Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class VS Audi SQ5
- Modest steering feel
- So-so warranty
- Pricey servicing
- Great chassis
- Loaded with tech
- Petrol engine is smooth and fast
- Could look a bit more exciting
- Now knocking on $100k
- Warranty package starting to look short
If you’re in the market for a full-size, seven-seat, luxury SUV you’re obviously living life large. Big family, lots of friends, dogs and cats, and heaps of activity - horses, boats, camping?
You’re aiming at a six-figure bullseye between $130,000 and around $150,000. On a three-year novated lease, somewhere around three grand a month.
Mercedes-Benz Australia invited us to experience the car on a launch drive across city, suburban and rural roads.
|Engine Type||3.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Hybrid with Premium Unleaded|
Audi's SQ5 is one of those marvellous cars that kind of came out of nowhere and instantly defined a genre. Technically, it probably shouldn't have existed. And for a company that is pretty much straight down the line, the decision to launch it as a diesel seemed extra odd. Not that we minded, of course.
The diesel engine was a masterstroke; André the Giant brawny, and with some clever engineering to make it sound like it actually wasn't an oil-burner. But it wasn't just a straight-line screamer - the SQ5 could corner, and it was tremendous fun while doing so.
So this second-generation car had a lot to live up to. But then - heresy of heresies - we found out that, for the moment at least, the SQ5 would be coming with a petrol engine. Without that Herculean torque figure, it's also slightly slower to the 100km/h benchmark.
So has Audi ended our love affair (by that I mean the one between the SQ5 and me)?
|Engine Type||3.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
It's no hot hatch, but it's fast, stylish and plenty enough fun to be considered the ultimate family all-rounder. Unless your kids are freakishly tall or you need to regularly carry wardrobes, it's a great family wagon that can easily deal with the day-to-day stuff, with a comfortable ride and plenty of space.
Some families, like mine, like some genuine performance with their practicality, and the SQ5 is all the car you'll ever need. It may not be the diesel, it may not have that lovely gravelly silliness, but it still looks and feels great, and is full of some of the most advanced tech in a fast SUV today.
Most important, though, it's just as much fun as it ever was.
Is the SQ5 still on your list without the diesel? Or are fast SUVs the work of the devil?
As mentioned, the GLS is big; a step up from the already substantial model it replaces. Built with the US market in mind, in fact it’s produced in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, it’s more than five metres long, close to two metres wide, and over 1.8m tall. And there’s more than three metres between the axles, a 60mm wheelbase increase over the previous model.
And despite the size of the canvas, the Benz design team has managed to make the GLS look like a modern Merc. Signature elements include obvious ones like the slatted grille with a couple of three-pointed stars on the nose.
But there’s also, the carefully chiselled twin ‘power dome’ bonnet, scowling LED headlights and vents to aid front brake cooling and smooth aero performance around the front of the car.
The big beast’s off-road intent is highlighted by extensions around the wheelarches, with big optional 22-inch rims sitting underneath. The fact they look right-sized for the car speaks volumes about its scale.
The racy AMG Line package is standard, and a recess and pronounced character line, tightening the lower waistline is a familiar Merc treatment, plus alloy roof rails toughen the look while dialling up practicality.
The rear is relatively simple, borderline generic, with tapered tail-lights offering the only strong whiff of design personality. But believe it or not, thanks to careful detail sculpting of the body, and smoothing underneath the car it boasts a drag figure of Cd 0.32. Outstanding aero performance for a large SUV.
The driver and front passenger are presented with a sweeping dashboard dominated by twin 12.3-inch digital screens, one primarily covering the instruments, and the central screen managing the MBUX media system, including audio, nav, phone integration, car set-up, and more, plus ‘Hey Mercedes’ voice control.
The overall feel is simple, and restrained, yet massively confident, with a subtle colour palette, large squared-off elements defined by brushed metal finishes, and an obvious, intense attention to detail, from the haptic controls to the beautifully finished, multi-function steering wheel.
And the standard Burmester audio system includes a two-way in-car communication function that subtly amplifies the driver and front passenger’s voices for those in the third row, and vice versa. Sheer genius.
The new Q5 is the usual studied restraint from Ingolstadt. No, it's not a striking piece of design, and some find it hard to tell the new car apart from the old one. Move up to the SQ5 and again it's a bit of a sleeper. The 21-inch wheels look brilliant, and the deeper bumpers and skirts, along with the lower ride height, add a bit of aggression, too.
