An 'on paper' comparison between this pair of imminent, new-generation German luxury SUVs

The quicker-than-usual development cycle for the fourth-generation BMW X5, and somewhat tardy arrival of the new Mercedes-Benz GLE, have combined to make their respective arrivals almost coalesce.

Of course, we wouldn't dare determine which of these US-made luxury SUVs is superior without a proper comparison test, which we'll do as soon as both arrive on local shores: November this year for the BMW, and April/May next year for the Benz.

In the interim, let's do a side-by-side 'on paper' piece to tide us over! After all, this pair are among the most important models for each brand, catering to ravenous consumer demand. Each model line has old in excess of two million units since launch (including the GLE's direct predecessor, the M-Class). Both will have the likes of Audi, Land Rover and Porsche quaking...


Design

The BMW plays the 'evolution' card, with familiar proportions and the typically macho traits it's always had. It's got a distinctive character line running below the belt-line, which kicks upwards over the subtly flared arches.

The bonnet has strong creases, which blend into the bold, oversized double-kidney grille, stretched to gargantuan proportions. The rear sports the familiar horizontally split tailgate, with clean and simple LED tail-lights below the kinked rear window and modest D-pillar.

As is Gorden Wagener's wont - he's Daimler AG's head of design - the new GLE is an exercise in restraint and simplicity, all smooth surfaces and curves, with none of the sharp creases and edges that BMW embodies.

We don't think we're out of line to say the new GLE looks very American, particularly from the rear three-quarter, and above. That large C-pillar that widens at the bottom and fades into the tailgate is a signature touch, as is the straight-ish belt-line and sculpting in the doors, which courts shadows.

Dimensionally, there ain't much in it. Both are around the five-metre mark, with the Benz 20mm longer between the wheels.

It's all subjective, but they're both full of presence. What do you think?


Inside

The cabin of the X5 is typically restrained BMW, with the exception of the gauche glass gear-shifter option. Soft leather adorns most touch points, offset by wooden and metallic highlights and the odd bit of glossy black plastic.

Behind the chunky new wheel is a fully digital instrument display with maps and other info integrated, plus there's a large configurable head-up display integrated into the binnacle, which projects onto the windscreen.

The fascia comprises an enlarged tablet-style screen, running BMW's brand-new OS 7.0 software, with a new user interface and a raft of cloud-based connections (including software updates), controlled by the familiar iDrive rotary dial next to the shifter.

Alongside this dial are rocker switches to control the optional air suspension height and various off-road-specific modes. Also located here are various shortcut buttons to help navigate various sub menus. Everything is softly lit by adjustable LED ambient cabin light signatures.

As we've come to expect, the Mercedes-Benz interior is far more overt and flashy than the Bimmer's.

The dominant feature is the huge screen that combines the driver's digital instruments and the centre display, which runs the company's incredible new MBUX operating system that responds to inputs from a haptic controller on the transmission tunnel, or to 'Hey Mercedes' voice commands. A HUD is also available.

There are distinctly earthy tones on the GLE as pictured in the press kit, with lots of natural wood inlays alongside brown leather. Naturally, everything is configurable. MB also leads the pack when it comes to cabin lighting, and just look at those silver Burmester speaker covers... Loves those grab handles on the transmission tunnel too.

The GLE also has the new corporate steering wheel from the S-Class, with touchpads on each spoke to control various functions.

Both can also be had as seven-seaters. Both have 40:20:40 middle seat rows, while the Mercedes edges the BMW for cargo space (645L versus 825L). More importantly for the parents, each can also be had with massaging front seats.


Safety

Each of this pair gets the full suite of buzzword-rich active safety tech, which is now at 'Level 2' on the autonomy scale. The legislative morass awaiting both stops a greater rollout.

The BMW has a camera in the instruments that watches you, and tells you to pay attention if your eyes stray. It can also drive largely autonomously in low-speed traffic jams, keep you in your lane by steering itself for short distances, can pull itself to the side of the road if you're incapacitated, and changes lanes by itself when you tap the indicator, checking your blind spots for you first.

Mercedes offers systems that use live traffic updates to slow automatically before unseen traffic snarls, can automatically change your cruise control speed to mirror the speed limit at any moment, can navigate corners for you before telling you to out your hands back on the wheel, and can drive itself in stop/start traffic - with your attention, like the BMW. There's also a trailer park-assist feature.

Both cars obviously get the 'usual' stuff like AEB, blind-spot monitoring, radar-guided cruise control and more airbags than you can poke a stick at. Both also park themselves, both longitudinally and laterally.


Underneath

BMW doesn't call the X5 a Sports Utility Vehicle, but rather a Sports Activity Vehicle (SAV, not SUV). Pretension aside, the word 'Sport' is apt.

Depending on grade, features include double wishbone front/five-link rear independent suspension, electrically actuated active roll stabilisers (which automatically level the car and offset lateral cornering forces so you stay flatter), rear-wheel steering and dual-axle air suspension with all manner of heights.

There are also a number of modes, obviously the sportier and cushier settings for the standard adjustable dampers, but also off-road software built in that changes gearing, throttle calibration, ESC tune, suspension height and diff lock-ery etc. The 4x4 surround camera system offers Surround View, Panorama View and Remote 3D View, which helps overcome visibility gripes.

The Benz GLE comes with two 4Matic AWD systems depending on engine: a base system that has a fixed front-to-rear torque split of 50:50, or a fully variable system torque-on-demand that can be 100% FWD or RWD if needed.

You can also have a reduction gear set and an automatic locking effect from 0-100 per cent for off-road driving. On road, this setup can influence the degree of yaw to induce oversteer or understeer.

There's also an optional sir suspension system that's adjustable at each wheel, not just each axle, counteracting body roll, pitch and squat. The system can also scan the road ahead of make constant adjustments to the damping forces (camera, to ECU, to suspension components). It runs off a 48V electrical system.

We can't wait to drive this pair side by side.


Drivetrains

While the engine ranges in both models will expand (BMW M and Mercedes-AMG, obviously, as well as a new base four-cylinder X5), the entry engine ranges look like this:

The BMW X5 30d has a 3.0-litre inline-six turbo-diesel with 195kW/620Nm, the M50d has a quad turbo diesel with 294kW/760Nm, the M40i has a 3.0-litre turbo-petrol wiht 250kW/450Nm, and the US/China-only 50i 4.4-litre force-fed V8 with 340kW/650Nm. All use eight-speed autos.

There's also a plug-in hybrid with a 210kW 3.0-litre petrol-fired inline-six with an 82kW motor, with onboard electric power stored in a lithium-ion battery pack. System output is 290kW/600Nm. WLTP-tested combined-cycle fuel consumption is 2.1L/100km (the tank is 69L), but the more relevant claim is the bolstered zero emissions, pure electric range of almost 80km.

The GLE will launch with the 450 4Matic drivetrain, a turbocharged six-cylinder petrol engine and a 48V EQ Boost mild hybrid system, mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission. The petrol makes a base 270kW and 500Nm, but the integrated 48V starter/generator system can add 16kW/250Nm with the throttle buried. The 48V system also supports active anti-roll, and smarter start/stop.

A four-cylinder petrol and, presumably, a diesel or two will follow. Expect a PHEV as well. This product is in its infancy!


Which of this pair is your pick; the 2019 BMW X5 or 2019 Mercedes-Benz GLE? Tell us below... 


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