Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class VS BMW X5
- Exterior styling
- Interior and cabin appeal
- Rear space, and space overall
- Lack of boot space
- Driving position not too high for some
- Engine noise slightly un-sexy
- Imposing looks
- Luxurious interior
- Sublime engine
- Relatively expensive
- Big wheels spoil ride
- Large turning circle
Apparently there is an ugly Kardashian, but you don’t care, or if you do, you shouldn’t, so let’s talk about the Hemsworth brothers instead.
In any other family, Luke Hemsworth would probably be called handsome, if a little short. Unfortunately for him, standing next to Liam and the God who walks amongst us that is Chris (I had to interview him once, he really is dreamy), Luke looks like he’s barely keeping his chin above the water line at the shallow end of the gene pool.
The Mercedes-Benz SUV range has quite a variation of lookers in its family tree as well, but I would argue that the new, entry-level GLA is pretty much the Chris of the range, or at least the Liam. The unfortunate, slightly large-foreheaded GLB would obviously be the Luke.
The only problem with all this, of course, is that the car that originally gave birth to the GLA - the A-Class - is more attractive than all of them, and Craig Hemsworth, sire of the family, doesn’t quite pull that off.
The point is that the new GLA is going to be even more popular than the original one, which sold a staggering one million units worldwide, because it is not only bigger and taller, but better looking, inside and out.
And let’s face it, no one is buying an urban SUV like this for the way it can climb a snow-covered alpine pass. Even all-wheel drive is optional.
But the GLA has this niche nailed, and the new one - thanks to its style, space and the effortless way it rides - is going to be an even bigger success.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Can you believe it’s been nearly two and a half years since the fourth-generation BMW X5 went on sale? Buyers clearly have short memories, though, because the first X model BMW ever unleashed on the world is still the best-seller in its large SUV segment.
So, what’s all the fuss about? Well, there’s no better way to find out than to take a detailed look at the X5’s volume-selling xDrive30d variant. Read on.
|Engine Type||3.0L turbo|
You can tell that this car is going to be a success just by looking at it. For a lot of people, to see one will be to want one, and when they sit in that hugely high driving position and gaze upon the future-fabulous interior they’ll be even more sold.
It’s fair to say the GLA 250 does everything well - aside from providing boot space - and with great comfort, and in terms of looks, inside and out, it reaches the level of outstanding.
Personally, I’d take the lower and sleeker A Class every time.
There is no doubt that BMW seriously stepped up its game with the fourth-generation X5, raising its levels of luxury and technology, all the way to that of the flagship 7 Series.
The X5’s mix of imposing looks and relatively well sorted dynamics is complemented by the xDrive30d’s brilliant engine and transmission.
It’s no surprise, then, that the X5 continues to be its best in xDrive30d form. There really is no need to consider any other variant.
I have to say that it’s quite an effort for a car company to get me interested in the look of an SUV, but from its tough, bold and yet stylish grille to its taut back end and BMW-aping rear light cluster, the new GLA really is a looker.
I had the good fortune to bring our GLA 250 test vehicle home and park it right next to the previous model, in the same colour, thus properly ruining the day of one of my neighbours.
The growth in size is clear - the new car is 12cm taller, 30mm wider and has a 30mm-longer wheelbase, yet overall it is 14mm shorter, which makes it look neater as well as stronger - but it’s the little tucks and tweaks of design that have really improved the look. The rear-light cluster is worth mentioning again, as it's just so much nicer.
While the original GLA was simply a case of making an A Class on stilettos, its success has encouraged Benz to really pour some effort into its successor, and the result is clear. This thing is a real looker.
Few SUVs are as imposing as the X5 xDrive30d. Simply put, it commands attention on the road, or even from across the road. Or a mile away.
The sense of commanding presence starts at the front, where the first signs of its sports body kit are. As impressive as the trio of large air intakes is, it’s the engorged version of BMW’s signature kidney grille that gets people talking. It’s simply appropriately sized for a vehicle this big, if you ask me.
The adaptive LED headlights integrate hexagon-style daytime running lights, which look the business, while the LED foglights below also help to light the way.
