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BMW X5 Vs. Mercedes GLE-Class: Compare Cars

2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE550e

2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE550e

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The BMW X5 and Mercedes-Benz M-Class—or ML—are now old rivals. Rather than taking the rugged, Safari-chic route like the Range Rover, or vying against the brawny, tough-as-nails persona of the Land Cruiser or the corresponding Lexus LX, these models appeared on the market at around the same time and took the middle road—bringing just the right amount of ruggedness, paired with on-the-road handling that was better than you might expect from the taller profile.

That was more than fifteen years ago, and today both of these models have changed a bit with the times, bringing sharper handling, a better ride, and a far more luxurious interior. The Mercedes has become a little sportier over time, and now it’s even changed its name: to the GLE. And with the exception being their ever-brawnier exteriors, both of these models are more like tall, opulent station wagons than ever.

The third-generation X5, which went on sale for the 2014, made some major advances in cabin appointments and powertrain efficiency, among other things; now, for 2016, the Mercedes-Benz M-Class has been rebadged the GLE-Class, and it gets a mid-cycle refresh that introduces new powertrains and swoopy new GLE Coupe variants. For the purposes of this comparison, we’re keeping to the ‘traditional’ versions, however.

In styling, we think these two models are too close to call. The retouch that the Mercedes has received with its name change has put it in much closer company with the X5—and it might actually hold the advantage from the outside, where it’s cleaner and bolder from front and side angles. The current X5 is handsome, but some might say that design-wise it didn’t evolve enough into its current form. Inside, we think the cleaner, tidier look works better for the BMW; although Mercedes-Benz has made an effort to upgrade some of its trims and surfaces in the latest 2016 model, it lacks the harmonious design (with circular vents and perfectly coordinated, better-than-your-dollar look that graces the smaller GLA (and soon, the GLC, formerly GLK).

In either the BMW X5 or Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class, you’ll fine a wide range of models, from high-mileage diesels to gasoline V-6 and V-8 offerings—all now turbocharged. BMW xDrive35i models pack a 300-horsepower, 3.0-liter V-6 engine, while the corresponding entry from Mercedes is the GLE350 4Matic, instead using a 302-horsepower naturally aspirated V-6 that, while not quicker seems to rev more eagerly. The base model in the Mercedes lineup is the GLE300d, with a 2.1-liter turbo-diesel four-cylinder engine makeing 201 horsepower but as much torque down low (369 lb-ft) as some gasoline V-8s. At the top of the ‘regular’ GLE-Class lineup is the GLE400, with its 329-horsepower, 3.0-liter twin-turbo V-6. And the X5 35d models, by the way, get a particularly strong 3.0-liter turbo-diesel making 255 hp and 413 lb-ft.

While that puts the diesel offerings for these two models on quite different ground—expect great mileage from the Mercedes-Benz diesel especially—xDrive35i models and the GLE400 models are comparable. Keep in mind that sDrive models are rear-wheel drive and xDrive signals all-wheel drive in BMW nomenclature, while at Mercedes 4Matic means the latter.

Both of these models handle extremely well, with self-leveling rear air springs on the X5 combining with adaptive dampers, and the Mercedes-Benz utes offering a full-fledged air suspension with adaptive damping. The Mercedes GLE might have the slight edge here in ride and general cabin quiet, and we like its easy tracking and calm, composed feel on backroads.

The 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE is going to be offered as a plug-in hybrid beginning later this year—the GLE550e 4Matic. This model will have a plug-in range of about 19 miles and be capable of delivering a total output of 436 hp from the combination of a gasoline V-6 and 114-hp electric motor system. For 2016 there will also be an X5 xDrive40e Plug-In Hybrid model—so that will soon be covered, too.

If you crave higher performance, in a family-vehicle package, there are serious, track-capable versions of both of these models. In the BMW X6 M, a 567-horsepower, 4.4-liter twin-turbocharged V-8 and eight-speed automatic transmission can blast to 60 mph in four seconds flat, while the Mercedes-AMG GLE63 makes 550 hp and the GLE 63 S gets 577 hp and is nearly as quick—and with what’s an even showier exhaust note.

One of the key differences between the BMW X5 and Mercedes-Benz GLE is third-row seating. If you want to add an extremely small third-row seat—one that’s not useful for anything but accommodating a couple more smaller kids on the way home from practice—you can get it on the X5. Mercedes, on the other hand, asks you to pony up to the larger GL-Class (soon to be called GLS) for a third row that’s far more adult-sized.

One other difference worth processing before you make the purchase is off-road capability. While it makes a difference to a very small number of shoppers, Mercedes-Benz still offers a serious Off-Road package on the GLE—one that includes a long list of upgrades and is good for far more than snowy driveways and rutted two-tracks.

In terms of safety, the M-Class has been a perfect ‘10,’ and with the body structure and essential safety components carried over into the GLE, we’re tentatively carrying over that score for 2016. The X5 has done nearly as great in crash tests, although it still hasn’t been tested in all areas by the IIHS. In either case, safety equipment is generous, and it’s in the optional extras that these models really show their potential. On both of these models, you can opt up to accident-avoidance features like lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, and adaptive cruise control, and there’s even a drowsy-driving detection system on the GLE. Night vision systems are offered on both as options, as is a pretty great head-up display on the X5.

BMW and Mercedes have stubbornly stood by making a rearview camera system optional on these models—even though we can’t imagine a single buyer of these vehicles not wanting that (it’s standard on some models costing a third as much).

One thing to keep in mind with both of these models is exactly that: Don’t shop by entry prices, as the GLE-Class and X5 are both typically sold heavily optioned—and it takes some of the pricier packages to get the most out of these vehicles. So while they might start below the $60k mark, anticipate a sticker price far above that.

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