Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class VS BMW X6
- Modest steering feel
- So-so warranty
- Pricey servicing
- Bonkers performance
- High-end interior
- (Somewhat) affordable pricetag
- Questionable rear styling
- Limited rear-seat headroom
- Firm suspension
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|
The BMW X6 has long been the ugly duckling of the Bavarian brand’s SUV family, often cited as the genesis of the swoopy, coupe crossover trend.
But look back at its 12-year history, and it's clear that the X6 has resonated with buyers around the world with more than 400,000 units produced.
Now in its third-generation form, the X6 has shed the awkward and even sometimes dorky image of its progenitor and evolved into a much more mature and confident model.
Crowing the new line-up, however, is the flagship M Competition grade that shoehorns a sporty V8 petrol engine to match the bulky and brawny exterior.
Is this a recipe for success, or should BMW go back to the drawing board?
|Engine Type||4.4L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
SUVs are so hot right now, and BMW’s X6 M Competition is the hottest high-riding coupe you can get until its German rivals bring in their high-powered equivalents.
In a lot of ways, the X6 M Competition is one of the most BMW-iest models available today; it's covered head to toe in luxurious features, its performance puts most sports cars to shame and it oozes a don’t-care-what-you-think swagger.
What more could you want from a modern BMW? Maybe high safety standards and a practical interior space? The X6 M Competition has those too.
Sure, you could go for the slightly cheaper and more conventionally styled X5 M Competition, but if you are spending more than $200,000 on a performance SUV, don’t you want to stand out from the crowd? And stand out the X6 M Competition certainly does.
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.
The X6 has long been a love-it-or-hate-it model for BMW, and in it’s latest third-generation form, the styling is as polarising as ever.
Maybe it’s the fact that more coupe-like SUVs have hit the market since the original X6's debut, or that we’ve had time to get used to the idea, but the latest X6 looks … good?
OK, we’re as surprised as anyone, but, especially in this top-spec M Competition form, the athletic proportions, heavily sloped roofline and chunky bodywork don’t look all that awkward or unattractive.
What also helps set the X6 M Competition apart, is its sports body kit, fender vents, aerodynamically optimised side mirrors, arch-filling wheels and black highlights befitting the performance-honed flagship variant.
It certainly stands out from the usual SUV crowd and, with a volcano of an engine tucked underneath the sculpted bonnet, the X6 M Competition is not a case of all show and no go.
You could argue that the X6 M Competition’s exterior styling is a bit ostentatious and over the top, but what would you expect a large, luxury, performance SUV to look like?
Step inside the cabin and the interior balances the sporty and luxury elements almost perfectly.
The front sports seats are clad in soft Marino leather with hexagonal quilting, carbon-fibre detailing is peppered throughout the dashboard and centre console, and small touches, such as the red start button and M toggles, elevate the X6 M competition from its more standard siblings.
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 4941mm long, 2019mm wide, 1692mm tall and with a 2972mm wheelbase, the X6 M Competition offers plenty of interior space occupants.
There is front-seat space aplenty for passengers, despite sports seats that hug and support in all the right places, while the rear seats are also surprisingly functional.
Even with my six-foot-tall frame positioned behind the driver’s seat set for my height, I still comfortably fit and had enough leg- and shoulder-room.
The sloping roofline however, doesn’t help the headroom situation with my head just grazing the Alcantara headliner.
It’s a different story for the middle seat though, which will only fit children due to the raised floor and seating positioning.
All in all, I'm actually surprised at how usable the rear-seat room is in the X6 M Competition – it's definitely more practical than the stylish exterior would suggest.
Storage options abound throughout the cabin as well, with a huge storage bin found in each door that is easily able to accommodate large drink bottles.
The central storage bin is also deep and cavernous, but it can be a bit difficult to retrieve your phone from the wireless phone charger there as it's tucked away under the shutter.
The 580-litre boot can expand to 1539L with the rear seats folded.
While that figure doesn’t quite match the 650L/1870L figure of its X5 twin, it's still more than enough space to take care of the weekly shopping and family stroller.
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.
The BMW X6 Competition wears a $213,900 before on-road costs pricetag, just $4000 more expensive than its more conventionally styled X5 twin.
While a $200,000-plus pricetag is certainly not chump change, things start to look a bit better when stacking up the X6 M Competition against other models that share the same engine and platform.
Also, consider that the X6 is an SUV, making it more appealing to those looking for a higher ride height and more practical storage options.
As standard, the X6 M Compettition is fitted with four-zone climate control, soft-close doors, automatic tailgate, electric front seat adjustment, heated front seats, Harman Kardon sound system, panoramic glass sunroof, adjustable exhaust, keyless entry and push-button start.
For the instrument panel, BMW has fitted its 12.3-inch screen, while the multimedia system is a 12.3-inch touchscreen unit with support for Apple CarPlay, gesture controls, digital radio and wireless smartphone charging.
However, it’s the attention to detail that we appreciate in a luxury SUV like this.
