Mercedes’ voice control.
The overall feel is simple, and restrained, yet massively confident, with a subtle colour palette, large squared-off elements defined by brushed metal finishes, and an obvious, intense attention to detail, from the haptic controls to the beautifully finished, multi-function steering wheel.
And the standard Burmester audio system includes a two-way in-car communication function that subtly amplifies the driver and front passenger’s voices for those in the third row, and vice versa. Sheer genius.
If you’re wanting to pick the updated Macan from the old one, it’s the full width tail-light that’s you’re biggest clue, with Porsche giving the typical “if it ain’t broke” approach to the rest of the exterior styling, despite a whole bunch of other changes under the skin and on the inside.
Aside from the rear light treatment which brings the Macan into line with Porsche’s more recent Panamera, 718 Boxster and Cayman, Cayenne and 992 911 designs, there’s also new LED headlights, subtle tweaks to the lower body details and some new wheel options rounding out the exterior differences.
But most importantly, the Macan still has that low, broad, squat stance that looks like a proper Porsche performance machine.
The Macan also now gets the same steering wheel as the 911, which is about as nice as steering wheels get, with a nice size, round shape and sexy knurled control wheels for the volume and menu controls.
There’s a whole bunch of other improvements you’d probably only notice back to back with the old car, including more aluminium in the suspension to reduce unsprung weight, completely new engine platforms and improved sound deadening for a quieter drive.
Kerb weight figures are hardly lithe though, at 1797kg and 1865kg between Macan and S.
Space is obviously a critical factor here, and no surprise there’s copious amounts of it inside the GLS.
Front seat passengers enjoy plenty of breathing room, without feeling remote from one another, and there’s lots of storage in the shape of a large lidded box/armrest between the seats, a decent glove box, two big cupholders and jumbo door pockets with room for large bottles.
There’s one data-enabled USB port in the front, two charge-ports in the second row, and four in the third row. Shouldn’t be any complaints about powering mobiles, tablets or games.
The second row feels every millimetre the SUV limo. Simply getting in and out is made easier because an auto lowering function drops the car 25mm when one of the doors is opened.
I was able to sit behind the driver’s seat set for my 183cm position with heaps of head and legroom on offer. And there’s an extra 10cm of electrically adjustable travel to play with if those in the third row agree.
The fold-down centre armrest features a lidded storage tray and twin pop-out cupholders. There are netted pockets on the front seatbacks, and again, the door bins are big enough for large drink bottles.
Three adults across the rear is a breeze, there’s climate control ventilation, and a huge glass sunroof is standard. Rather than asking ‘Are we there yet?’ the kids will be disappointed when you arrive!
Then there’s what the Cleary family refers to as ‘the way back seat.’ A pair of third row seats for the lucky kids that get to inhabit their own little world. Getting in and out is relatively civilised thanks to electric slide and tilt for the second row seats, and space is generous. I could sit comfortably, so the kids will be all smiles.
With all seats upright cargo capacity is enough for a seven-person day trip (355L VDA). Press the button to fold the 50/50 split-fold third row down and your options expand substantially (890L). And with 40/20/40 split-folding second row lowered, transportation of a full, three-ring circus is on the cards (2400L). Overall, more space than the arch enemy BMW X7.
Plus, the ability to lower the car 50mm thanks to the standard air suspension makes life even easier. And one button lowers the second and third rows at the same time.
The spare is a collapsible space-saver, and towing capacity for a braked trailer is 3500kg, with a tow ball weight of up to 140kg. The ESP system also features a trailer stabilisation function that counters oscillation with “braking intervention.”
There’s nothing new of note on the practicality front, with the usual dual cup holders front and rear, bottle holders in each door (although the rears are a bit shallow), and a useful, array of 12V and USB points scattered throughout.
The back seat is the same as before, with enough headroom and rear legroom for shorter adults like my 172cm size, and therefore plenty of room for two kids, but the sloping roofline is probably a pain for taller parents loading child seats. Speaking of which, there’s two ISOFIX mounts back there for mounting baby seats as securely as possible.
The boot space is unchanged with a pretty decent 500 litre luggage capacity, with a spacesaver spare tyre under the floor, but in my experience the sloping tailgate that gives the Macan that sexy coupe shape can make it a bit difficult to load beyond cargo cover height.
Price and features
Aside from the comprehensive suite of safety tech, covered in the Safety section below, the GLS equipment list includes, 21-inch alloy rims, adaptive high beam assist, air suspension, alloy roof rails, AMG body kit, a huge panoramic sliding glass sunroof, privacy glass from the B-pillar back, auto tailgate, keyless entry and start, rain-sensing wipers, cruise control, LED headlights, and power closing doors.
