The BMW X5 and Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class are mid-size luxury sport-utility vehicles that both manage to straddle many of the sometimes-conflicting priorities of SUV shoppers.
The X5 and M-Class, which is what the GLE was called up until this past year, were two of the market’s first luxury SUVs, both introduced in the late 1990s. And they’ve evolved from models centered around toughness, capability, and utility to vehicles that offer just as many cabin amenities and tech features as the BMW 5-Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class, which have roughly the same parking footprint.
These two models go up against a wide range of luxury crossover and SUV models, including the Lexus RX on the more car-like side, the Lexus GX as a more truck-like rival, and the Audi Q7, Acura MDX, Jeep Grand Cherokee, and Volvo XC90.
The BMW manages a respectable 6.8 rating on our new ratings scale, while the GLE-Class earns a 7.7. The Mercedes-Benz has some interior refinements that we'd expect from the luxury automaker's pricier sedans, which helps it outpoint the BMW. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
2017 BMW X5
2017 BMW X5
2017 BMW X5
One key difference between these two models is that the X5 can seat up to seven while the GLE-Class remains a five-seater and leaves the three-row capacity for its larger companion model, the Mercedes-Benz GLS.
Neither of these two models have completely fresh designs. While the GLE-Class was a new nameplate this year, it’s essentially a continuation of the third-generation M-Class that made its debut for 2012—albeit given a slight facelift on the outside and a revamped lineup of powertrains. The current third-generation X5 was introduced for the 2014 model year and brought a lot more refinement and comfort to the lineup.
Both of these models are available in showier, more style-centric "coupe" variants, which we compare here. The X6 is essentially the same vehicle as the X5 from the front seats forward, but it trades in its utilitarian roofline for one that swoops gracefully downward; it’s also tapered in a bit more from overhead, which helps give it a stance that looks a little more low-slung. The GLE Coupe essentially pulls off the same trick, yet it manages to preserve its rear headroom just a bit better. Both models of course forgo a bit of cargo space, though it’s not as much as you might suspect.
These two vehicles offer a comparable slate of powertrain options, ranging from turbocharged V-6 and V-8 engines and plug-in hybrid variants. One difference is that the GLE350 is offered with a 302-horsepower, 3.5-liter normally aspirated V-6, while all powertrains in the X5 lineup have a turbos. A 362-hp, 3.0-liter twin-turbo V-6 subs in for GLE43 models; to contrast, the X5 xDrive35i and sDrive35i models Most of the GLE lineup has a 7-speed automatic transmission, while all of the X5 lineup has an 8-speed automatic.
The GLE43, with a 362-hp twin-turbo V-6 and 9-speed automatic, is exclusive to the GLE Coupe. Mercedes GLE63 AMG models have a 550-hp twin-turbo V-8 and can get to 60 mph in just 4.2 seconds, while the 445-hp BMW X5 is in the same range.
2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE450 AMG 4Matic
2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE450 AMG 4Matic
2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE550e
In general, we find these two models to be strong performers, with surprisingly good on-the-road handling, although their high curb weights preclude any feeling that these vehicles are ever nimble. The GLE is definitely the more off-road-oriented of the two, with an Offroad+ package bringing a maximum ground clearance of up to 11 inches and a fording depth of 23 inches.
Ride quality in base V-6 GLE models is quite good, with their steel-spring suspension and conventional dampers, while top models roll on air springs with the Airmatic air suspension and Active Damping. Some of that sophistication in X5 models is reserved for the X5 M, where you get sport-tuned adaptive damping and a rear air suspension; in general we’d say that ride quality can get a little harsher in the X5.
The plug-in hybrid versions are new this year, although they’re put together employing some different strategies and priorities. In the X5 xDrive40e there’s a 241-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine with a 83-kw electric motor system built into the 8-speed automatic transmission. The GLE550e follows a similar format, with an 85-kw electric motor at the front of a 7-speed automatic transmission; there, a twin-turbo 3.0-liter V-6 makes 329 hp on its own, with a hybrid system total of 436 hp and 479 lb-ft.
Battery capacities for the two plug-in versions are comparable: 8.8 kwh for the Mercedes-Benz, or 9.2 kwh for the BMW—amounting to about seven hours for a full charge on 120V AC or a couple of hours on a 240V (Level 2) charger. Both of these models go around 15 miles without the gasoline engine starting, and they have the capability to save the battery charge for later (and potentially restore it, albeit at the expense of extra fuel and emissions).
Otherwise, fuel economy ratings for these models are about where you’d expect. Plug-ins aside, the BMW diesel is the mileage champ between the two. A diesel version of the GLE was offered up until 2017.
Cabin appointments in either of these two models are very well-trimmed, yet conservative in their look and feel. The GLE in particular is a little more stark and utilitarian in its dash layout compared to some of the latest Mercedes-Benz models like the C-Class sedans and GLC crossover.
The BMW X5 does offer that third-row seat, but you should beware that it’s strictly kids’ space. Second-row space, on the other hand, offers adult comfort, with a 10-degree recline and fore-and-aft sliding (that does make getting to the third row easier). The GLE-Class is especially tight and quiet, and you can also adjust those rear seatbacks.
Both of these models have strong safety reputations, but many of their best active-safety features are optional. The GLE includes standard Attention Assist, which helps identify the signs of drowsy driving.
The Mercedes-Benz GLE runs the gamut on pricing, with base models starting well under $55,000 but fully loaded GLE63 AMG versions nearing $110,000. Fully optioned X5 M models go even higher than that; keep in mind that options can make a huge difference in either of these.
An all-new GLE is about two years out. Based on the rapid evolution and repackaging seen in the stunning new GLC, we’re expecting the future GLE as an entire model line to take a similar trajectory. And we’re looking forward to it.