Around the side, the X5 xDrive30d is also pretty slick, with our test vehicle’s optional bi-colour 22-inch alloy wheels ($3900) filling its wheelarches nicely, with blue brake callipers tucked behind. The ‘air curtains’ also look sporty alongside the high-gloss Shadow Line trim.
At the rear, the X5’s three-dimensional LED tail-lights look superb, combining with the flat tailgate to deliver a strong impression. Then there’s the chunky bumper, with dual exhaust tailpipes and a diffuser insert. Not bad at all.
Step inside the X5 xDrive30d and you’d be excused for thinking that you’re in the wrong BMW. Yes, it could very well be a body-double for the 7 Series luxury sedan. In fact, in many ways, it’s just as luxurious as BMW's flagship model.
Granted our test vehicle had optional Walknappa leather upholstery covering its upper dashboard and door shoulders ($2100) , but even without that it is still a seriously premium affair.
Vernasca leather upholstery is the X5 xDrive30d’s standard choice for seats, armrests and door inserts, while soft-touch materials are pretty much found everywhere else. Yep, even on the door bins.
The ambience is further heightened by the Anthracite headliner and ambient lighting, which makes things feel even sportier.
Speaking of which, while it might be a large SUV, the X5 xDrive30d still has a genuinely sporty side, as exhibited by its chunky steering wheel, supportive front seats and grippy sports pedals. They all make it feel that bit more special.
The X5 also has cutting-edge technology, highlighted by the pair of sharp 12.3-inch displays; one being the central touchscreen, the other a digital instrument cluster.
Both are powered by the now-familiar BMW OS 7.0 multimedia system, which was a stark departure from its predecessor in terms of layout and functionality. But that’s no bad thing, as it still raises the stakes, especially with its always-on voice control.
Users will also be stoked by this set-up’s seamless support for wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, with the former connecting with ease upon re-entry, although it does consistently dropout if the iPhone involved is placed in the cubby directly beneath the dash...
That said, the instrument cluster is fully digital, having abandoned the physical rings of its forbear, but it looks dim and still lacks the breadth of functionality that some rivals offer.
And let’s not forget the brilliant windshield-projected head-up display, which is large and crisp, giving you few reasons to look away from the road ahead.
The main goal of the GLA’s new, more SUV-like shape, in practicality terms, seems to have been to lift the driver even further off the ground, because the command-seating position is obviously a big selling point for someone who finds the A Class too ground-hugging.
So, while some of that growth in height has been used to increase head room to the point where I could easily wear Abraham Lincoln’s hat while driving, much of it has gone to making the driving position a full 10cm higher than in the previous GLA (it’s also 14cm higher than in an A Class).
Personally, the height of the seat drove me slightly spare, and every time I got in I tried to lower it, only to find it doesn’t go any lower, but, tellingly, my wife - who is not far off being an elf - loved it.
What I did like was the back seat, which is truly voluminous. Through clever packaging, Benz has managed to liberate no less than 12cm of extra legroom back there, and I could properly stretch out.
With its standard double-paned panoramic roof and huge windows (part of huge doors, which do come close to scraping on any gutter higher than a match box), it’s a very glassy interior indeed, and visibility is excellent.
There are two cupholders between the front seats, and there’s storage for big bottles in each door. Oddment storage is plentiful, although they could have more if they did away with the now redundant mouse pad and the so-called “arm rest” behind that, which feels more like a gear-shift lever they forgot to remove when they put the shifting functions up on a column stalk.
There’s no need for the track pad any more because the giant and truly very lovely 10.25-inch touch screen does everything via touch, and sits next to another screen the same size that acts as your dash readout, making the whole thing look like a particularly long iPad.
While other car companies, including Audi, which has long been the winner in any interior-design conversation, are still just jamming big screens on top of dashboards, Benz has turned its entire dash into a digital display, and it looks amazing, and futuristic. Like a concept car you can actually buy.
The overall feeling of quality and tech - particularly at night when it all lights up beautifully in a colour of your choosing - in this alluring interior is one of the main reasons buyers will flock to the new GLA.
The seats are not as sporty as some, but they’re comfortable enough.
The one letdown, however, which comes as a shock with all that space in the rear, is the boot, which is just 435 litres, compared to the Audi Q3’s far more practical 530 litres. It really is a surprise when you open the back and see so little there, and that really does lower the practicality mark.
