Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class VS BMW X5
- Modest steering feel
- So-so warranty
- Pricey servicing
- Aggressive styling
- Genuine practicality
- Ferocious performance
- Half-baked exhaust system
- Far from fuel-efficient
- Substandard warranty
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|
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|
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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
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.
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
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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).
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.