Inside, the Nappa leather is very nice, especially with the detailed stitching and diamond quilting. There's more space in here than there was before, so while still cosy it doesn't feel tight. As with the rest of the Audi range, the new interior lifts the best bits of the A4, which thankfully did not include the weird pin-stripe detail on the console trim. It has gone the only way it should - out.
Space is obviously a critical factor here, and no surprise there’s copious amounts of it inside the GLS.
Front seat passengers enjoy plenty of breathing room, without feeling remote from one another, and there’s lots of storage in the shape of a large lidded box/armrest between the seats, a decent glove box, two big cupholders and jumbo door pockets with room for large bottles.
There’s one data-enabled USB port in the front, two charge-ports in the second row, and four in the third row. Shouldn’t be any complaints about powering mobiles, tablets or games.
The second row feels every millimetre the SUV limo. Simply getting in and out is made easier because an auto lowering function drops the car 25mm when one of the doors is opened.
I was able to sit behind the driver’s seat set for my 183cm position with heaps of head and legroom on offer. And there’s an extra 10cm of electrically adjustable travel to play with if those in the third row agree.
The fold-down centre armrest features a lidded storage tray and twin pop-out cupholders. There are netted pockets on the front seatbacks, and again, the door bins are big enough for large drink bottles.
Three adults across the rear is a breeze, there’s climate control ventilation, and a huge glass sunroof is standard. Rather than asking ‘Are we there yet?’ the kids will be disappointed when you arrive!
Then there’s what the Cleary family refers to as ‘the way back seat.’ A pair of third row seats for the lucky kids that get to inhabit their own little world. Getting in and out is relatively civilised thanks to electric slide and tilt for the second row seats, and space is generous. I could sit comfortably, so the kids will be all smiles.
With all seats upright cargo capacity is enough for a seven-person day trip (355L VDA). Press the button to fold the 50/50 split-fold third row down and your options expand substantially (890L). And with 40/20/40 split-folding second row lowered, transportation of a full, three-ring circus is on the cards (2400L). Overall, more space than the arch enemy BMW X7.
Plus, the ability to lower the car 50mm thanks to the standard air suspension makes life even easier. And one button lowers the second and third rows at the same time.
The spare is a collapsible space-saver, and towing capacity for a braked trailer is 3500kg, with a tow ball weight of up to 140kg. The ESP system also features a trailer stabilisation function that counters oscillation with “braking intervention.”
As before, the SQ5 is comfortable but cosy. Front-seat passengers are, of course, perfectly fine, and rear-seat dwellers have reasonable head and leg room - our six-foot-two teenager was happy enough back there. Rear-seat passengers can also choose their own climate-control temperature.
Two cupholders are provided front and rear, for a total of four, and the doors each have pockets with bottle holders.
Based as it is on the Q5, boot space is up over the old model by 10 litres, meaning between 550 and 610 litres when the rear seats are in place, and then 1550 litres with the seats folded. Like its cousin the Tiguan, the rear seats slide forward and back.
Price and features
Aside from the comprehensive suite of safety tech, covered in the Safety section below, the GLS equipment list includes, 21-inch alloy rims, adaptive high beam assist, air suspension, alloy roof rails, AMG body kit, a huge panoramic sliding glass sunroof, privacy glass from the B-pillar back, auto tailgate, keyless entry and start, rain-sensing wipers, cruise control, LED headlights, and power closing doors.
The power closing doors are a big plus for parents not wanting to disturb kids nodding off in the car, with the soft-touch function drawing the door in for the last few millimetres to an almost silent close.
Inside there’s ambient lighting (64 colours), strategically placed open pore oak wood trim, 13-speaker/590-watt Burmester surround sound audio, electric folding second and third row seats, a head-up display, ‘Mercedes-Benz’ branded illuminated sills, leather seat upholstery (‘Artico’ faux leather on the dash and doors), multi-adjustable electric seats in the front and second row (memory in the front), electrically adjustable steering column, leather-trimmed multi-function steering wheel, and five-zone climate control.
The multi-media system is spectacular, incorporating the twin 12.3-inch digital screens, the central media unit managing nav, digital radio, mobile device connectivity, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, plus vehicle tracking. There are also remote vehicle status functions (door locking, valet parking, etc), global search (Amazon Alexa, Google Home, Yelp, and Trip Advisor), and a wireless device charging pad.
The basket of goodies can hold its head high in this part of the market, so the value equation stacks up well.
One factoid I really like telling people is that the SQ5 was, for quite some time, the biggest-selling single Q5 model in the country, despite costing upwards of $90,000 on the road.
