There was a time when an ‘M vs AMG’ comparison meant going out days before the shoot and scouting for a smooth road devoid of bumps and potholes. A road that is friendly enough to cater to the so-called ‘practical performance cars’. And while it sounds cumbersome, it was quite exciting and challenging. The anticipation of driving a C63 AMG and an M3, or an E63 AMG and an M5 was so high, that you didn’t care if you have to spend long days driving around in a diesel Maruti. Sigh, those were the days. Now though, if you want the AMG or M experience, you need not worry about road conditions or if your ‘sleeper’ will clear the ever so occasional speed bump. SUVs are the new cars and as upsetting as it is to me, I don’t have an option, but to accept it. We have brought it on ourselves. We have been begging for practicality and everyday usability. So much so that we are now ready to compromise the highlight of an AMG or an M car. Driving.
However, these two SUVs seem to do things rather differently. Sure, they might not have the sensual low stance of the sedans, but they do carry forward the baton when it comes to performance. Or so I’ve been told.
The Mercedes-AMG GLC 43 Coupe – that is quite a mouthful – is a coupe-SUV that houses a twin-turbo V6 and all the typical AMG trimmings. The BMW X3M on the contrary features a straight-six engine with two turbos and a rather discrete exterior. It isn’t as shouty as the AMG and has the making of that quintessential sleeper. However, both these SUVs are well, SUVs and largely practical, which means you can hammer them around on pretty much any road in India. But are they just as fun?
Let’s start with the design. No matter how much you want a sleeper, when you pay these kinds of prices, you need some vanity. Something that sets your performance SUV apart. And the GLC sure has it. The fact that it is available in coupe avatar is appealing as it does stand out from the regular crop. The svelte sloping roofline that merges with the neat spoiler at the back, the swollen haunches and the aggressive bumpers along with the Panamericana grille give the GLC enough distinction from the standard coupe model. You also have the dual chrome exhaust tips and AMG badging for the layman. The X3M on the other hand is quite deceitful. If you aren’t a staunch petrol-head, you just might even miss it should you opt for a subtle paint job such as this one. Park it alongside the standard X3 though, and the differences slowly reveal themselves. The bigger wheels, the sporty bumpers, the exhaust, and plenty of ‘M’ badging throughout.
So if you are who wants just a hint of extra, the GLC 43 is perfect, but if you want to surprise the corporate suits and leave them hanging, the X3 M will do the job just fine.
The interior too on both these SUVs is worthy of their hefty price tags. Inside the GLC, you get a typical Mercedes interior with plenty of open-pore wood along with a mash of leather and brushed aluminium. All the switches and buttons feel plush and the massive infotainment screen with the MBUX system is excellent. Quality of materials is high and there is no compromise or trade-off between performance and practicality. You also get bright red seatbelts adding to the sporty dynamic. The seats too, albeit firm and racy, are comfortable and supportive. Get in the rear and you’d be surprised with the amount of useable space and practicality. You are seated in comfort and you could imagine yourself spending long hours back here. Of course, you wouldn’t, but for your friends and family, it’s completely fine. Oh yes, there is no sunroof. The BMW plays on similar lines as the interior is quite similar to the X3 albeit with a dash of red and M. The clean and angular design is quite pleasing and the two small red buttons on the steering are the cherries waiting to be plucked. More on that in a bit. The rest of though is quite recognizable if you’ve seen a recent BMW. The sporty seats are excellent in terms of support and there is plenty of tech to play with. Oh and this one does not have a sunroof either. The back seat too is useable in a similar fashion as the one on the GLC 43. Friends and family will have enough space when you want to petrify them with the manic performance.
That is exactly how you can classify their performance – manic.