The power closing doors are a big plus for parents not wanting to disturb kids nodding off in the car, with the soft-touch function drawing the door in for the last few millimetres to an almost silent close.
Inside there’s ambient lighting (64 colours), strategically placed open pore oak wood trim, 13-speaker/590-watt Burmester surround sound audio, electric folding second and third row seats, a head-up display, ‘Mercedes-Benz’ branded illuminated sills, leather seat upholstery (‘Artico’ faux leather on the dash and doors), multi-adjustable electric seats in the front and second row (memory in the front), electrically adjustable steering column, leather-trimmed multi-function steering wheel, and five-zone climate control.
The multi-media system is spectacular, incorporating the twin 12.3-inch digital screens, the central media unit managing nav, digital radio, mobile device connectivity, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, plus vehicle tracking. There are also remote vehicle status functions (door locking, valet parking, etc), global search (Amazon Alexa, Google Home, Yelp, and Trip Advisor), and a wireless device charging pad.
The basket of goodies can hold its head high in this part of the market, so the value equation stacks up well.
Pricing has also been discretely modified, with the base Macan now starting $1690 higher at $81,400, and the next rung Macan S shifting $2000 upwards to $97,500. You can calculate a drive away price here.
These are the only two updated models on the price list for now, with the range-topping Turbo tipped to arrive in 2020, and the GTS that sits between it and the S due in 2021.
Both trim levels are now in line with the Panamera and Cayenne the latest version of the Porsche Communication Management (PCM) multimedia/infotainment tech with a 10.9-inch touch screen display. This includes Apple CarPlay for iPhone users, but there’s still no Android Auto.
Both Macan and Macan S standard features also include leather trim, three-zone climate control air conditioning, GPS navigation system, Bluetooth, 14-way power adjustable seats, auto-dimming interior and exterior mirrors, Park Assist with surround-view monitors and a power tailgate.
The Macan S adds piano black interior details, aluminium scuff plates, aluminium window trims, a silver tachometer, and a digital boost pressure gauge.
Aside from its stronger engine, mechanical Macan S upgrades include bigger front brakes with an extra two pistons to total six, Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) adaptive dampers, silver dual exhaust outlets on either side and one inch larger 20-inch ten spoke alloys.
Seat heaters and active cruise control will still cost you more on either Macan, but one omission I find quite surprising is that they still don’t get much in the way of active safety gear as standard. Unlike pretty much every other premium SUV on the market, you’ve got to pay extra to get AEB with the active cruise control pack.
The car we spent most of our time in, which is not the Mamba Green car pictured here, was optioned with Miami Blue paint ($5,800), panoramic sunroof ($3,790), tinted headlights with Porsche Dynamic Light System Plus ($3,410), black 21-inch Sport Classic rims ($3,330), carbon interior package ($3,080), Sport Chrono Package with mode switch ($2,790), Bose surround sound system ($2,650), black exhaust tips ($1,890), Porsche Entry & Drive ($1,690), Lane Change Assist ($1,390), tinted full width tail-lights ($1,340), and gloss black roof rails and window trims ($1,260), heated front seats ($990), Light Comfort Package ($720) and Power Steering Plus ($650). This $34,780 worth of accessories brings its total RRP to $132,280, before on-road costs.
Engine & trans
There are two engines on offer. The 3.0-litre (M256) in-line six-cylinder turbo-petrol GLS 450 4Matic, and the 2.9-litre (OM656) in-line six-cylinder turbo-diesel GLS 400 d 4Matic.
The all-alloy, twin-scroll single-turbo petrol engine delivers peak power of 270kW from 5500-6100rpm, and maximum torque of 500Nm across a broad plateau from 1600-4500rpm. It also features a 48-volt electrical system driving the ‘EQ Boost’ set-up, able to deliver an extra 16kW/250Nm for short periods. The integrated starter-generator also enables energy recuperation.
Although the all-alloy, twin-turbo diesel features variable valve lift it gives some ground on power, offering up 243kW between 3600-4000rpm, but torque is a solid whack, with 700Nm on tap from 1200-3000rpm. Worth noting, that to minimise emissions this engine features a “selective catalytic reduction converter” in the exhaust, which brings with it the use of an ‘AdBlue’ reducing agent. The separate AdBlue tank has a capacity of 31.6 litres.
