Champions League: ML 350 BlueTec against BMW X5 and Range Rover Sport
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Champions League: ML 350 BlueTec against BMW X5 and Range Rover Sport

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Home Mercedes Benz M-Class Champions League: ML 350 BlueTec against BMW X5 and Range Rover Sport

The moment of truth: Can Mercedes M Class stand up to the mighty competition like BMW X5 and Range Rover Sport? Comparative test with the 3 liter, 258 HP diesel versions engines from Mercedes and BMW and the 292 HP at Range Rover Sport.

There is nothing better in luxury SUV segment. And no, we didn’t forget about Porsche Cayenne, but for base version with V6 diesel it cannot be ordered the dynamic systems for the drive train (active anti-roll bars, rear differential lock), available at the other versions, and also, Jeep does not have the sophistication of the German triad.

All over the world, SUVs sales are on the rise especially regarding the compact and small class segments. In this case, the large SUVs segment, the sales increase from the last years is not that considerable, especially because these steel giants are still considered as one of the main sources of pollution and an eco rival. However, the producers made great efforts and, at least the diesel versions that we tested were extremely economical if we take into consideration their massive kerb weight and available performances. Because of this, the demand of large SUVs knows a revival.

The first surprise of this test is the price. In the past the most expensive, Mercedes is nowadays at the same level with BMW at the base price. Range Rover has raised the price for the new Sport generation, the main reason being an enhanced standard level and  new entries on the option list such the dynamic systems for the drive train or some sophisticated systems meant for  off-road. A second surprise is that we must put aside all the preconceptions regarding the road holding. X5 has clearly made some progress concerning the off-road capabilities, while ML and Range Sport are more dynamic on the road than old generations. But, if you want to enjoy the new character changes you have to dig deep in your pocket for fancy and expensive options.

Body and interior

With over 4.80 meters length and a kerb weight of over 2.2 tone, the three models are truly modern dinosaurs, with generous interior room. BMW is wide in the front and slightly less airy than its rivals, while in the rear, Mercedes is the widest, with the largest interior height and the most generous legroom.

Mercedes ML 350 BlueTec

  • Off-road ideal comfort
  • Spacious interior room
  •  Very good versatility thanks to the ACS system
  • Powerful engine

MAX vs MIN

  • Slow gearbox
  • Unpractical form of the boot
  • Typical diesel sound of the engine

Overall, Mercedes provides the most spacious interior. Range Rover Sport has truly progressed concerning the interior space compared to the previous generation, but, in the rear, the legroom is somewhat smaller and after all, it meets all the requirements of its class, meaning the interior space and the comfort. Mercedes has the largest trunk, standard and at maximum capacity, but its shape is far from practical. Because of the intrusive multi-link rear suspension, it has the smallest minimum width. But, at Mercedes, through lifting the rear seat cushion, you get a flat surface when folding the rear seat backrest while the backrest can be inclined under three different angles.

ML has the most generous interior space and the largest trunk. But who wants 7 seats must go for GL

At BMW and Range Rover Sport it takes only one move to fold the backrest, without removing the cushion, but the newly created extra surface is not completely flat, even though, BMW has a double floor trunk with an extra chamber under the main floor. At the BMW that we tested it was impossible to adjust the backrest tilting (an extra option together with the electric powered comfort type front seats and the longitudinal slide of the rear bench). Range and BMW are the only ones with 7 seats option available, currently unavailable at ML. Mercedes has other politics regarding the seat number, because it offers two completely different models. Therefore, whoever desires 7 seats, but truly full-size 7 seats and a more complete base-level and not only two additional children seats like X5 and Range Sport, can turn to Mercedes GL. Whoever wants to tow a trailer or a boat, ML or Range are, by far, the best solutions, because they can haul up to 3500 kg. Furthermore, Range Rover Sport has the largest payload.