Measuring 4922mm long (with a 2975mm wheelbase), 2004mm wide and 1745mm, the X5 xDrive30d is a large SUV in every sense of the term, so it’s no surprise that it does practicality very well.
The boot’s cargo capacity is generous, at 650L, but it can be expanded to a very helpful 1870L with the 40/20/40 split-fold rear bench stowed – an action that can be taken via the boot’s manual-release latches.
The split power-operated tailgate ensures that access to the wide and flat rear storage area couldn’t be any easier. And there are four tie-down points and a 12V power outlet on hand.
There are plenty of genuine in-cabin storage options, too, with both the glovebox and central bin on the larger side, while the front door bins can carry a stunning four regular bottles. And don’t worry; their rear counterparts can take three apiece.
Better yet, two cupholders are located at the front of the centre console, while the second row’s fold-down armrest has a pair of pop-out cupholders as well as a shallow tray with a lid.
The latter joins the small driver's side cubby and the two trays at the rear of the centre console as the most random storage spaces on hand, while map pockets are attached to the front seat backrests, which integrate USB-C ports.
Speaking of the front seats, sitting behind them, it becomes apparent how much space there is inside the X5 xDrive30d, with oodles of legroom available behind our 184cm driving position. We also have about an inch of headroom, even with the panoramic sunroof fitted.
What’s really impressive is how well the second row accommodates three adults abreast. There’s enough room on offer that a fully grown trio could go on a long journey with few complaints, partly thanks to the almost non-existent transmission tunnel.
Child seats are also easy to fit, thanks to the three top-tether and two ISOFIX anchorage points, as well as the generous aperture of the rear doors.
Connectivity-wise, there’s a wireless smartphone charger, a USB-A port and a 12V power outlet ahead of the aforementioned front cupholders, while a USB-C port is found in the central bin. Rear occupants also get a 12V power outlet below their central air vents.
Price and features
I find it hard to believe I’m saying this about a Benz, but at a starting price of $66,500, the GLA 250 4MATIC does seem like quite a lot of car for the money. This might be influenced by the fact that I know a couple who recently dropped more than $70K on the smaller A Class (they actually went shopping for a GLA, but then fell in love with the look of the little hatch).
There, are of course, always issues with the Germans when it comes to what you do and don’t get for your tempting entry price, and in the case of our test vehicle it would stick in my craw quite badly to pay $385 extra for its Polar White paint. Yes, white paint costs extra.
While the Titan Grey Pearl and Black Lugano Leather is nice, it’s only in the car as part of the $2838 AMG Exclusive Package. Throw in the Sports Package at $1915, which gets us the sexy 19-inch AMG alloys, and the Driving Assistance Package for $1531 worth of extra active safety, drop on a dollop of LCT at $1329 and the asking price for our urban SUV hits a less-enticing-sounding $74,498.
Your standard inclusions for the $66,500 are a very lovely panoramic electric sunroof, heated and electronically adjustable front seats, with memory function, lowered comfort suspension and sports-direct steering, plus the Off-Road Engineering Package, while the standard, non AMG wheels are also 19-inch alloys, presumably just less sexy ones.
And you don't have to pay extra for Apple CarPlay, which is nice.
Priced from $121,900 plus on-road costs, the xDrive30d slots between the xDrive25d ($104,900) and xDrive40i ($124,900) at the lower end of the X5 range.
Standard equipment in the X5 xDrive30d that hasn’t been mentioned yet includes dusk-sensing lights, rain-sensing windshield wipers, power-folding side mirrors with heating functionality, roof rails, keyless entry and a power-operated tailgate.
Inside you'll also find push-button start, satellite navigation with live traffic, digital radio, a 205W sound system with 10 speakers, power-adjustable front seats with heating and memory functionality, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and M-branded scuff plates.
In typical BMW fashion, our test vehicle was fitted with several options, including Mineral White metallic paintwork ($2000), bi-colour 22-inch alloy wheels ($3900) and Walknappa leather upholstery for the upper dashboard and door shoulders ($2100).