This new car weighs in at $99,611. Standard are 21-inch alloys, three-zone climate control, a 10-speaker stereo, ambient interior lighting, a comprehensive safety package, reversing camera, around-view cameras, front and rear parking sensors, auto park, keyless entry and start, nappa leather interior, active cruise control, electric heated front seats, sat nav, auto LED headlights, auto wipers, an electric (foot-wavey) tailgate, a wireless hotspot, Audi's 'Virtual Cockpit' digital dash and a space-saver spare.
The media system is Audi's MMI system, which is displayed on the 8.0-inch screen perched on the dash. Controlled by a rotary dial or a touchpad just in front of the dial, it's also got Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard. The sound is good and it's even better if you go for the $5600 'Technik package', which adds a 19-speaker Bang & Olufsen system, head-up display and the brilliant Matrix LED headlights, all of which we had on our test car. While $5600 isn't messing about, it's a fair bit of stuff, especially when you consider the Matrix LEDs alone cost half of that on some Audis.
Engine & trans
There are two engines on offer. The 3.0-litre (M256) in-line six-cylinder turbo-petrol GLS 450 4Matic, and the 2.9-litre (OM656) in-line six-cylinder turbo-diesel GLS 400 d 4Matic.
The all-alloy, twin-scroll single-turbo petrol engine delivers peak power of 270kW from 5500-6100rpm, and maximum torque of 500Nm across a broad plateau from 1600-4500rpm. It also features a 48-volt electrical system driving the ‘EQ Boost’ set-up, able to deliver an extra 16kW/250Nm for short periods. The integrated starter-generator also enables energy recuperation.
Although the all-alloy, twin-turbo diesel features variable valve lift it gives some ground on power, offering up 243kW between 3600-4000rpm, but torque is a solid whack, with 700Nm on tap from 1200-3000rpm. Worth noting, that to minimise emissions this engine features a “selective catalytic reduction converter” in the exhaust, which brings with it the use of an ‘AdBlue’ reducing agent. The separate AdBlue tank has a capacity of 31.6 litres.
The nine-speed auto transmission is the same in both versions, although the diesel has a slightly lower final drive ratio.
The two-tonne-plus (tare) SQ5 streaks from0-100km/h in 5.4 seconds, with power reaching the road via Audi's Quattro system with a mechanical centre diff. Torque is generally apportioned 40/60 front to rear, but can be 85/15 either way when needed. The eight-speed ZF continues on and is, as ever, brilliant.
Claimed fuel economy for the combined (ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban) cycle for the GLS 450 is 9.2L/100km, the more frugal GLS 400 d trimming that to 7.7L/100km. The petrol 450 emits 210g/km of CO2 in the process, the diesel 400d dropping that slightly to 202g/km.
Stop-start is standard, you’re looking at premium unleaded for the 450 GLS, and you’ll need 90 litres of dinosaur juice to full the tank on both models.
Merc claims the GLS 450 will sprint from 0-100km/h in 6.2sec, and the 400 d in 6.3sec. Not hanging around for a 2.5 tonne mothership. But the standout is the 400 d’s torque. All 700Nm of it available from just 1200rpm to 3000rpm; right in the mid-range sweet spot.
The nine-speed auto transmission is smooth yet responsive, with paddles on the wheel for manual shifts when you want to pick the ratio. The combination of effortless grunt and the nine-speeder keeping things on the boil is an impressive one.
Suspension is by double wishbones at the front and multi-links at the rear, and while you can feel the weight in cornering, the standard Airmatic air suspension (which does away with steel springs) is superb in terms of ride comfort and body control.
We took a deep breath and pushed enthusiastically through a series of sweeping corners and the fat (285/45 fr - 325/40 rr) Continental ‘PremiumContact 6’ rubber wrapped around our car’s (optional) 22-inch rims gripped hard.
The ‘4Matic’ all-wheel drive system also seamlessly shuffles torque between the front and rear axles (theoretically up to 100 per cent in each direction).
Merc has put extra focus on body rigidity, the tuning of engine and suspension mounts, and sound absorption, and it shows. The GLS 400 d is beautifully refined on the highway. A neat touch is the car automatically lowering 15mm at motorway speeds or when ‘Sport’ mode is selected.
Steering is electromechanically assisted, and Merc says the front suspension geometry has been revised to minimise vibration through the wheel. And yes, feedback is minimal, but unfortunately so is road feel with only a general connection between your hands on the wheel and the front tyres on the bitumen.
When you’re steering a large beast like this, often with something substantial hitched to the back, you want to know braking performance is up to the task, and the GLS’s big ventilated discs all around deliver reassuringly strong stopping power, with nice, progressive pedal feel to boot.