All the three tested models provide a raised driving position. If for Range Rover the “command position” driving position is part of the tradition, BMW surprises with the new driving position, considerably higher than the previous generation. The standard partly electrical seats for the height adjustment and backrest do not have enough lateral support. According to this, it is worth choosing the comfort seats, fully electric adjustable. At Range Rover Sport, the HSE trim offers as standard electric powered and adjustable seats with 14 directions, very well configured. The multicontour seats in ML available on the test car (optional) were the best, with powered lateral sides and cushion’s length, just like the previous S-Class generation. In fact, the graphics of the setting menu of the seats is identical to the former S-Class one. In the rear, BMW features a 40/20/40 % split bench seat in the standard version (only 40/60 % at the competition), but the profile of the backrest can’t compete with Mercedes.

BMW X5 xDrive 30d

  • The best drive train
  • Enhanced traction in off-road due to the Professional package
  • The most advanced, economic and silent engine

MAX vs MIN

  • Raised driving position compared to the previous generation
  • Less incisive electric steering
  • More expensive

Instead, concerning the ergonomics, BMW is the most intuitive. The Bavarians were able to reach perfection with the iDrive system: the display resolution is astonishing, the operating speed can be considered as a benchmark and the menus are extremely intuitive and well organized. Furthermore, the assistance systems were also perfectly integrated in the iDrive, and, when needed, they can be switched off with the touch of a single button. Range Rover also has a modern multimedia system, which integrates many functions, suggestive graphics for all-wheel drive system, but going through menus requires time to accommodate because the logic is rather complicated.

Mercedes is still faithful to the Command multimedia system with lots of switches. On a first look, this seems outdated but the ergonomics is still intuitive. It gets more complicated when you select the off-road program and pneumatic suspension just like the car we tested, because you basically have two other group of switches separate from Comand multimedia system. But the Mercedes ML 50-year old owner will surely be happy with the classical menu, that he finds almost immediately, without having to navigate through complicated menus. Moreover, Porsche brought back the many switches solution, and it’s not a step backwards.

Driving

The tested models had certain options that substantially influenced the dynamics and comfort. Mercedes ML 350 BlueTec had pneumatic suspension on all wheels, off-road program and ACS (Active Curve System) with active anti-roll bars, meaning the maximum of everything that can be added on the normal versions excepting the AMGs.

BMW X5 xDrive 30d was equipped with the Professional package, the most complete out of the four drive trains available: adaptive suspension, pneumatic on the rear, Torque Vectoring (for the first time on X5) and active anti-roll bars. Range Rover was equipped with P1 package (adaptive suspension, Terrain Response 2 system and reducing gear), without Torque Vectoring and the active anti-roll bars included in the more expensive and sophisticated P2 package.

Range Rover Sport 3.0 SDV6 HSE

  • Increasing agility due to the “weight loss”
  • Elegant interior
  • Comprehensive standard equipment

MAX vs MIN

  • The extra power doesn’t result in performances
  • It is not a veritable Range Rover in off-road without the active anti-roll bars package and Torque Vectoring
  • Extremely high base price

Even though it has the same weight as ML and Range, and while the ML in the test configuration had more dynamics than what we were used to for a ML, BMW is still the most agile. Even if the new electromechanical steering lacks the incisiveness and the sensitivity of the previous version, especially around the dead center, the X5 is more agile than its rivals. It quickly takes corners without inclining a bit and Torque Vectoring with the rear differential lock included in the Professional package makes the difference on the road and, surprisingly, on off-road as well. Exactly where BMW didn’t use to shine – in off-road – X5 now has an improved traction if it comes equipped with the Professional package. X5 seems lighter, even though the reality says something else. It can be driven almost like a limousine even if the raised driving position doesn’t make you feel as if you’re driving a passenger car, not a SUV.

 Equipped with ACS, ML is more dynamic than we used to know it. BMW X5 is still the most dynamic despite the raised driving position and the more insipid electromechanical steering

Mercedes ML can also handle the mud, even though it has no differential locks. But the 4ETS system that stimulated the functioning of differential locks is extremely efficient and neutral and it blocks the wheel which slides. Instead, at Range Rover Sport without Torque Vectoring, the rear axle simply dances in the mud when you push the accelerator pedal. For a car like this with such good approach/departure angles and a long suspension travel, the option for the P2 package is almost mandatory if you want to enjoy the legendary off-road capabilities of the British brand.