The nine-speed auto transmission is the same in both versions, although the diesel has a slightly lower final drive ratio.
The biggest mechanical news so far is that there’s no more diesel, along with all Porsche models, and the Macan S’s 3.0-litre petrol V6 loses one turbo in favour of a single, but more high tech, twin scroll unit.
This engine is already found in the Panamera, Cayenne and several Audi models.
For Macan S it means an extra 10kW more power and 20Nm more torque over the old version to now total 260kW between 5400-6400rpm, and 480Nm available between an impressively broad 1360-4800rpm.
This has knocked just a tenth off the 0-100km/h claim, which is now 5.1s in Sport Plus mode with the Sport Chrono Package optioned.
The base Macan’s 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine specs are unchanged, with 185kW available from 5000-6800rpm and 370Nm between 1600-4500rpm, with it’s 0-100km/h 6.7s 0-100km/h claim remaining.
The seven-speed PDK dual-clutch automatic transmission continues as the sole transmission available with either Macan, but has been recalibrated to suit the new engine in the Macan S.
The Porsche Traction Management (PTM) active all-wheel drive system continues to send power to all four wheels in either Macan grade.
Both versions have been prepared for towbar fitment, and carry maximum braked towing capacity of 2000kg and 2400kg for the Macan and Macan S respectively.
There’s still no sign of a plug-in hybrid or EV Macan, with the second-generation Macan set to at least offer an all-electric version in around 2023.
Claimed fuel economy for the combined (ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban) cycle for the GLS 450 is 9.2L/100km, the more frugal GLS 400 d trimming that to 7.7L/100km. The petrol 450 emits 210g/km of CO2 in the process, the diesel 400d dropping that slightly to 202g/km.
Stop-start is standard, you’re looking at premium unleaded for the 450 GLS, and you’ll need 90 litres of dinosaur juice to full the tank on both models.
With the diesel gone, you shouldn’t expect the Macan to set any benchmarks here, but the base Macan still carries a reasonable 7.4L/100km official combined fuel economy claim. The Macan S’s 8.9L figure is even more impressive given its performance advantage, however.
Both engines require top-shelf 98 RON Premium Unleaded to do their best, and their 75-litre fuel tank capacity suggests theoretical ranges between fills of 1013km and 842km for the Macan and S respectively.
Merc claims the GLS 450 will sprint from 0-100km/h in 6.2sec, and the 400 d in 6.3sec. Not hanging around for a 2.5 tonne mothership. But the standout is the 400 d’s torque. All 700Nm of it available from just 1200rpm to 3000rpm; right in the mid-range sweet spot.
The nine-speed auto transmission is smooth yet responsive, with paddles on the wheel for manual shifts when you want to pick the ratio. The combination of effortless grunt and the nine-speeder keeping things on the boil is an impressive one.
Suspension is by double wishbones at the front and multi-links at the rear, and while you can feel the weight in cornering, the standard Airmatic air suspension (which does away with steel springs) is superb in terms of ride comfort and body control.
We took a deep breath and pushed enthusiastically through a series of sweeping corners and the fat (285/45 fr - 325/40 rr) Continental ‘PremiumContact 6’ rubber wrapped around our car’s (optional) 22-inch rims gripped hard.
The ‘4Matic’ all-wheel drive system also seamlessly shuffles torque between the front and rear axles (theoretically up to 100 per cent in each direction).
Merc has put extra focus on body rigidity, the tuning of engine and suspension mounts, and sound absorption, and it shows. The GLS 400 d is beautifully refined on the highway. A neat touch is the car automatically lowering 15mm at motorway speeds or when ‘Sport’ mode is selected.
Steering is electromechanically assisted, and Merc says the front suspension geometry has been revised to minimise vibration through the wheel. And yes, feedback is minimal, but unfortunately so is road feel with only a general connection between your hands on the wheel and the front tyres on the bitumen.
When you’re steering a large beast like this, often with something substantial hitched to the back, you want to know braking performance is up to the task, and the GLS’s big ventilated discs all around deliver reassuringly strong stopping power, with nice, progressive pedal feel to boot.
The seats are adjustable six ways to Sunday, but beyond that they’re comfortable and supportive, even over long stints behind the wheel.
We stayed on the bitumen, because, let’s face it, that’s where this car will spend 99.9 per cent of its time, with the exceptions of the boat ramp, a ski weekend or pony club.
For those special occasions the optional ‘Off-road engineering package’ adds a low-range transfer case, inter-axle locking, hill descent control, and under body armour for more serious work.
