Great automotive rivalries are a dime a dozen. Ford Mustang versus Chevrolet Camaro. Honda Civic versus Toyota Corolla. Ferrari versus Ford. And BMW versus Mercedes-Benz: When you’re shopping for a midsize luxury SUV, you’re very likely to cross-shop the BMW X5 and Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class (formerly the M-Class), two nameplates that have been around since the dawn of the luxury SUV segment two decades ago.
With new iterations of both vehicles arriving within the past year, we’ve assembled them to see which brings you the best blend of luxury, space, road manners, and technology.
Mercedes-Benz was among the first to produce a luxury SUV when it introduced the original M-Class for the 1998 model year. It offered a choice of six- or eight-cylinder engines and even served as the pope’s official vehicle for a few years. Fast-forward to today: Mercedes-Benz has introduced the current GLE-Class with a number of trick technologies, including a mild hybrid system coupled to its more powerful engine options. Our GLE450 tester also includes MBUX, Mercedes’ latest infotainment system, featuring an assistant similar to Alexa, Google, and Siri.
The BMW X5 has been around for nearly as long as the Mercedes-Benz GLE, and like its cross-town competitor, it made its debut with a choice of six- and eight-cylinder engines. Today, the X5 is available in a wide range of flavors, including gas, plug-in hybrid, and high-performance variants. BMW’s latest iDrive system also has an assistant feature just like MBUX.
Because each automaker offers such a diverse range for each model, we chose just one of each for this comparison. Is an X5 M a more engaging driver than a GLE350 with no frills added? Probably. And an AMG GLE63 S probably carries a certain appeal that a plug-in X5 can’t quite match (and vice versa, if that’s your thing). Here, in search of an apples-to-apples comparison from two baskets full of fruit, we look at the 2020 BMW X5 xDrive40i (starting at $61,695, $73,980 as tested) and the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE450 ($62,145/$84,640).
Second Place: 2019 BMW X5 xDrive40i
You can’t fault BMW when it comes to its powertrain. The X5’s 335-hp 3.0-liter turbo I-6 has nearly zero turbo lag, and the smooth eight-speed automatic shifts quickly. On the road, the 2019 BMW X5 rides comfortably, dispatching bumps almost as well as the Mercedes-Benz GLE450. The X5 is sure-footed on the road, but its disconnected nature makes it feel like you’re behind the wheel of a robot. “Steering is quick and linear, but it doesn’t provide the feel or feedback one would expect from a classic BMW,” features editor Christian Seabaugh said. “It’s missing that organic sensibility that the Mercedes somehow captures.”
The well-built interior defines austerity and features another evolution of BMW’s familiar horizontal-themed dash design. “BMW interiors are trapped in time like a mosquito in amber, but it’s a very familiar and comfortable look,” executive editor Mark Rechtin said. There’s plenty of space in the second row for two passengers, making the X5 a great choice for family road trips. You’ll also enjoy the crisp (and optional) Harman Kardon surround sound system a lot more on your drives thanks to the well-insulated interior and its minimal noise levels.
Although iDrive has received multiple updates, its learning curve remains. In typical German fashion, many functions are buried in submenus, and this partially negates the benefits of the responsive touchscreen. Wireless Apple CarPlay, which requires a yearly subscription fee after a year of ownership, didn’t work smoothly and kept cutting out. Detroit editor Alisa Priddle complained that instead of embracing connectivity, BMW is fighting it by making it hard to pair your mobile devices with its vehicles.
On the driver assistance tech front, the X5’s suite works as advertised except for the lane keeping assist, which gets jerky when steering assist and adaptive cruise control are off. Priddle found that it also struggles to read the side of the road when lane lines aren’t present. Adaptive cruise control, on the other hand, works more naturally and “drives like a normal human being would when approaching obstacles and slowing traffic,” Rechtin said. However, with everything engaged, the X5 won’t let you take over as easily as other systems do during emergency situations.
As an all-around luxury SUV, everything about the 2019 BMW X5 seems predictable. There’s no sense of occasion, and it goes down the road robotically. Sure, the powertrain is excellent and the interior materials are appropriate for the class and price, but as a whole, the X5 plays it way too safe.
First Place: 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE450
The 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE 450 is exactly what you expect of a proper luxury SUV. Nearly all you see and touch inside the cabin feels substantial. The leather, the buttons, and pretty much everything else offer a satisfying level of tactility when you interact with the car. First- and second-row passengers have ample space, and the cabin’s superior sound insulation versus the BMW X5’s provides a luxuriously serene experience.
On the road, the GLE450 continues to rise above its rivals. For its size, it handles better than you’d expect, especially when equipped one of the two available air suspension options. It goes down the road in a predictable, controlled manner thanks to its excellent body control, superior chassis calibration, and communicative steering. Mercedes’ 3.0-liter turbo I-6, which features a 48-volt mild hybrid system, provides plenty of power and easily moves the GLE450. With the belt starter generator assisting the engine, you get smooth power delivery and a wide torque band. The nine-speed automatic transmission shifts quickly and decisively. Even when you suddenly mat the accelerator to pass slow-moving traffic, the gearbox gives you the right gear and puts the engine in its powerband.