Take, for example, the spare tyre, which is stored under the floor of the boot. In any other car where this happens, you would just have to lift up the floor and then struggle to take the tyre out as you fight to prop up the floor. Not in the X6 – the floor panel has a gas strut to keep it from dropping when it's lifted. Clever!
The front cupholders are also fitted with heating and cooling functionality, both of which have two settings.
Befitting an M model, the X6 M Competition also scores an active differential, sports exhaust, adaptive suspension, uprated brakes to go with its potent engine.
Of note, there is no cooling option for the seats and the steering wheel misses out on a heating element.
However, the metallic paintwork and carbon-fibre interior flourishes as seen on our test car are no-cost options.
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.
Drive is sent to the road via a rear-biased xDrive all-wheel-drive system, which enables a zero-to-100km/h acceleration time of 3.8 seconds. The X6 tips the scales at 2295kg, so this level of acceleration almost defies the laws of physics.
The engine is shared with the X5 M Competition, M5 Competition and M8 Competition.
The X6 M Competition also outpowers its Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S Coupe rival by 30kW, though the Affalaterbach SUV produces 10Nm more torque.
However, it is important to note that the current Mercedes uses the older 5.5-litre twin-turbo V8 engine, and is due to be replaced with a new GLE 63 S model that switches to AMG’s ubiquitous 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 for 450kW/850Nm.
Audi’s RS Q8 is also incoming later this year, and packs a 441kW/800Nm punch thanks to a 4.0-litre twin-turbo petrol V8.
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.
Official fuel consumption figures in the X6 M Competition are pegged at 12.5 litres per 100km, however, we managed 14.6L/100km in a morning drive covering almost 200km.
No doubt the hefty weight and big petrol V8 engine contribute to the higher fuel bill, but the start/stop engine technology helps keep the figure down.
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.
With such a large footprint, you just don’t expect the X6 M Competition to drive as well as it does, but it’s great to have your expectations checked every now and again.
The seating position is spot-on thanks to heaps of adjustability in the driver’s chair and the steering wheel, while visibility (even out the small rear window) is excellent.
All the controls fall easily in hand, and if you just left the X6 to its own devices, the sporty elements almost fade away into the background.
Dive into the drive settings, however, and you will notice Sport and Sport Plus options for the engine and chassis, while the steering, brake and M xDrive settings can also be dialled up a notch.
There isn’t a ‘set-and-forget’ drive mode switch though, as each of the aforementioned elements can be adjusted individually to dial in the exact response you want from the car.
Even the transmission has its own independent setting, with shifts in manual or automatic mode able to be tweaked to three levels of intensity each, while the exhaust also has an option for loud or less loud.
We love the flexibility this affords, and opens up the possibility of having the engine on full attack mode while the suspension and transmission are on the comfort settings, but it does require some time sitting in the driver’s seat and tweaking this and that to get things right.
Once you work it out though, you can store these settings in M1 or M2 modes, which can be switched on with the push of a button on the steering wheel.
With everything switched to the sportiest options, the X6 M Competition is much more akin to a rapid hot hatch attacking corners and devouring the open road than its high-riding SUV body style would suggest.
Credit where it’s due, BMW’s M boffins know a thing or two about building a big barnstorming bruiser.
Fitted with gigantic 315/30 rear and 295/35 front Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres, the X6 M Competition benefits from superglue-like levels of grip in most situations, but a stab of throttle can still overwhelm the rear axle mid-corner.
Pulling up is a non-issue in the two-tonne-plus SUV, thanks to M Compound Brakes with six-piston fronts grabbing 395mm discs, and single-piston rears biting 380mm discs.
When you're not putting the boot in, the X6 M Competition also doubles as a convincing luxury runabout, but even in the chassis’ most comfort-orientated setting, road imperfections and high-speed bumps transmit directly through to the occupants.
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 BMW X6 has not been tested by ANCAP or Euro NCAP and does not have a crash rating.
However, the mechanically related X5 large SUV scored a maximum five stars when tested in 2018, notching 89 and 87 per cent for the adult- and child-occupant protection tests respectively.
Safety equipment fitted to the X6 M Competition includes a surround-view monitor, tyre pressure and temperature monitor, autonomous emergency braking (AEB), adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, lane-departure warning, reversion camera, rear cross-traffic alert, front and rear parking sensors, and built-in dash cam.
In terms of safety gear, there really isn’t much left on the table for the X6 M Competition to pack in, though it does lose a point for not having a crash-safety rating.
In its favour though is the fact its onboard technology works unobtrusively and the adaptive cruise control is one of the smoothest and easy-to-use systems I've experienced.
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).
Scheduled service intervals are pegged at every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever comes first.
BMW offers two five-year/80,000km service plans with the X6 M Competition, a basic option for $4134 and a Plus for $11,188, with the later including the replacement of brake pads, clutch and wiper blades.
Though pricey to maintain, it’s not unexpected for a vehicle at this price point.
What we like to see though, is BMW match Mercedes’ pledge for a five-year warranty across its range, including high-performance AMG models.