Rivals for the X5 xDrive30d include the Mercedes-Benz GLE300d ($107,100), Volvo XC90 D5 Momentum ($94,990) and Lexus RX450h Sports Luxury ($111,088), meaning it’s relatively expensive, although specification isn’t exactly like for like.
Engine & trans
The GLA 250 comes with 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine that makes a handy 165kW and 350Nm, which is sent to all four wheels using 4MATIC all-wheel drive. The claimed 0 to 100km/h time is 6.7 seconds.
Your silky smooth gearbox is an eight-speed, or 8G-DCT automatic, in Benz speak.
The engine feels powerful enough, without being exciting, and sounds pleasant enough, without sounding sporty - it's pretty much Goldilocks for an urban SUV.
As its name suggests, the X5 xDrive30d is motivated by the same 3.0-litre turbo-diesel inline six-cylinder engine used in other BMW models, and that’s a very good thing, because it’s one of my favourites.
In this form, it produces 195kW of power at 4000rpm and a very useful 620Nm of torque from 2000-2500rpm – perfect outputs for a large SUV.
Meanwhile, an eight-speed ZF torque-converter automatic transmission (with paddle-shifters) – another favourite – and BMW’s fully variable xDrive system are responsible for sending drive to all four wheels.
As a result, the 2110kg X5 xDrive30d can sprint from standstill to 100km/h in a hot-hatch-like 6.5 seconds, on the way to its top speed of 230km/h.
The X5 xDrive30d’s fuel consumption on the combined cycle test (ADR 81/02) is 7.2L/100km, while its carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are 189g/km. Both claims are strong for a large SUV.
In the real world, we averaged 7.9L/100km over 270km of driving that was slightly skewed towards highways over city roads, which is a very solid result for a vehicle of this size.
For reference, the X5 xDrive30d has a large, 80-litre fuel tank.
With such a high driving position, the worry is that you’re going to feel like you’re sitting on the new GLA rather than in it.
But the fact is that, once I became accustomed to the fact that I couldn’t get the seat as low as I wanted to, it all became comfortable enough, and I could get on with fully appreciating the ride quality.
While the GLA has a good, Germanic solidity to the way the interior is bolted together - the doors are almost too heavy, I fact, and can be tough for little people to close - it’s the way it sits on the road that really impresses.
The little Benz soaks up the bumps, particularly in Comfort mode, and provides the kind of ride and handling quality that you’d expect in a six-figure German car. Or a Benz of old, you might say.
Critics of A Classes past were heard to complain that they just didn’t ride as softly or richly as a Mercedes should, but the company has put things to rights with its smaller cars in recent years and you really feel like you’re getting the badge you paid for here.
Step out of the cruisy, snoozy Comfort setting into Sport, however, and the CLA feels out of its, well, comfort zone. It’s almost too toey for its own good, wanting to lurch around, holding each gear desperately and making noises that are merely loud rather than sexy.
Engine noise is a little intrusive whenever you try and accelerate fiercely in the GLA, in fact, but there is some handy pace there if you really need it.
Fast driving does feel out of character for the GLA 250 variant, however, and those who want that kind of thing should wait for the AMG-fettled version that will arrive in the next month or so, bringing 225kW and 400Nm.
As a cornering weapon, this car is more of a butter knife, smoothing its way around bends with minimal bodyroll. It’s an urban SUV, and it drives like one, albeit a very good one.
Typically, the steering is also light and easy to use rather than heavy and talkative.
Being the 4-MATIC variant, the GLA 250 also offers an Off-Road mode, which takes full advantage of its torque-on-demand all-wheel-drive system, but sadly our slightly brief introduction to the car didn’t provide us with the chance to hurl it down a scree-covered mountain side, nor to test out its version of hill-descent control.
When it comes to ride and handling, it would be easy to argue that the X5 xDrive30d’s combination is class-leading.
While its suspension (double-wishbone front and multi-link rear axles with adaptive dampers) has a sports tune, it stills rides comfortably, wafting over uneven surfaces with ease and quickly regaining composure over bumps. It all feels suitably luxurious.
However, the optional bi-colour 22-inch alloy wheels ($3900) fitted to our test vehicle often catch sharper edges and spoil the ride over poorer surfaces, so you should probably stick to the standard 20-inch rims.
