Premium SUVs are the automotive embodiments of success and among the most desirable cars on the market. The rivalry between archrivals BMW and Mercedes-Benz is particularly fierce in this segment and, seeing that the X5 and GLE are all-new, it’s the perfect time to bring these 2 juggernauts together for a thorough comparative evaluation.
Large premium SUVs are big money spinners for BMW and Mercedes-Benz and their respective X5 and GLE ranges have proven highly popular both in South Africa and abroad. The latest (4th-generation) X5 came to market in November 2018 while its Benz-badged rival landed in South Africa recently (August 2019). Now that both these fine German products are here, we thought it would be a good idea to bring them together for a round of "show and tell".
This comparative review features a pair of turbodiesel combatants: The X5 xDrive30d in xLine trim and the Mercedes-Benz GLE 400d 4Matic in AMG Line guise. It must be said at the onset that both vehicles are hugely capable and attractive in their own right. We will, therefore, highlight the cars' strengths, as well as their weaknesses, so you can decide for yourself which SUV you like most and which one would serve your needs best.
How do they perform in terms of...
It's a matter of taste, but there's no doubt, both the X5 and GLE have lots of road presence.
Both vehicles ooze kerb appeal but the GLE looks larger than the BMW, even though the latter stands wider than the Benz.
This X5 came fitted with the optional xOffroad package (R30 500), which adds chunky black 20-inch wheels shod with all-terrain tyres. They are, in turn, complemented by optional aluminium running boards (R6 400) that add rugged appeal. The enlarged kidney grille (which is thankfully well-proportioned to the rest of the vehicle) and Laser Light headlights give the X5 a decisively purposeful look.
As for the GLE, it benefits from an optional AMG exterior package (R48 000) and it rides on massive 21-inch AMG wheels, which look particularly striking. The large, diamond-pattern grille is flanked with multi-beam LED headlights, while aluminium-look running boards add a sense of width while serving a practical function: they make it easier to get in and out of the vehicle, especially for shorter folk.
You can decide for yourself which look you prefer over the other, but either way, both these SUVs offer loads of kerb appeal.
Performance and economy
The GLE 400d offers impressive performance with loads of torque available low down in the rev range.
The new 6-cylinder 2.9-litre turbodiesel engine under GLE 400d's bonnet is powerful (243 kW and 700 Nm of torque) and refined. Those hefty numbers are directed to all four wheels using a 9-speed automatic transmission, which we found to be impressively smooth and unobtrusive. Steering wheel-mounted shift paddles allows the driver to shift manually and when driven with fervour, the GLE 400d delivers stonking performance. It's a real brute of an SUV. Throttle response is good (for a diesel) and the big Benz pulls strongly from the get-go with minimal lag... it just piles on the pace relentlessly.
Mercedes-Benz claims a 0-to-100 kph sprint time of 5.7 seconds, which is significant when one considers the GLE's kerb weight of 2 265 kg. While the GLE 400d shines in terms of performance, its efficiency is not class-leading in our experience. Benz claims an average fuel consumption figure of 7.5 L/100 km, but saw indicated returns of around 12 L/100 km. A measured driving style should bring that figure down markedly, however.
The X5's 3.0-litre, 6-cylinder twin-turbodiesel engine develops 195 kW and 620 Nm of torque: figures that are well eclipsed by those of the GLE. Still, the Bimmer's engine’s performs commendably in conjunction with a slick-shifting 8-speed transmission and all-wheel drive. Like the Benz, the X5 comes with shift paddles behind the steering wheel, which can be used to extract maximum performance from the engine when required.
The BMW X5 30d strikes an appealing balance between performance and economy.
This BMW gets up to highway speed quickly and effortlessly. Its manufacturer claims a 6.5-second benchmark for the 0-to-100 kph sprint and the xDrive30d doesn’t as if it lacks performance whatsoever. In fact, we think the X5 strikes a better balance between performance and economy than its rival; BMW claims an average consumption figure of 7.0 L/100 km and we saw returns of around 10 L/100 km and lower, which is commendable.
In terms of outright performance, the GLE 400d wins hands down, but we feel the xDrive30d's powertrain is perhaps the better-balanced offering. Of course, you can always consider the mighty X5 M50d if you want to crush the GLE 400d (if you can afford it), but we'll leave that decision to you...
Ride comfort and handling
With air suspension and chunky tyres fitted, the X5 trumps the GLE in terms of ride comfort.