The GLE450 isn’t perfect, however. MBUX, Mercedes’ new infotainment system, got mixed reactions. “The infotainment touchpad might as well be a Rubik’s Cube for its ease of use and intuitiveness,” Detroit editor Alisa Priddle said. MotorTrend en Español managing editor Miguel Cortina declared that it was too hard to use because so many functions are buried in submenus. Even so, some staffers appreciated MBUX’s voice controls and touchscreen controls, the latter of which is the most straightforward way to control the system.
Our GLE450 tester also lacked a number of driver assistance features, such as lane keeping assist and adaptive cruise control, both of which came with the BMW X5 at a lower price point. On other new Mercedes-Benz models we’ve tested, the automaker’s lane keeping assist does a great job centering the vehicle; however, adaptive cruise control isn’t very smooth when it slows the car down or accelerates to the same speed as traffic flows.
In the end, the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE450 provided a superior driving experience in a superior package. The attention to detail is impeccable, and the materials chosen for the interior are appropriately luxurious. As a result, the GLE 450 exudes a truly premium aura. You see and feel where that extra $10,000 you spent went the moment you get in the vehicle. The GLE 450’s better-balanced chassis makes it easy to drive, the spacious cabin provides everyday practicality, and the spiffy appointments add a level of panache and sophistication missing in the X5. For those reasons, the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE450 takes the win.
|2019 BMW X5 xDrive40i||2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE 450 4Matic|
|DRIVETRAIN LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD||Front-engine, AWD|
|ENGINE TYPE||Turbocharged I-6, alum block/head||Turbocharged I-6, alum block/head plus AC electric motor|
|VALVETRAIN||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl|
|DISPLACEMENT||182.9 cu in/2,998 cc||183.0 cu in/2,999 cc|
|POWER (SAE NET)||335 hp @ 5,500 rpm||362 @ 5,500 rpm (gas), 21 (elec), 362 hp (comb)|
|TORQUE (SAE NET)||330 lb-ft @ 1,500 rpm||369 @ 1,600 rpm (gas), 184 (elec), 369 lb-ft (comb)|
|REDLINE||6,500 rpm||6,250 rpm|
|WEIGHT TO POWER||14.6 lb/hp||14.3 lb/hp|
|TRANSMISSION||8-speed automatic||9-speed automatic|
|SUSPENSION, FRONT; REAR||Struts, air springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; multilink, air springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar||Control arms, air springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; multilink, air springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar|
|BRAKES, F; R||15.6-in vented disc; 14.6-in vented disc, ABS||14.8-in vented, drilled disc; 13.6-in vented disc, ABS|
|WHEELS||9.0 x 20-in cast aluminum||10.0 x 21-in; 11.0 x 21-in, cast aluminum|
|TIRES||275/45R20 100H M+S Pirelli Scorpion Zero (Star) runflat||275/45R21 107Y; 315/40R21 111Y Pirelli P Zero MO-S|
|WHEELBASE||117.1 in||117.9 in|
|TRACK, F/R||66.1/66.9 in||66.1/66.8 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||194.3 x 78.9 x 69.0 in||194.0 x 76.7 x 70.7 in|
|GROUND CLEARANCE||8.7 in||8.1 in|
|APPRCH/DEPART ANGLE||25.2/22.3 deg||21.2/24.1 deg|
|TURNING CIRCLE||41.4 ft||39.4 ft|
|CURB WEIGHT||4,882 lb||5,178 lb|
|WEIGHT DIST, F/R||50/50%||54/46%|
|TOWING CAPACITY||7,209 lb||7,700 lb|
|HEADROOM, F/R||40.8/38.7 in||40.5/39.6 in|
|LEGROOM, F/R||40.8/38.7 in||40.3/40.9 in|
|SHOULDER ROOM, F/R||60.0/58.1 in||59.3/58.3 in|
|CARGO VOLUME, BEH F/R||72.3/33.9 cu ft||74.9/33.3 cu ft|
|ACCELERATION TO MPH|
|0-30||1.7 sec||1.8 sec|
|PASSING, 45-65 MPH||2.7||2.9|
|QUARTER MILE||13.6 sec @ 98.5 mph||14.2 sec @ 97.4 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||127 ft||115 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.81 g (avg)||0.83 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||27.3 sec @ 0.67 g (avg)||27.0 sec @ 0.69 g (avg)|
|TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH||1,500 rpm||1,400 rpm|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$73,980||$84,640|
|AIRBAGS||10: Dual front, f/r side, f/r curtain, front knee||7: Dual front, front side, f/r curtain, driver knee|
|BASIC WARRANTY||4 yrs/50,000 miles||4 yrs/50,000 miles|
|POWERTRAIN WARRANTY||4 yrs/50,000 miles||4 yrs/50,000 miles|
|ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE||4 yrs/Unlimited miles||4 yrs/50,000 miles|
|FUEL CAPACITY||21.9 gal||22.5 gal|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB ECON||20/26/22 mpg||19/24/21 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||169/130 kW-hrs/100 miles||177/140 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.87 lb/mile||0.93 lb/mile|
|RECOMMENDED FUEL||Unleaded premium||Unleaded premium|
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