Handling-wise, the X5 xDrive30d does naturally lean into corners during spirited driving when in its Comfort drive mode.
That being said, overall body control is relatively strong for a large SUV, and the Sport drive mode does go some way towards tightening things up, but the fact is, it’s always going to be hard to defy physics.
Meanwhile, the X5 xDrive30d’s electric power steering is not only speed-sensitive, but its weight is adjustable via the aforementioned drive modes.
In Comfort, this set up is well-weighted, with just the right amount of heft, however, change it to Sport and it becomes heavier, which might not be to everyone’s taste. Either way, it’s relatively direct and offers solid levels of feedback.
That said, the X5 xDrive30d’s sheer size is reflected by its 12.6m turning circle, which makes low-speed manoeuvres in tight spaces more challenging. The optional rear-wheel steering ($2250) can help with that, although it wasn’t fitted to our test vehicle.
In terms of straight-line performance, the X5 xDrive30d has a thick wad of maximum torque available early in the rev range, which means its engine’s pulling power is effortless all the way through to the mid-range, even if it can be a little spiky initially.
While peak power is relatively strong, you rarely need to approach the top end to make use of it, because this engine is all about those Newton-metres of torque.
Acceleration is therefore spritely, with the X5 hunkering down and charging off the line with intent when full throttle is applied.
A lot of this is performance is thanks to the transmission’s intuitive calibration and general responsiveness to spontaneous inputs.
Gear changes are quick and smooth, although on occasion they can be a little jerky when decelerating from low speeds to a standstill.
The five drive modes – Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport, Adaptive and Individual – allow the driver to alter engine and transmission settings while on the move, with Sport adding a noticeable edge, but Comfort is what you'll be using 99 per cent of the time.
The transmission’s Sport mode can be summoned at any time, with a flick of the gear selector leading to higher shift points that are complementary to spirited driving.
The GLA has not been ANCAP or Euro NCAP crash rated yet, but the first car got five stars from the Euro test and was never ANCAP tested. It’s safe to say they design their cars around being damn sure they get five stars.
You’ll also be getting no less than nine airbags - front, pelvis side and window bags for driver and front passenger, sidebags for the rear occupants and a knee bag for the driver.
In terms of active safety, the Active Brake Assist - which works up to 60km/h - is standard, as is Blind Spot Assist, with exit-warning function, which alerts the driver to approaching cyclists or vehicles when they’re about to open their door. Active Lane Keep Assist is also standard, as are the Active Bonnet, Traffic Sign Assist and Cross Wind Assist.
But you will have to stump up for the Driving Assistance Package to get things like Active Lane Change Assist, Active Emergency Braking Assist and Evasive Steering Assist.
The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) awarded the X5 xDrive30d its maximum five-star safety rating in 2018.
Advanced driver-assist systems in the X5 xDrive30d extend to autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, lane-keep and steering assist, adaptive cruise control with stop and go functionality, traffic-sign recognition, high-beam assist, driver-attention alert, blind-spot monitoring, cross-traffic alert, park and reversing assist, surround-view cameras, front and rear parking sensors, hill-descent control and tyre-pressure monitoring. Yep, there’s not much missing here.
Other standard safety equipment includes seven airbags (dual front, side and curtain plus driver’s knee), anti-skid brakes (ABS), brake assist and the usual electronic stability and traction-control systems.
Your GLA comes with a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, which is Japanese good, if not Korean good.
In terms of servicing, you can choose to purchase a Service Plan or pay as you go with capped-price servicing.
The costs for three annual services are $2050 for the Service Plan, or $2550 with the Capped Price Servicing (first is $550, second is $750, third $1250).
Service Plans can be bought in four or five-year lots, at $2950 and $3500 respectively.
As with all BMW models, the X5 xDrive30d comes with a three-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, which is two years behind the premium standard set by Mercedes-Benz, Volvo and Genesis. It also gets three years of roadside assistance.
The X5 xDrive30d’s service intervals are every 12 months of 15,000km, whichever comes first. Five-year/80,000km capped-price servicing plans start from $2250, or an average of $450 per visit, which is more than reasonable.