Infiniti QX80 VS Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class
- Improved looks
- High level of comfort
- Off-road ability
- No Apple CarPlay, Android Auto
- Understeer, bodyroll
- Stunning interior
- Superb space
- Comprehensive safety kit
- Unpleasant ride
- Four-cylinder diesel performance
- Challenging styling
The world of upper large luxury SUVs, like Infiniti’s latest-generation QX80, occupies that rarefied air, way up high in the car market, that I’ll never breathe – and that’s okay with me.
You see, as much as I admire these plush vehicles, even if I did have the cash and the inclination to buy one, I’d be so worried about incidental damage to the exterior (shopping trolleys or other drivers’ touch-parking) or children-induced damage to the interior (car sickness, spilled food or drink, blood from sibling punch-ups in the second row) that I’d never be able to fully relax while driving the thing. (Newsflash: I’ve heard from Infiniti that the QX80’s upholstery has a soil-resistant coating.)
These pricey wagons certainly do have their fans though and now, with extensive exterior changes and some interior ones, does the QX80, based on the Y62 Nissan Patrol, actually offer anything to set it apart from other large premium SUVs? Read on.
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
But this new version - the 2020 GLE - is exactly that. It's new.
The exterior is new. The engines are new. The underpinnings are new. The interior - yep, you guessed it - new.
Let's find out.
The petrol-only QX80, really a Y62 Patrol with shedloads of bling, is a curious beast; a big, bold status-boosting premium SUV, which is much better suited to the US and Middle East markets than ours. However, it has a real premium feel, is very smooth to drive and the exterior and interior changes have improved what has so far been a divisive model for a brand with a small but growing fanbase here. Infiniti sold 83 of the previous QX80 in 2017 and is hoping to move 100 of these new ones in 2018; they have their work cut out for them, but if brand confidence is worth a few sales, who knows, they might even top the ton.
Is the QX80 worth its hefty price-tag, or is it simply too much cash for something that doesn’t even have mainstream connectivity functions?
All told, the Mercedes-Benz GLE 2020 model is an improvement in many ways over its predecessor. It's safer, more high-tech, considerably more luxurious and practical inside, and offers better value, too.
But, in 300d guise at least, it's let down by a slightly underdone engine, and suspension that just doesn't do a good enough job on rougher roads. It's close, but not close enough to be best in class.
Maybe that'll be a different case for the higher-grade versions with the most high-tech engines and the tricky optional suspension... we'll have to wait and see.
The bulk of the facelifted QX80’s design changes have been to the exterior and include, most noticeably, new LED headlights with a redesigned, sleeker but more aggressive front end than its predecessor’s softer, more rounded curves.
The new QX80’s bonnet is 20mm higher than before and has been extended 90mm; the side steps have been stretched 20mm wider, and the power tailgate has been re-designed to include sharper, thinner, rear LED taillights and the bumper is visually wider.
The whole body has a higher visual centre of gravity, with this latest raft of design shifts giving the SUV a taller, broader, wider and more angular overall appearance.
The interior includes a bigger, chunkier redesigned centre and rear console and those aforementioned premium touches, such as leather-wrapped heated steering wheel, updated upholstery-stitching, semi-aniline quilted leather patterning on door panels and seats, as well as its stainless-steel sill plates, all add to the premium feel.
The QX80 looks better than it did but, as the previous one was pretty hard on the eyes, the 2018 version may still polarise opinion.
You can make your own mind up about the styling of the new GLE. It's certainly more aggressive than the model that came before it, and Benz claims that it's the most aerodynamic SUV in its class.
The models on test were all fitted with the AMG styling pack and the bigger 21-inch multi-spoke wheels, and from some angles it's a striking car. I particularly like the way the rear-end treatment has worked for the GLE: the triangulated tail-lights, the lower bumper and the rear glass all work together well.
In profile, the GLE is quite challenging to look at. The rounded window-line is a bit awkward, and somehow the wheels just don't fit with the bulky guards (though I do like the way the AMG 21s poke out a bit at the back).
The front sees the diamond-style treatment to the grille for the AMG Line versions, but there's a lot of black plastic on the bumper, and the headlight shape gives it a bit of a droopy-eyed look. Is it just me, or is it a bit of a Bassett Hound?
It is a bigger car than before - 111mm longer (now 4930mm - and on an 80mm longer wheelbase, now 2995mm), and it's 15mm wider but 31mm lower - and it looks more substantial as a result. I'm just not sure it's pulling off its bulk as well as it could.
So the outside is pretty, er, interesting. We had comments from passersby to that effect, too, and in our comparison test it was the consensus of our team of experienced testers that the GLE had some challenging exterior design elements.
