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
- Aggressive styling
- Genuine practicality
- Ferocious performance
- Half-baked exhaust system
- Far from fuel-efficient
- Substandard warranty
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.
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Way back in 2009, the X5 was the first SUV to get the go-fast treatment from BMW’s high-performance M division. At the time, it was a crazy thought, but in 2020, it’s easy to see why Munich went down the (then) road less travelled.
But just exactly how good is the X5 M Competition? We had the unenviable task of putting it to test to find out.
|Engine Type||4.4L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
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.
After spending a day with the BMW X5 M Competition, we can’t help but wonder if it’s the ultimate vehicle for families.
On one hand, it nails the practicality brief and is loaded with standard equipment, including the key advanced driver-assist systems. On the other, its performance in a straight line and around corners is otherworldly. Oh, and it looks sporty and feels luxurious, too.
That said, we could absolutely live with the high fuel bill if this was our daily driver, but there’s only one problem: does anyone have a spare $250,000?
Is the new BMW X5 M Competition the ultimate family vehicle? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
Note: CarsGuide attended this event as a guest of the manufacturer, with travel and meals provided.
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.
In our humble opinion, the X5 is one of the best-looking SUVs on the market today, so it’s no surprise the X5 M Competition is a knockout in its own right.
Up front, it cuts an imposing figure thanks to its version of BMW’s signature kidney grille, which has a double-slat insert and is finished in gloss-black like most of the exterior trim.
That said, it’s the front bumper that sucks you in with its large air dam and side air intakes, all of which have honeycomb inserts.
Even Laserlight headlights add a touch of menace thanks to their integrated dual-hockey-stick LED daytime running lights, which look plain angry.
Around the side, the X5 M Competition is a little more restrained, with the 21- (front) and 22-inch (rear) alloy wheels the obvious giveaway, while the more aggressive side mirrors and air breathers are a lesson in subtlety.
At the rear, the visual aggro is most apparent thanks to the sculpted bumper, which incorporates a chunky diffuser that plays host to the bi-modal exhaust system’s black chrome 100mm tailpipes. Utterly delicious, we say.
Inside, BMW M has put its best foot forward to make the X5 M Competition feel that little bit more special than the X5.
The eyes are immediately drawn to the multifunction front sports seats, which manage to be super supportive and super comfortable at the same time.
Like the middle and lower dashboard, door inserts, armrests, knee rests and door bins, they’re covered in supple Merino leather (Silverstone grey and black in our test vehicle), which even has honeycomb insert stitching in some sections.
Black Walknappa leather trims the upper dashboard, door shoulders, steering wheel and gear selector, with the latter two unique to the X5 M Competition, alongside the red start-stop button and M-specific seat belts, scuff plates and floor mats.
A black Alcantara headliner adds some more luxury to the equation, while our test vehicle’s gloss carbon-fibre trim ensures there’s some sport in it, too.
Technology-wise, there’s the 12.3-inch touchscreen, which is powered by the now-familiar BMW Operating System 7.0, although this version gets M-specific content. That said, it still has gesture and always-on voice control, but both fall short of the rotary dial’s greatness.
The 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and windshield-projected head-up display get the biggest M makeovers, though, with the new M Mode giving them a focused theme (and turning off the advanced driver-assist system) for spirited driving.
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 4938mm long, 2015mm wide and 1747mm tall, the X5 M Competition is well and truly a large SUV, and that means good things for its practicality.
Cargo capacity is generous, at 650L, but can be increased to a truly massive 1870L with the 40/60 split-fold rear bench stowed – an action that can be done via the boot’s manual-release latches.
The boot has six tie-down points for securing loads, as well as two bag hooks and two side storage nets. There’s also a 12V power outlet, but the best part is the power-operated parcel shelf, which stows itself underfloor when not in use. Awesome!
There are plenty of genuine in-cabin storage options, too, with both the glovebox and central bin of the large variety, while the front door bins can carry an astounding four regular bottles. The rear door bins can fit three apiece.
The two cupholders at the front of the centre console actually have heating and cooling, which is pretty hot/cool (bad pun intended).
