Battle of the SUVs - BMW's 'X factor' or Mercedes' 'class act'?
I once asked a French connoisseur which of two bottles of wine was better, his somewhat snooty reply was: "Neither, they are just different."
At the time I suspected he was sitting on the old garden fence. However, I started to understand his reasoning once I was tasked with comparing the revamped BMW X6 and the new Mercedes-Benz M-Class. These are two of the most dynamic and popular SUVs on the road and I had to try to choose between them.
First up was the X6, which BMW describes as a ‘sports activity coupe’. The model was first launched in 2008 and this upgraded version arrived in the Middle East last month.
There are many reasons why 10,000 X6s have sold in the region in the past four years but the top one must be its looks.
There is no mistaking an X6 when it roars past you on Emirates Road, with its haunched stance, coupe-styling and wide tyres.
I took out the more powerful xDrive50i model, which boosts a 4.4l V8 engine that produces 407bhp and can hit 100kph in 5.4 seconds. I found the performance astonishing, particularly given its size and weight.
The acceleration was brisk and corners came and went in a flash thanks to balanced weight distribution, those wide tyres and the intelligent all-wheel-drive system, which is constantly working on stability and traction.
That said, you still have to remember it’s an SUV and not a sports car and a certain level of caution is required. Changes on the outside include a new kidney grille with a wider chrome frame, raised powerdome bonnet, repositioned fog lights and double-spoke alloy wheels. The effect is the X6 now looks even more aggressive.
Inside, the coupe feel continues with sporty but comfy seats and high-quality materials. However, the sloping roof does mean things in the back are a little snug for an SUV and luggage volume is only 570l, although that can be extended to 1,450l by folding down the rear seats.
All in all, the X6 sets the bar pretty high.
So can the Mercedes-Benz ML 500 clear it? Given the firm has declared 2012 as ‘The Year of the SUV’, I’d have been surprised if the new M-Class hadn’t put up a fight. On paper, the X6 and the ML 500 are closely matched, just a single brake horse power separating them and 0.3 seconds in the 0-100kph figure, despite the ML 500 having a larger engine.
This is mostly likely due to size. While, the ML 500 looks compact, it is quite the Tardis on the inside, packing a remarkable 2,010l of boot space with the seats down - a third more than the X6. The interior is also pure class, more akin to an executive saloon.
Like the X6, it comes with all-wheel drive and this again delivers excellent handling, allowing the driver to open the car up without fear of it careering from side to side on the corners. The power comes in a smooth, steady build-up as you push your right foot down and keeps on coming even as the transmission clicks up smoothly through the gears. This is quite the contrast to the adrenalin rush of the X6.
On the outside, the ML 500’s looks are more elegant than aggressive. The elongated lines and a rear sloping roof give it a sporty feel, as does AMG bodystyling, yet it lacks the drama of the X6’s accentuated curves.
One area, though, where the ML 500 wins hands down is the price, coming in at Dhs100,000 less than the xDrive50i. It’s quite a surprise given that there is little to choose between the two on paper and in the flesh.
BMW X6 xDrive50i
>> Engine: 4.4l V8
>> Bhp: 407
>> 0-100kph: 5.4 secs
>> Top speed: 250kph
>> Transmission: Eight-speed auto
>> Luggage space: 1,450l
>> Fuel consumption: 9.6l/100km
>> Price: From Dhs417,000
MERCEDES-BENZ ML 500
>> Engine: 4.7l
>> Bhp: 408
>> 0-100kph: 5.7 secs
>> Top speed: 250kph
>> Transmission: Seven-speed auto
>> Luggage space: 2,010l
>> Fuel consumption: 11l/100km
>> Price: From Dhs319,000
The verdict: This is true head or heart stuff. Both cars are excellent to drive but the ML 500 has the edge in terms of practicality and price, particularly the impressive 2,010l of luggage space. So, it should be the winner, shouldn’t it? There is just something about the styling of the X6 and the roar of its engine that delights my inner child. So the head says ML 500 but the heart is lost to the X6. Any space on that garden fence?