The luxury SUV segment will be heating up locally in 2019 as two stalwarts bring new models to market. The BMW X5 and Mercedes-Benz GLE have both been replaced by all-new models and they bring an assortment of new tech, cabin layouts and engines. While we haven't driven either, we can do a spec-for-spec comparison and see what they offer.
BMW's all-new 4th-generation X5 was shown a few weeks ago and is set to arrive in South Africa before the end of 2018 with a host of new technologies. The new Mercedes-Benz GLE, on the other hand, will make its official appearance at the Paris Motor Show in October 2018 and can be expected in South Africa within the first half 2019.
Built at BMW’s Plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina, the new X5, which will be offered in either xLine or M Sport trim, has grown in all directions and its front-end look is dominated by a large kidney grille and standard-fit adaptive LED headlights (BMW Laserlights will be offered as an extra-cost option). At the rear, LED tail lights are standard too. The new X5 xDrive30d rides on standard 19-inch light alloy wheels as standard, but up to 20-,21- and 22-inch options will be available as an option. The X5 M50d rides on 21-inch M light alloy wheels as standard with 22-inch wheels to be offered as an option.
The face of the new GLE is defined by an octagonal upright grille with 2 dominating louvres that frame the large pointed star on its nose. The new model also wears a chrome-plated under guard and the bonnet features 2 powerdomes that provide some added visual muscle to the front-end. Multibeam LED headlights light the way with an illumination range of over 650 metres. At the rear, flared haunches and 2-section taillights give the GLE added road presence and a chrome-plated under guard rounds off the look. The GLE rides on wheels sizes between 18- and 22-inches.
The new GLE will be powered by a new 6-cylinder petrol engine and Mercedes-Benz says that other engines including diesels and a plug-in hybrid version will join the range later on. While broader engine details have yet to be revealed, Merc has provided details of the GLE 450 4Matic which will be powered by a 6-cylinder petrol engine which is systematically electrified with 48-volt technology. This variant offers 270 kW and 500 Nm of torque with an additional EQ boost of 250 Nm and 16 kW available for a short period of time. Let's not forget the inevitable AMG versions too.
A spokesperson from BMW SA has confirmed that only the X5 xDrive30d and X5 M50d will be offered in South Africa. The base diesel engine offering (in the X5 xDrive30d) is a 6-cylinder, 3.0-litre turbodiesel engine with 195 kW and 620 Nm, while the mighty X5 M50d will be powered by a 6-cylinder, 3.0-litre quad-turbodiesel engine with no less than 294 kW and 760 Nm of torque on tap. Overseas, there are hybrid and petrol engines, but we'll have to see if they arrive later and yes, there will be a flagship X5M performance variant.
The wheelbase of the Mercedes-Benz GLE has been extended by some 80 mm which has improved interior space significantly. Rear passengers now have 69 mm more legroom and headroom is said to have improved by 33 mm. The new GLE may be offered as a 7-seater as standard when it arrives in 2019, or at the very least, it will be offered as an option. Luggage capacity in the new GLE has increased from the current 690 litres to a generous 825 litres which expands to a capacious 2 055 litres with the 40:20:40 rear seats folded down.
An interesting feature on the new X5 is a 2-section tailgate, which can be operated automatically and hands-free. Load space is claimed at 645 litres, expanding to 1 860 litres with the 40:20:40 split rear seats folded down. We'll have to see if BMW SA offers the new X5 with the option of 7 seats.
Power distribution is achieved in conjunction with BMW’s xDrive all-wheel-drive system, which can split torque between the front and rear axles as needed, but further provides a rear-biased setup for a sportier driving experience. Ride settings can be enhanced with the standard dynamic damper control system. Adaptive M Suspension Professional with active roll stabilisation and integral active steering will be offered as an option, as well as a 2-axle air suspension system for optimum ride comfort. An optional off-road package will also be offered on the X5 for the first time, which includes rugged underbody protection, 2-axle air suspension and an electronic rear differential lock to tackle surfaces such as sand, rock and snow.
All GLE derivatives will make use of a 9-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel drive capability is made possible using a transfer case that distributes torque in a fixed ratio of 50:50. Other engines will make use of a transfer case with an electronically controlled multi-disc clutch allowing for variable torque distribution. For ultimate offroad driving, an optional torque-on-demand transfer case with a reduction gear set (low range) and automatic locking effect will also be offered. Ride comfort is also enhanced with a new E-Active Body Control System with a 48-volt suspension system that, for the first time, can control/adjust spring and damping at each individual wheel.
Infotainment and technology
The major change inside the new X5 is the inclusion of two 12.3-inch screens known as BMW Live Cockpit Professional. The first serves as a digital instrument cluster, while the second screen houses the infotainment system and vehicle functions. Gesture control will also be standard. Rear passenger entertainment in the form of two 10.2-inch screens will be offered as an option.
The new X5 is equipped with a variety of driver assist features to improve safety and these include the standard Active Driving Assistant with Blind Spot Detection, Lane Departure Warning, Rear Collision Warning, Frontal Collision Warning and Pedestrian Warning with City Collision Mitigation (which now also alerts the driver if cyclists are detected), Cross Traffic Alert (rear) and Speed Limit Information. Active Cruise Control with Stop & Go and Cross Traffic Alert will also be available.
An optional Driving Assistant Professional package will also be offered which will include Traffic Jam Assist, Lane Keeping Assistant and Automatic Lane Change Assistant. Furthermore, Parking Assistant Plus will take care of acceleration, braking and steering to manoeuvre into a parallel parking bay.
The new GLE is equipped with the latest MBUX infotainment system which was first previewed on the new A-Class. The system incorporates 2 large 12.3-inch screens that sit side-by-side to give a widescreen effect. The system results in a configurable layout with 4 distinct styles to choose from (Modern Classic, Sport, Progressive and Discreet) and with all in-car functions easily within reach, fewer buttons are to be found in the cockpit. The MBUX system takes care of a wide range of functions including navigation, gesture prediction, artificial intelligence, in-car comfort settings and voice control which is activated by saying “Hey Mercedes”.
A wide range of driver assistance tech is offered on the new GLE. The new GLE will be able to assist the driver stop-go traffic situations but also provide support in a tailback situation using Active Distance Assist Distronic. The system uses live traffic information to detect upcoming tailbacks or slow-moving traffic and will automatically reduce speed to 100 kph as a precaution. If a tailback is recognised, the Active Brake Assist will brake the vehicle to a standstill.
Other assistance systems include Active Steering Assist, Evasive Steering Assist, Active Lane Keeping Assist and Active Emergency Stop Assist. Active Blind Spot Assist with exit warning is also offered as well as Trailer Maneuvering Assist, which helps novices manoeuvre with a trailer at speeds up to 5 kph.