On the road, thanks to a kerb weight reduced with 420kg compared to the previous model and even without the active anti-roll bars, Range Rover Sport has gained a lot concerning the agility. The British model is unexpectedly sharp and it confirms our first impressions. Range Sport is the most agile Range Rover in history. Mercedes pays tribute to the way too indirect steering. You have to turn the steering wheel more than you might think and are often required steering corrections. Nevertheless, with ACS, ML is also agile and pleasant while driving, being sportier compared to a Porsche Cayenne diesel for instance.

Regarding the suspension comfort, all the three vehicles are at the same level. In off-road, Mercedes is the most comfortable, while on the road, BMW demands the title for the most comfortable. Mercedes engine sounds just like a diesel and it can be heard when accelerating, when the 7-speed transmission slowly skids at the limits. In fact, the gearbox represents Mercedes’ biggest problem. It is slightly slower compared to its rivals and it does not influence in any way neither the fuel consumption, nor the dynamics. Instead, the gearbox impresses through the smooth gear shift, which enforces once again brand’s trademark – the comfort. BMW and Range Rover have the same kind of gearbox, but the software is different. At both cars, the gearbox shifts the gears quickly and easily, but at BMW it clutches faster in the top gears and does not downshift at every small touch of the pedal, thus encouraging a lower fuel consumption. With unique and aerodynamic solutions and also thanks to the the extremely effective Efficient Dynamics package, BMW is, by far, the most economic, given that it is also the fastest one. Basically, the 6 cylinder in-line turbo diesel engine teams up perfectly with the 8-speed automatic transmission, being the most refined power train that we tested, also with the best response. It is followed by Range Rover Sport, even though the response is not that agile as BMW, but quicker than Mercedes.

Prices

Nothing is cheap in this segment, on the contrary, it is getting more expensive. The base price, options, etc. Range Rover Sport is much better equipped in standard trim level but it starts with a base price higher with around 15-20.000 euro in HSE trim. The standard rich equipment doesn’t compensate for the initial price difference compared to its rivals. The additional 34 HP could be another argument for high price. But the supplement is only for power meanwhile the torque is the same in case of TDV6 and SDV6 engine and the 34 HP does not bring no any plus in dynamic performance compared with german rivals with 258 HP. And the TDV6 entry level we don’t recommend because you cannot order certain packages for dynamic of drive train in combination to this version.

BMW and Mercedes start from the same low base prices, but the option list is rather generous. Finally, the compared price is slightly similar, but somehow lower than at Range Rover Sport.  As a general feature, the packages for the drive train dynamics and for off-road are extremely expensive at all the three models.

Foto: Razvan Loghin

Verdict

Almost nothing is the same as before. Mercedes is the king of comfort on off-road and thanks to the new ACS system, it is more dynamic than we expected. But the 7-speed automatic transmission somehow affects the balance. But we are looking forward to the new 9-speed automatic transmission. BMW X5 is sophisticated, silent and very dynamic, and with the Professional package, it has more off-road capabilities. But X5 makes a step back because of raised driving position and insensible electromechanical steering and because of these reasons, you won’t feel anymore like you’re driving a passenger car and not large and heavy SUV. Range Rover has lost considerably “weight” and, therefore, it is more dynamic and agile. It is better equipped than its rivals, but also overly expensive.

 Technical data Mercedes ML 350 BlueTec, BMW X5 xDrive 30d, Range Rover Sport TDV6 HSE

ModelMercedes ML 350 BluetecBMW X5 xDrive 30dRange Rover Sport SDV6 HSE
Engine typeV6, turbodieselL6, turbodieselV6, turbodiesel
Displacement (cmc)298729932993
Max.power/revs (CP/rpm)258/3600258/4000292/na
Max. torque/revs (Nm/rpm)620/1600560/1500-3000600/na
Gearboxaut., 7 gearsaut., 8 gearsaut., 8 gears
Transmission4x44x44x4
L/l/h (mm)4804/1926/17964886/1938/17624850/1983/1780
Wheelbase (mm)291529332923
Boot capacity (l)690-2010650-1870610-1761
Kerb weight (kg)217521452115
Maximum speed (km/h)224230222
Acceleration 0-100 km/h (s)7,46,87,2
Combined fuel consumption (l/100 km)6,86,07,6
Emission CO2 (g/km)179158199
Price (Euro with VAT, GER)60,035.5059,90076,910

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