The QX80 is a big unit – 5340mm long (with a 3075mm wheelbase), 2265mm wide and 1945mm high – and, when you’re seated inside it, it feels like Infiniti designers and engineers must have worked hard to maximise the space afforded them for driver and passengers without seeming to have sacrificed any style or comfort.
And that big open space inside the cabin is easy to get comfortable in. There are soft-touch surfaces everywhere – door panels, arm rests, centre-console edging – and the seats are unsurprisingly soft and supportive but tend towards slippery when there are quick changes in speed or direction, or when tackling steep downhills off-road. (It was fun to watch front-seat passengers slip-slide around inside during the 4WD loop)
If you’re up-front you’re well catered for; big glovebox; overhead sunglasses storage; the centre console now has a roomy smartphone storage area; the twin cupholders have been upsized to cop two 1.3-litre cups with handles (up from one 1.3-litre cup and a 950ml container); the USB port has been moved to the other side of the centre console so it’s easier to get to; the storage area under the front passenger arm-rest is now a 5.4-litre compartment, able to hold up to three upright 1.0-litre bottles or tablet devices.
There are nine cupholders and two bottle-holders in total in the QX80.
There’s a sunroof if you get the urge for natural light from above.
Second-row passengers now get 8.0-inch entertainment screens (up from 7.0-inch) and two additional USB ports.
The tip-up second row seats are easy enough to operate and the third row is power 60/40 split-fold-to-flat and reclining.
There is a 12V outlet in the cargo area.
The cabin presentation and pragmatism is excellent in the new-generation GLE. There was an existing version on site for us to compare, and to say it's like night-and-day would be generous to the old model.
A lot of that comes down to the MBUX twin 12.3-inch screens on top of the dash - one for all the driver instrumentation and controls, and the other for sat nav, media, car controls and other settings. They look great, and there are multiple ways to control them: the steering wheel controls, the touch pad between the front seats, the screen in the middle is touch-capacitive, and there's the much-bragged-about “Hey Mercedes” voice control system.
But it's more than just the screens: the finishes and materials used in the GLE are exceptional. The plastics are excellent, the brushed aluminium treatment that runs the width of the dash with ambient lighting, the surrounds on the vents (oh, so many vents!) - it all works so well together. But the open-pore wood finish is my favourite element, adding a touch of ruggedness that's also plush and luxurious.
The test cars all had the high-end leather treatment and optional bolster-heavy seats, and they're okay, but a little fiddly to adjust. I guess that's the beauty of driver profiles - the car will remember your favourite settings and make the adjustments as you get in or out by detecting the key.
There's also excellent storage throughout - the door pockets in all four doors are huge, there are cupholders front and rear, and loose item storage is decent, too. Plus there are heaps of USB-C (fast charging) ports up front and in the back.
Speaking of the back, the cars at launch all had the seven-seat package, which might appeal to you, or not. It's more than just a couple of seats in the back row, because it includes electric seat adjustment for the second row, with slide and recline functions allowing you to prioritise second- or third-row space.
The space in the second-row with the seats set as far back as they can go is excellent. There's heaps of room for someone my height (182cm) to sit behind a similar sized driver with ample knee room, headroom and shoulder room. You'll be able to fit three adults across the back, or if you have kids, there are three top-tether points and outboard ISOFIX child-seat anchors, too. No child seat restraints in the third row, though.
Whether you choose the five-seat or seven-seat option, the boot space remains the same at 825 litres with five seats in play. All models have an electric tailgate, too.
And if you're curious about the third row, it should be fine for anyone shorter than 175cm for shorter drives. It's not super spacious back there, and should be considered a 5+2 option. Really need a seven-seat Merc? You could get a GLS if you can afford it, or go for a V-Class luxury van. Go on. Do it!
Price and features
Pricing has not changed: there is one model and it still costs $110,900 before on-roads and that price does not include paint other than the standard Black Obsidian; metallic paint is $1500 extra. Changes over and above the previous model’s standard features list include 22-inch 18-spoke forged alloy wheels (up from 20-inch), Infiniti’s InTouch 8.0-inch colour touchscreen (up from 7.0-inch), new Espresso Burl coloured trim, new chrome finishes all-round, updated upholstery-stitching everywhere, quilted leather patterning on seats, new headlights, LED foglights and more. There is no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.
One thing that's really neat about the new Mercedes GLE range is that the brand has decided to specify each of the models exactly the same - that makes it simple for consumers, because essentially you're just paying more for a better engine.
That means the extensive standard equipment list is the same whether you choose the 300d entry-level diesel model at $99,900 (plus on-road costs), the mid-range petrol 450 model at $111,341, or the current range-topping six-cylinder diesel 400d at $118,142.