While these vehicles offer high levels of ride comfort, we noted some distinct differences in their respective on-road manners. Despite the fact that this xDrive30d was fitted with the off-road package (including chunky General Grabber tyres) and 2-axle air suspension (R25 100), we were highly impressed by the lofty levels of ride comfort the BMW delivered on urban roads of variable quality. What's more, the level of road-noise intrusion caused by the off-road tyres wasn’t as severe as we expected. For its mastery of uneven surfaces, the X5 definitely pipped the GLE in this regard.
The GLE, however, wasn’t fitted with air suspension (it's a R29 000 option), therefore the difference in ride quality between the BMW and the Benz was immediately apparent. The 400d's ride quality wasn't choppy, but whereas the xDrive30d absorbed small bumps with ease, such imperfections were much more noticeable in the former. While the larger, lower-profile tyres on the GLE look stylish, they do contribute to a less forgiving ride.
There was also a distinct difference in the way the combatants handled. When you drive these premium SUVs enthusiastically, the X5 hides its weight well and although it’s steering is decidedly light, the BMW feels more nimble on its rubber and delivers a sportier driving experience. In the GLE, you feel the weight of the car through the steering; it doesn’t feel as dextrous. Driving the GLE is more like driving a land yacht, it feels big.
Suffice to say both vehicles are comfort-orientated. If you want the optimal ride quality, set some money aside for air suspension.
Interior style and quality
The GLE's interior is stylish and looks more advanced than that of the X5.
Buyers considering the X5 and GLE are afforded a staggering number of options when it comes to trims, equipment and optional extras. With that said, the choices you make will determine how stylish your GLE or X5 will look. In this particular test, we found the GLE’s cabin to be more stylish than the X5's. It just looks and feels more sophisticated by comparison and there is more of a sense of occasion when stepping inside the Benz.
While the interiors of both cars exhibit good overall (perceived) build quality, if you pay close attention, there are some questionable bits – some in terms of quality, others taste. While navigating the GLE through suburbia, we noticed subtle creaking in the cabin, it didn't sound like metal or glass, but almost as if materials were flexing. We also feel that some of the cabin switchgear in the GLE could be of higher quality/befitting its price tag.
When tastefully specced, the X5's interior is attractive and comfortable.
Meanwhile, we'd urge against specifying the beige leather trim in the X5 (as BMW's marketing department did for this test unit) – it gets dirty easily and should prove tedious (if not impossible) to keep unmarked. We also didn’t like the fine-wood Ash Grain Silver trim (it looks plasticky) and, as for the crystal-look transmission lever and iDrive controller? Sorry, pass. Those elements combined somehow manage to cheapen the look of the X5’s interior, which is a pity. The driver’s door handle in the X5 looked like it was about to break off too (perhaps this xDrive30d has lived a hard life).
Technology and connectivity
The X5's instrument cluster can be customised according to taste. We like it sporty...
Premium SUVs are known for offering a plethora of the latest onboard technologies and connectivity options (to be blunt: the more and bigger the touchscreens, the better) and, in this regard, neither the X5 nor the GLE disappoints. In the BMW, infotainment is taken care of via the standard Live Cockpit Professional setup, which incorporates a pair of 12.3-inch screens, 1 for the instrument cluster and the other right in the middle of the fancy fascia. The system can be accessed via touch, voice control, gesture control, the iDrive controller or if you must, the steering wheel buttons.
It’s an easy system to navigate and the instrument cluster is customisable; the sportier look, in particular, lifts the cabin ambience. It’s worth noting that only Apple CarPlay is offered and integrated navigation is included. Other key tech features include a wireless smartphone charger, Harmon Kardon surround sound (R7 300), 4-zone climate control (R8 000) and front and rear park distance control with a reverse-view camera.
The Widescreen Cockpit in the GLE is a major highlight with crisp and easy-to-use functionality.
The GLE fights back with a huge skateboard-like widescreen that claims virtually half the dashboard's real estate. The graphics and layout are impressive and elevates the GLE cabin to the next level of luxury. The MBUX system can be operated by touch inputs, the touchpad in the centre console, which requires a fair bit of familiarisation and, of course, voice commands. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, as is navigation.