The seats are adjustable six ways to Sunday, but beyond that they’re comfortable and supportive, even over long stints behind the wheel.
We stayed on the bitumen, because, let’s face it, that’s where this car will spend 99.9 per cent of its time, with the exceptions of the boat ramp, a ski weekend or pony club.
For those special occasions the optional ‘Off-road engineering package’ adds a low-range transfer case, inter-axle locking, hill descent control, and under body armour for more serious work.
The old SQ5 wasn't perfect, by any stretch, but goodness gracious was it a barrel of laughs. No car as heavy or as high-riding as the SQ5 had any right to be so much fun, but somehow it was, without the compromise of a super-hard ride or a din from fat tyres.
The numbers are a bit of a compromise; weight is down by around 130kg, but you're also missing 200Nm compared to the old car. The colossal torque figure was a big part of that car's appeal, and I did miss it. However, once I'd got over that, I found something just as fun underneath.
As with the rest of the Q5 range, it's quieter on the cruise and the cabin is once again the best in the business, borrowing much from the A4. With adaptive dampers set in comfort mode, it's comfortable and compliant and road noise is kept to a minimum. I'm not a huge fan of the light steering in this mode, but it's set to be low stress rather than man-handled.
Step up into Dynamic and everything beefs up; the ride stiffens and the car actually drops to lower the centre of gravity. The exhaust opens up and starts popping and farting, too, while the steering weights up and the throttle drops any easygoing slack.
Throwing it down through the bends of some NSW Blue Mountains back roads, this car sparkles. It's tons of fun (literally), with the security of the of the Quattro drivetrain underneath. The exhaust isn't quite enough to make me want to wind the windows down on a cold morning, but it's amusing enough inside given the stereo plumps up the racket a bit.
Despite being down on torque, it still feels very strong in the mid-range. It doesn't quite have the organ-squishing punch of the diesel, but the smoother, more linear delivery feels more conventional, particularly with most of the power heading to the rear wheels.
At the time of this launch drive the GLS hadn’t been safety assessed by ANCAP, but you could make a small wager, like every penny you have to your name, that it will score a maximum five stars.
The expected active features are there, including ABS, ASR, and ESP, with additional tech including ‘Active Blind-Spot Assist’, ‘Active Brake Assist' (Merc-speak for AEB), active lane keeping and lane change assist, ‘Adaptive Brake’, ‘Attention Assist’, ‘Evasive Steering Assist’, ‘Parktronic’ (active parking assist with 360-degre camera), rear cross-traffic alert, traffic sign assist, and a tyre pressure warning system.
Then, if all that isn’t enough to avoid an impact the GLS is equipped with nine airbags (front and pelvis side for driver and front passenger, side for outer rear seat occupants, full-length curtain, and a driver’s knee bag), an active bonnet to minimise pedestrian injuries, and the ‘Pre-Safe Plus’ (flashes rear hazards to warn drivers closing too quickly from behind, tightening the belts at the same time, and locking the brakes if the GLS is stationary with a rear impact imminent).
The SQ5's five-star ANCAP rating (May 2017) comes courtesy of eight airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, exit warning system (which lets you know if you're about to clobber a cyclist, pedestrian or approaching car), cross-traffic assist (stops you turning across approaching traffic), blind-spot warning, forward collision warning (up to 250km/h), around-view camera and front and rear AEB.
There are three top-tether restraints and two ISOFIX points.
The Mercedes-Benz range is covered by a three year/unlimited km warranty, which, like Audi and BMW continues to lag behind the mainstream market where the majority of players are now at five years/unlimited km, with some at seven years.
On the upside, Mercedes-Benz ‘Road Care’ roadside assistance is included in the deal for three years.
Service is scheduled for 12 months/25,000km (whichever comes first) with pricing available on an 'Up-front' or 'Pay-as-you-go' basis.
As a guide, service pricing for the outgoing GLS is set at $2600 per service (up-front) and $3250 (PAYG), a saving of $650 a pop. Fourth and fifth services are also available for pre-purchase ($3550 and $4900).
Audi offers its three year/unlimited kilometre warranty, which is competitive in the segment, but much cheaper cars (and Lexus, for that matter) offer more. You can pay for a further four years and up to 160,000km on top of the standard warrant. Roadside assistance is yours for the duration of the standard warranty.
Servicing comes every twelve months or 15,000km, and you can purchase a plan to cover the first three years or 45,000km, whichever comes first, for $1870 - which is $280 more than any of the other Q5s.