Luxury SUV comparison TEST: Mercedes GLE versus new Porsche Cayenne and BMW X5

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A new Porsche Cayenne is born, claiming again the title of SUV that drives like a sports car. Ok, maybe not exactly like a sports car, but like a true Porsche. Is this enough to better the classic sport utility vehicles from BMW and Mercedes? FIRST COMPARISON TEST.

Of course, you might ask if it is fair to let the new SUV from Zuffenhausen compete against the X5 and GLE. After all, their successors are already coming in a few months to the dealers. But when the lease expires and you want something new in the garage, everyone probes the current offer and not the future.

Hence, this comparison arises, which is also dictated by the Porsche decision to offer the Cayenne initially only with gasoline engines. SUVs of this class usually rely on the diesel engines – but this was before the big diesel crisis. But let’s get started with the six-cylinder petrol engine, which is not so badly equipped for life duties as a versatile towing vehicle, motorhome and daily driver with a good 300 hp and at least 400 Nm of torque on paper.

BMW is aging
In 2013, BMW presented the current X5, a car that always left a good impression with its split tailgate, the reclining rear seatbacks that increase the comfort in what is already a very spacious cabin – as well as the great head-up display (still absent from the GLE and even the brand new Cayenne) and the easy-to-learn, logically structured iDrive system.

So we do not expect any surprises when boarding the Munich Express, where you sit almost as sublime as in the GLE. The all-round visibility is better in both compared to the Cayenne with its stocky D-pillars. This is not unimportant in tight multi-storey car parks, where the all-round cameras are usually more insecure because of their exaggerated warnings.

As usual, light-footedness characterizes the handling of even the largest BMW SUV. In addition to the sports seats (490 euros), 19-inch wheels (1,300 euros) and the adaptive suspension including the air-sprung rear axle (1,800 euros) the test car comes without further relevant extras. And it does its job well – until undulating roads of inferior quality, interspersed with transverse joints and potholes, get under the wheels.

Suddenly, the X5 smooths rough bumps just more offensively and the rear axle starts rocking extensively. This tarnishes the good comfort impression, as does the pairing of the relatively low-torque engine with the otherwise always praised for its perfection eight-speed automatic gearbox.

Even though the torque is already available just above the idling speed, 400 Newton meters are not that much for the moving masses: even light throttle at motorway slopes leads to downshifts and high engine speeds, where you sully the silky sound of earlier BMW six-cylinder engines.

Driving dynamics of the X5 – despite all the agility in slalom and evasive lane tests – is no longer up to date: the steering pushes too strong in tight corners (relatively early) on the front wheels and quickly gets caught in the clutches of overly long-regulating electronics. The successor will surely be better at it all – and we can’t wait to see it sooner in showrooms.

Mercedes gets ready for generation change
In the Mercedes, the feeling of “modernity” is absent. Okay, the cockpit architecture with its small Navi-screen and the slightly over-painted circular instruments with the tightly scaled speedometer no longer meet the current Mercedes standards. But the GLE is first and foremost a car that has been made primarily for long-distance comfort and sovereignty and has added in the course of its life mature driving dynamics – a new, for many indispensable, facet to its personality.

Anyway, the boxy GLE gets just a touch slower through the pylons than the BMW, requiring more steering work, it slows somewhat sluggishly, although a roll stabilization system with active stabilizers (Active Curve System, 3,749 euros) is on board. The pedal feel is a bit doughy, but the deceleration performance of the optimized brake system with perforated discs (with air suspension Airmatic in the technology package for 2,499 euros) is consistently okay.

When it comes to the virtues of an SUV, the GLE is not bad at all. Apart from some suspension noise, the GLE hides road imperfections perfectly wonderful, engine and transmission play superbly double-pass without much back-and-forth-switching and without much noise.

For the long highway ticket the Mercedes is leading in terms of assistance systems, unexpectedly well priced.

Porsche or all-in-one
Weird: the Porsche offers the best consumption value with 12.1 liters per 100 km. But it also accelerates best, outclassing its competition in driving dynamics and also has the edge in terms of braking. The adaptive sports seats and the seating position, which is more reminiscent of limousines or even coupés, are simply top-notch. And so it drives too.

The Cayenne driver does not even think about understeer, as the SUV eats curves of every kind with noticeable pleasure. And yes: it gets in the suspension comfort as many points as the soft Mercedes, even if firmer. Why? Because its customers expect exactly that from their Cayenne and because it lets through just as much of the road information as is necessary for the Porsche feeling. But the price for this all-in-one package of comfort, high braking performance and currently unmatched agility in this class is high: four-wheel steering, air suspension, 21-inch wheels with extra-wide mixed tires and the tungsten carbide coated brake discs of the Porsche Surface Coated Brake (PSCB ) – they cost in total over 12,000 euros.

It almost seems like it does not matter anymore that various off-road driving programs are also standard as well as a sliding and three-part rear seat. The Cayenne is simply great.

The buyer only has to cut back on the powertrain, because especially after the cold start, the automatic changes the gears sometimes quite harsh.

But, despite the delicious sound and animating tackling engine, the Porsche ultimately lacks the sovereignty of a diesel. The sports car manufacturer also forgot to add many assistance systems that have long been used by its rivals. And all this means the Porsche narrowly misses the victory. But that will not matter for the Cayenne fans.

1. Mercedes GLE 400 4Matic
430 points
The GLE wins. It is a car for the classic SUV buyer, shining with a lot of assistance systems, stellar comfort and a surprising price.

2. BMW X5 xDrive 35i
422 points
In this round, the X5 seems compromised: not as comfortable as the GLE, not as dynamic as the Cayenne. Its engine acts the least sovereign.

3rd Porsche Cayenne
419 points
Comfortable and dynamic, spacious and functional – this does not guarantee victory for the Cayenne. Because safety equipment and comfort assistance are absent, but the price is enormous.