The second row’s fold-down armrest has a pair of basic cupholder as well as a shallow tray, which joins the small driver-side cubby as the two most random storage spaces on hand, while map pockets are attached to front seat backrests.
Given the size on offer, it’s no surprise the second row is nice place to sit in. Behind my 184cm driving position, more than four inches of legroom is on offer, while headroom is also generous, at two inches, despite the standard fitment of a panoramic sunroof.
Better yet, the transmission tunnel is quite short, meaning there’s plenty of footwell to go around, which will come in handy given the rear bench can accommodate three adults abreast with relative ease.
Child seats are also a cinch thanks to the outboard seats’ top-tether and ISOFIX anchorage points – and 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 only get access to a 12V power outlet, which is below their central air vents. Yep, the kids won’t be happy with the lack of USB ports to recharge their devices with.
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 $209,900 plus on-road costs, the new X5 M Competition is $21,171 dearer than its non-Competition predecessor and commands a $58,000 premium over the M50i, although buyers are compensated for the extra spend.
Standard equipment not already mentioned includes dusk-sensing lights, rain-sensing wipers, auto-folding side mirrors with heating, soft-close doors, roof rails, a hands-free power-operated split tailgate and LED tail-lights.
Inside, satellite navigation with live traffic, wireless Apple CarPlay support, DAB+ digital radio, a 16-speaker Harman/Kardon surround-sound system, keyless entry and start, power-adjustable front seats with heating, a power-adjustable steering column, four-zone climate control, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and ambient lighting feature.
Our test vehicle is finished in stunning Marina Bay Blue metallic paintwork, which is one of several no-cost options.
Speaking of which, the options list is surprisingly short, but a highlight is the $7500 Indulgence Package, which bundles in some features that should be standard at this price point, such as cooled front seats, a heated steering and heated rear seats.
The X5 M Competition’s main rivals are the wagon versions of the yet-to-be-released second-generation Mercedes-AMG GLE63 S and Porsche Cayenne Turbo ($241,600), which has been kicking around for a couple of years now.
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.
The X5 M Competition is motivated by a monstrous 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 petrol engine, which punches out a formidable 460kW of power at 6000rpm and 750Nm of torque from 1800-5800rpm, with the former up 37kW, while the latter is unchanged.
Once again, a near-perfect eight-speed torque-converter automatic transmission (with paddle-shifters) is responsible for swapping gears here.
This combination helps the X5 M Competition sprint from a standstill to 100km/h in a supercar-scaring 3.8 seconds. And, no, that is not a typo.
The X5 M Competition’s fuel consumption on the combined-cycle test (ADR 81/02) is 12.5 litres per kilometre, while its claimed carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are 286 grams per kilometre. Both are a little keen considering the level of performance on offer.
In reality, though, the X5 M Competition really likes a drink – a very large drink. We averaged 18.2L/100km over 330km of driving, which predominately took place on country roads, while the rest was an even split between highways city and traffic.
Yes, there was plenty of spirited driving, so a more balanced real-world figure would be lower – but not by much. Indeed, this is a vehicle you buy if you don’t care how much it costs to fill up.
Speaking of which, the X5 M Competition’s 86L fuel tank takes 95RON petrol at minimum.
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.
Surprise, surprise: the X5 M Competition is an absolute hoot in a straight line – and around corners.
The level of performance on tap is unhinged, with the 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 serving up body shot after body shot.
Off the line, the X5 M Competition hunkers down and then delivers its 750Nm just above idle (1800rpm), holding it all the way to 5800rpm. That’s a staggeringly wide torque band, one that ensures it will relentlessly pull in any gear.
And just as the torque curve springs back into action, peak power arrives at 6000rpm and reminds you that you’re dealing with 460kW underfoot. Make no mistake, this is a truly epic engine.
A lot of the credit has to go to the eight-speed torque-converter automatic, though, as it is almost flawless. We particularly like its responsiveness – it literally kicks down a ratio or two before you think you’ve pushed the accelerator pedal hard enough.
That said, it often has a hard time recognising when the fun is over, holding onto lower gears for longer than required before eventually upshifting.