The GLC features a 3.0-litre, twin-turbo V6 developing 385bhp and 520Nm of torque. It might not sound a lot by AMG standards, but it is only when you flex your right foot, that you realise, that it is more than enough. The GLC is an SUV after all so when you are seated in an SUV position and are thrust with such aggression, it does take you back by surprise. The V6 engine might not have the outright punch of a V8, but it sure has plenty of poke and grunt. 0-100kph time of just 4.9 secs confirms that this is no ordinary SUV. There is a good amount of drama as well thanks to a dedicated exhaust button on the centre console. Press this and the exhaust gets louder and a lot more pronounced. In fact, I don’t think users are likely to turn that off. Why would you? You’re in an AMG after all. That said, in comparison to the more powerful bimmer, the 385bhp might sound like a big compromise. Well, let me assure you that is not the case. And even though it isn’t as fast as the X3M, the GLC 43 is a lot more useable in everyday driving. A lot of this is thanks to the suspension which, although adjustable, is a tad on the softer side. Sire, you can put it in SPort and ake it as firm as a bed of bricks, but in Comfort, you could actually use this as your daily driver. The engine too is fantastically dual purpose and is adept at slow city speeds. The steering too is light and fluid and changes consistency depending upon the mode you are in. What further adds to the duality of the GLC 43 is the 9-speed automatic gearbox. It is swift and responsive when you want ti to be and relaxed when you are cruising along. It does make you wonder if it is at all an AMG. but only when you are driving in a relaxed manner. Apart from that, you get the full AMG experience.
Jump into the X3M and there is a sense of seriousness from the word go. Maybe it is the discreet interior or the fact that there aren’t any massive design cues to differentiate it from the standard X3. It feels like it means business, and that is exciting. Fire up the 3.0-litre straight-six engine and you are left with a smile. The exhaust on the X3M is at least a couple of notches up and that is one of its highlights. Flex your right foot and the exhaust pops and bangs meaning for the grown-up children, this is quite a draw. Performance too is blistering thanks to 473bhp on tap making it almost 100bhp over the GLC 43. Torque too is higher at 600Nm and while its all very exciting, 0-100kph takes 4.5 secs. So 100bhp up and a gain of 0.4secs over the Merc. Not the best result to be fair.
However, handling is where the X3M makes up points. The suspension is firm and even in the comfiest setting, you feel as if you were driving on a rally stage. Every small cut and ridge in the road is felt inside the cabin. It is great when you are on a track or a nice smooth stretch of asphalt. But, in the city for everyday driving, the X3M is not as comfy as the GLC.
The 8-speed automatic gearbox too gets various settings and there is a lot you can play within the iDrive system, but the easiest way, of course, is to preset the cherry red M buttons on the steering wheel. M1 and M2 are fully customisable and to just make things easier, you can have them at the opposite end of the performance. On one side you can have the car in its comfiest setting with the steering set for lightness, engine and gearbox at its most relaxed state and even the exhaust that mutes a tad bit. The other switch can be the full-bore ‘M’ performance with the sharpest and most responsive settings for the engine, gearbox and steering. The exhaust growls louder as well and should you suddenly encounter a nice winding stretch of road, or a tunnel all you need to do is press on the M1/M2 buttons and you are ready to go. No toggling with the iDrive and trying to figure out what’s what.
Sure, the suspension isn’t the comfiest, but do you really care about comfort in an ‘M’ car? That the GLC 43 is comfy is its advantage, but it is the X3M, that gives you the right experience.
However, a big draw for the GLC and a big con for the X3M lies not in performance or driving dynamics. But in fact pricing. Now usually these two would be near each other thanks to both of them being CBU. However, the GLC 43 is now a CKD which means it will be assembled in India at the Chakan plant in Pune. What that means is the price is a good chunk lower than the BMW which comes in as a full import. The GLC 43 is priced from Rs 76.70 lakh while the X3M is priced at Rs 99.90 lakh. Even at this level, that is a significant chunk of money and just might be the deciding factor. The GLC might be less powerful, and might not have a shouty exhaust but it has all the makings of a hardcore AMG. That it is so useable is its advantage.
The BMW on the other hand is for the purists who value driving dynamics over everything else. The firm ride, raucous engine and manic performance mean the X3M is the more exciting of the two and one you will choose from your heart. However, the head says GLC 43 as it is just as fun-to-drive and has an equally important list of features and whilst it is lower in terms of power, it is the one you would be comfortable and happy to own.