Compared with the BMW, the Benz offers a more comprehensive range of screen customisation options and we hasten to add that the design of the steering wheel (including its array of multifunction buttons) is superior. Key tech features in this GLE include a Harmon Kardon surround sound (R14 500) front and rear PDC with a 360-degree surround-view camera system and Blind Spot Assist and Lane Keeping Assist (R13 700).
The quality of the technology on offer from both BMW and Mercedes-Benz is noteworthy and buyers are only limited by how much they are willing to spend on optional equipment. Both these vehicles were equipped with at least R200 000 worth of optional extras!
The GLE wins in terms of space for rear passengers. Smile Ciro!
At 2 995 mm, the GLE’s wheelbase is 20 mm longer than the X5's, which translates into noticeably more leg- and knee room in the Benz. That’s not to say that the X5 is cramped, far from it in actual fact, but the BMW's rear legroom is just not as generous. In both cars, rear passengers have access to 2 charging ports and a central armrest with storage space and 2 cupholders. Storage for the driver and front passenger is sufficient too.
In terms of load space, the X5 and GLE offer similar luggage capacities (650 and 630 litres respectively), but the Benz is claimed to offer more with the rear seats folded down (2 055 litres versus 1 870 litres in the BMW). Both load areas are commendably flat when the aft seatbacks are down.
The X5's split tailgate and easily folding seats are more practical than the electric folding seats in the GLE.
The X5 has a pair of manual levers in its load bay. These make it easy to flip the seatback down without needing to pull it forwards from the 2nd row. The GLE test unit, in turn, came specified with electrically folding seats. In our opinion, the manual levers are faster and more effective while also eliminating the potential for electrical failure down the line. We like the split tailgate on the X5: when deployed, it offers easy access to the load bay or provides a place to sit or unpack a picnic basket. With the no-cost Comfort Access selected, the X5’s tailgate can be opened electrically as well as with a swipe of a foot under the bumper. In the GLE, you will have to pay R12 000 for an electronic tailgate by selecting the Keyless Go option.
For towing, the GLE is equipped with an electric towbar as standard while it’s offered as an option in the X5 (yours for an additional R11 500). The BMW, however, benefits from a 3 500 kg braked towing capacity, while the GLE is limited to 2 700 kg.
Price and warranty
The base price for the BMW X5 xDrive30d xLine starts from R1 194 296 and the price as tested here is no less than R1 400 000. The X5 is sold with a 2-year/unlimited warranty and a 5-year/100 000 km maintenance plan.
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The base price for the Mercedes-Benz GLE 400d 4Matic AMG Line starts from R1 434 194 and the price as tested here is no less than R1 650 000. The GLE is sold with a 2-year/unlimited warranty and a 5-year/100 000 km maintenance plan.
As a status symbol, the GLE400d hits the mark, but for a sportier drive, the X5 xDrive30d will please.
The new(ish) BMW X5 and brand-new Mercedes-Benz GLE have all the characteristics that buyers in this segment expect (and then some), but as we've highlighted in this review, BMW and Mercedes-Benz's respective interpretations (and executions) of the premium SUV are somewhat different. Ultimately the choice you make will depend on your preferences pertaining to design, performance, technology, practicality and so forth.
In this test, the X5 xDrive30d was outmuscled (performance-wise) by the burly GLE, but alternatively, the quad-turbodiesel M50d derivative offers muscular performance (if near-breakneck acceleration is what you're after): it’s more closely priced to this GLE 400d at R1 502 582.
Nonetheless, the X5 xDrive30d is a well-balanced performer and it’s worth mentioning that the M-Sport version of the derivative is a finalist in the Premium SUV category of the 2019/20 Cars.co.za Consumer Awards – powered by WesBank. If your budget is tight, consider the xDrive30d ahead of the smaller-engined GLE 300d as the former comes better specced as standard and offers better power and torque outs.
The X5 30d beats the GLE 400d in terms of its overall value proposition, performance/economy balance, ride and handling while also being sufficiently practical with superior towing ability, should you need it.
In the Premium SUV segment, however, logic is often overpowered by indulgent, ego-driven purchasing decisions and this is where the GLE brings its clout. The GLE's sheer sense of occasion and road presence puts the X5 in the shade and if you are a buyer looking to impress, then the GLE can do that for you, but that privilege will come at a premium...
Of course, if neither of these vehicles is to your taste, you might want to consider rivals such as the Audi Q8, Range Rover Velar, Volvo XC90, Jaguar F-Pace, Porsche Cayenne and so forth.