That may seem like a pretty slim range, but you can expect Mercedes-AMG to offer two additional performance-oriented models - the GLE 53 and the GLE 63 S - in 2020. And, for context, the current BMW X5 ranges from $112,990 to $149,900, while the Porsche Cayenne lineup spans from $117,000 to $242,000.
Standard equipment includes the company's MBUX multimedia system with dual 12.3-inch screens, LED lighting with adaptive high beam headlights, 20-inch alloy wheels, a power tailgate, 360-degree parking camera, colour head-up display, the company's 'Artico' leatherette upholstery with heated front seats, DAB+ digital radio and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
There are multiple ways to personalise and customise your GLE, but one that's expected to attract a lot of custom is the “7 Seat Package” which adds third-row seats for people up to 180cm tall, and also incorporates electric second row seat adjustment (tilt and slide) and electric seat folding. The pack is $3900.
Other option boxes include the AMG Sport Package ($9900, comprising an AMG bodykit, panoramic roof, wireless phone charging and leather upholstery), the Night Package ($4800, adds black exterior accents), the Vision Package ($4200, including panoramic roof, wireless charging, 13-speaker Burmester sound system) and the Energising Package Plus ($6200, adding multi-contour front seats with massaging, heated armrests, air fragrances).
Engine & trans
The previous generation’s 5.6-litre V8 petrol engine (298kW@5800rpm and 560Nm@4000rpm) remains, as does the seven-speed automatic transmission with adaptive shift control. It also has Infiniti’s all-mode 4WD system, which offers Auto, 4WD High and 4WD Low settings and it has terrain appropriate modes (sand, snow, rocks) able to be dialled in.
Powering the Mercedes-Benz GLE is a selection of engines, with petrol and diesel offered.
The entry-level power plant is the 300d, which uses a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine with 180kW of power (at 4200rpm) and 500Nm of torque (from 1600-2400rpm). It has a nine-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive as standard.
The range-topping diesel is a thumper. It's the 400d, which runs a 2.9-litre turbo-diesel six-cylinder with 243kW of power (at 4000rpm) and 700Nm of torque (from 1200-3000rpm). It also has a nine-speed auto and AWD standard.
The sole petrol model at launch is the 450, which employs a twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre in-line six-cylinder engine with 270kW of power (at 5500rpm) and 500Nm (at 1600-4500rpm). It uses a nine-speed automatic transmission with AWD, but this version is the only one with mild-hybrid tech, using 48-volt EQ Boost tech to help add 16kW and 250Nm for short stints of added performance (0-100km/h in just 5.7 seconds, apparently), and allowing the engine to shut off under light throttle or lift-off situations.
If you plan to tow, there's a factory-fit tow pack available that allows 750kg unbraked and 3500kg braked towing across all grades. This pack is the one from the factory - remember that - and it costs $1900. If you instead fit one as an aftermarket fit, the figures are 750kg/2700kg respectively.
The QX80 is claimed to use 14.8L/100km. We reckon that fuel-consumption figure is very optimistic and if QX80 owners are partial to towing boats – as Infiniti reckons they are – or if they tackle some 4WDing, then that figure is going to climb much higher quite swiftly.
Fuel consumption varies between the models, as you'd expect.
The 300d is the most frugal of the mix, with an official combined cycle fuel use claim of 6.9 litres per 100 kilometres. The 400d, with its bigger six-cylinder diesel, is said to use 7.7L/100km. The 450 petrol model has the highest claimed fuel use, at 9.1L/100km, and that's despite the fact it's the only version of this trio to bring electrification into the mix with the EQ Boost 48-volt mild hybrid system.
On test at the launch of the GLE we saw a displayed return of 9.4L/100km for the 300d model, but there was a fair bit of country road and highway driving in the mix.
All versions of the GLE are fitted with an 85-litre fuel tank.
In the world of luxury SUVs big is king and this thing is definitely on the chunky side of big, but it doesn’t often feel too cumbersome for its own good, or too bulky to steer in and out of Melbourne’s bustling morning traffic with precision.
During this event, we did a fair chunk of driving – highway, country roads, gravel roads and a decent bit of 4WDing – and, surprise, surprise, it did pretty well, especially when things of this ilk usually exhibit the ride and handling of an old poorly-sprung couch on wheels.
It did, however, feel top-heavy at times and revealed substantial body-roll when pushed around corners at speed or even during some sections of slow, bouncy off-roading, so I’d be reluctant to experience what it would be like without hydraulic body motion control. However, we were willing to forgive it any rocking-and-rolling when that healthy V8 growl kicked in as we gave it the boot.
The 22-inch tyre-and-wheel combination is not the way I’d go if I was going to use the QX80 for any off-road forays but, having said that, we did fine on them, at road tyre pressures, over a decent off-road loop.
It has 246mm of ground clearance and 24.2 (approach), 24.5 (departure) and 23.6 (ramp-over) angles.