And while it’s smooth, it is still quick in operation. Just like the throttle, the transmission has three settings, which progressively up the ante. For the latter, the softest setting is too soft, while the medium setting is just right, and the hardest setting is best left for the track.
Needless to say, we adore this combination, but one word of warning: the bi-modal sports exhaust system doesn’t serve up enough aural pleasure. There’s no mistaking this for anything but a booming V8 soundtrack, but characterful crackles and pops are absent.
Now, put your hand up if you assume every M model has a bone-crunching ride… Yes, us too… But the X5 M Competition is surprisingly the exception to the rule.
It comes with Adaptive M Suspension Professional, which consists of double-wishbone front and five-link rear axles with adaptive dampers, which mean there’s bandwidth to play with, although BMW M usually targets sportiness over comfort, even for their softest setting.
Not this time, though, as the X5 M Competition rides a lot better than expected, no matter the setting. Simply put, it’s compliant when other M models are not.
Does this mean it deals with all road imperfections with aplomb? Of course not, but it’s more than liveable. Potholes aren’t nice (but when are they?), and its firmer tune makes speed bumps more challenging to deal with as a passenger, but they’re not deal-breakers.
Despite the apparent focus on in-cabin comfort, the X5 M Competition is still an absolute beast through the bends.
When you’ve got a 2310kg kerb weight, physics are well and truly working against you, but BMW M evidently said, ‘To hell with the science’.
The results are mind-boggling. The X5 M Competition has no right being this agile. In the twisty stuff, it feels like a much smaller car to drive.
Yes, there’s still body roll to contend with in the corners, but most of it is cancelled out by the stunning active anti-roll bars, which do their best to keep things balanced. Handling is also improved by the chassis’ increased torsional stiffness.
Of course, the X5 M Competition’s electric power steering also deserves a shout-out here. It’s super direct, so much so that it’s almost twitchy, but we really love how sporty it feels. Feedback through the wheel is also excellent, which makes cornering even easier.
As always, the steering has two settings, with Comfort well-weighted, while Sport adds a little too much heft for most drivers.
This set-up goes a step further with all-wheel steering, which adds a lot of the agility. It sees the rear wheels turn in the opposite direction to their front counterparts at low speed to improve manoeuvrability, and in the same direction at high speed to optimise stability.
And, of course, the rear-biased M xDrive all-wheel-drive system provides prodigious grip alongside the Active M Differential, which makes the rear axle a better performer when powering out of corners with earnest.
As we found out on some very icy country roads, the electronics let the driver get away with just enough fun (or terror) before stepping in and keep things on track. M xDrive also has a looser Sport setting, but needless to say, we didn’t explore due to the prevailing conditions.
Given the outputs on hand, the X5 M Competition comes with an M Compound Brake system that consists of massive 395mm front and 380mm brakes discs with six- and single-piston callipers respectively.
Braking performance is strong – and it needs to be – but of greater interest is this set-up’s two pedal-feel options: Comfort and Sport. The former is relatively soft from the get-go, while the latter gives plenty of initial resistance, which is right up our alley.
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.
ANCAP awarded the diesel versions of the X5 a maximum five-star safety rating in 2018. As such, the petrol X5 M Competition is currently unrated.
Advanced driver-assist systems impressively extend to autonomous emergency braking, lane-keep and steering assist, blind-spot monitoring, front and rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control with stop and go functionality, speed-limit recognition, high-beam assist, driver attention alert, tyre pressure and temperature monitoring, hill-start assist, hill-descent control, park assist, surround-view cameras, front and rear parking sensors, among others. Yep, there’s not much missing here…
Other standard safety equipment includes seven airbags (dual front, side and curtain plus driver’s knee), the usual electronic stability and traction control systems, anti-lock brakes (ABS) and brake assist (BA), among others.
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.
Like all BMW models, the X5 M Competition has a three-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, which is well behind the five-year standard set by Mercedes-Benz and Genesis in the premium segment.
That said, the X5 M Competition also comes with three years of roadside assistance.
And its service intervals are every 12 months/15,000km, whichever comes first. Several capped-price servicing plans are available, with the regular five-year/80,000km version costing $4134, which, while expensive, is not surprising at this price point.