This is where it gets good. I’m yet to meet a performance SUV that surpasses the need for a qualifier at the end of every element of praise for its driving attributes to the tune of “for an SUV.”
But in my opinion, the Macan is the closest, with its relatively low body and broad stance bringing the driver closer to the centre of gravity (and action) than any I recall.
We’ve only driven the updated Macan S so far, but any Macan is likely to share the fundamentals that give it incredible stability at speed and make it genuinely good fun to drive fast.
The steering has nice feel, the wall of acceleration from the turbo engine is really good and the seven-speed PDK transmission is beautifully calibrated, particularly in the sport modes - I didn’t reach for the paddle shifters once.
If there’s one criticism of the drivetrain it’s a lack of aural theatre. Surely any Porsche with an S badge should be capable of roaring when asked, but the standard Macan S delivers little more than a muted growl. There is a sports exhaust system on the options list, but you’ll have to shell out $5,390 for it.
There was one particular run along a river bed on our drive route that strung dozens of varying radius bends together, with a mix of cambers that enabled the Macan S to truly shine. Aside from slightly accentuated fore and aft movement because of its short, but still tall body, it was almost as planted as an Audi RS 4, but with a more lively feel than I recall.
And when you’re not driving it like a Porsche, as most of us spend about 99 per cent of out time on the road, it’s still a really comfortable car. I had to look under the guards to make sure our particular example wasn’t fitted with the optional air suspension, even though it was riding on the bigger 21-inch wheels. Why can’t everyone do suspension like this?
At the time of this launch drive the GLS hadn’t been safety assessed by ANCAP, but you could make a small wager, like every penny you have to your name, that it will score a maximum five stars.
The expected active features are there, including ABS, ASR, and ESP, with additional tech including ‘Active Blind-Spot Assist’, ‘Active Brake Assist' (Merc-speak for AEB), active lane keeping and lane change assist, ‘Adaptive Brake’, ‘Attention Assist’, ‘Evasive Steering Assist’, ‘Parktronic’ (active parking assist with 360-degre camera), rear cross-traffic alert, traffic sign assist, and a tyre pressure warning system.
Then, if all that isn’t enough to avoid an impact the GLS is equipped with nine airbags (front and pelvis side for driver and front passenger, side for outer rear seat occupants, full-length curtain, and a driver’s knee bag), an active bonnet to minimise pedestrian injuries, and the ‘Pre-Safe Plus’ (flashes rear hazards to warn drivers closing too quickly from behind, tightening the belts at the same time, and locking the brakes if the GLS is stationary with a rear impact imminent).
The Macan is an excellent example of why it’s important to look past a maximum five star safety rating. It carries no safety rating from ANCAP, but five stars from Euro NCAP based on a 2014 test.
Since that test, the Macan has introduced side and curtain airbags for rear passengers, so it’s in fact safer, but the test criteria has changed significantly in the past five years.
Australian versions of the new Macan come with dual front airbags, chest side and curtain airbags for all outboard passengers, reversing cameras covering 360 degrees with Park Assist front and rear, parking sensors and lane departure warning.
As mentioned above, they’re surprisingly lacking active safety features as standard. Unlike pretty much every other premium SUV on the market, you’ve got to pay an extra $2410 to get AEB with the active cruise control pack, and a further $1390 to get Lane Change Assist as two key examples.
The Mercedes-Benz range is covered by a three year/unlimited km warranty, which, like Audi and BMW continues to lag behind the mainstream market where the majority of players are now at five years/unlimited km, with some at seven years.
On the upside, Mercedes-Benz ‘Road Care’ roadside assistance is included in the deal for three years.
Service is scheduled for 12 months/25,000km (whichever comes first) with pricing available on an 'Up-front' or 'Pay-as-you-go' basis.
As a guide, service pricing for the outgoing GLS is set at $2600 per service (up-front) and $3250 (PAYG), a saving of $650 a pop. Fourth and fifth services are also available for pre-purchase ($3550 and $4900).
The Macan is covered by Porsche's standard three-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, which is par for the course among premium brands, but lags behind the five-year-plus terms offered by most mainstream manufacturers these days. An extended warranty of up to 15 years can be arranged through Porsche, at a price.
Service intervals are a generous 12 months or 15,000 kilometres, but Porsche does not offer capped-price servicing to take the guesswork out of service costs or maintenance costs.
If there are any common problems or complaints, reliability issues or faults, they’ll likely appear on our Porsche Macan problems page.
You can calculate the Macan’s projected resale value via our Price and Specs page.