The QX80 has coil springs all-round and it was only ever caught out when it thumped through a couple of surprise potholes along a dirt road.
This Infiniti model has a claimed tare mass of 2783kg, but you wouldn’t have known it was that many kegs because it powered up steep and slippery bush tracks, through deep muddy ruts, over greasy rocks and through a few knee-deep mud holes with ease. It was as easy as pulling up, switching your terrain modes and dialling in your setting: 4WD High, 4WD Low or Auto. It has a locking rear diff and very capable hill descent control, which we tested on a few rather steep sections of track.
It’s nice to see vehicle manufacturers unafraid to put their off-roaders, even their pricey luxury ones, through a decent off-road loop at launch because it shows they have confidence in its capabilities.
The launch drive was limited to the 300d variant, though I did get a chance to sample the version with air suspension, as well as the model with the standard steel suspension.
Now, before we get too nerdy, this is an important element for a luxury SUV. Ride comfort is arguably as vital as effortless power. And, sadly for the GLE, neither model sets any benchmarks for suspension control and comfort.
The steel-sprung model doesn't have adaptive suspension at all, meaning that it can be bouncy, wobbly, unsettled and stiff all at the same time. The country road I sampled it on showed that the standard suspension offered up a quite nervous experience, never feeling as settled as a luxury SUV really ought to.
The air suspension version is definitely better, but still not as good as a BMW X5, Audi Q7 or VW Touareg. It lacks the body control and comfort that a true luxury SUV ought to offer.
Now, that might matter to you, or it might not. You might think the look of the car - with 20s, 21s or 22s filling the guards - is more important than how it deals with lumps and bumps. But it's our job to tell you how the land lies, and the GLE simply can't match the better SUVs in this segment as a driver's tool.
There is another level of suspension which the CarsGuide team (myself included) hasn't yet had the chance to sample - the E-Active Body Control system, which includes curve-tilting so it can make the car feel level through corners, and a system that'll scan the road ahead to predict bumps and lumps and prime the suspension to deal with it. That system is $13,000... and, while I haven't sampled it yet, it's my hope that it makes all the difference to the GLE.
So, what about the other driving elements? Well the steering is light and accurate, and decently responsive at low speeds or highway pace, and you're never left guessing as to what'll happen.
The engine, too, is decent - a 2.0-litre with 180kW and 500Nm is nothing to be sneezed at - but in a vehicle this large, with a kerb weight of 2165kg, and with a nine-speed automatic taking care of forward progress, it can be a busy engine.
That's because the transmission will shuffle between ratios when you encounter a hill as it doesn't quite have the grunt to simply stick in a gear and tug you along. It's not that big of a deal, and the transmission is smooth enough and pretty hard to catch out, but it is a little less effortless than a six-cylinder would no doubt be.
All in all, I was left wanting more from the drive experience. Maybe the higher-grade models with the highest-grade suspension will prove a better flag waver for the new-generation GLE.
The QX80 does not have an ANCAP safety rating. Safety tech as standard includes blind spot warning, intelligent parking system, forward emergency braking, lane departure prevention (incorporating lane departure warning), distance control assist and predictive forward collision warning, Infiniti/Patrol intelligent rear view mirror (which can display video from a camera mounted in the upper rear windshield) and more. It has two ISOFIX points in the second-row seats.
As you'd expect, the Mercedes-Benz GLE has achieved the highest possible five-star ANCAP safety rating under the stricter 2019 criteria. Indeed, the GLE was given the best ever score for child occupant safety.
The GLE is loaded with the safety technology and equipment you would expect. There's auto emergency braking, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist (with active lane assist - it will merge into the next lane when you indicate), blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, front cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, a 360-degree camera with reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, semi-autonomous parking, and driver fatigue detection.
The GLE has nine airbags (dual front, front side, driver's knee, rear side, full-length curtain).
All GLE models have three top-tether restraints for child seats, and dual ISOFIX anchors in the second row. The seven-seat model has no third-row child restraints.
Mercedes-Benz stands by its three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty plan, stating at the launch it has no plans to extend it to match what most of the mainstream brands now offer (five years). But it's not alone in the luxury segment in that regard.
The big point the company's local reps made was that they're trying to lower the cost of ownership for customers through servicing packages. You can pre-pay them, or you can pay as you go (PAYG).
The GLE requires maintenance every 12 months or 25,000km. The pre-pay option is $2700 for the first three years/75,000km of maintenance or, if you decide to PAYG, the costs are $850, $1200 and $1250 (totalling $3300 over the same period). It makes sense to pre-pay then, and you can bundle the cost into your finance, too, so you'll notice it less.
There is three years roadside assist included at no cost if you buy the car brand new, as it coincides with the warranty period.