Back in 2008, when it invented the SUV Coupe segment, the BMW X6 knew it would live to see this day. Its competitors by tradition, Mercedes-Benz and Audi, have sent their pawns, the GLE Coupe and the Q8, that have invaded its comfort zone.
PHOTOS by: Bogdan PARASCHIV
2004 Anno Domini: it was the year that the coupe notion received, for the first time in history, different connotations than that of 2-door car. Mercedes-Benz launched the CLS, the world’s first 4-door coupe. Four years later, BMW stunned the world with the notion of coupe in the large SUV segment, with the launch of the X6. For six whole years, the Bavarian lived high off the hog, with no rival whatsoever, achieving a sales figure of 91,531 units in Europe.
Later on, in 2015, the colleagues from Stuttgart decided on giving the X6 a consistent „gift”, several months after the launch of the second generation of the Bavarian: it was the GLE Coupe. For the upcoming three years, the Stuttgart-conceived model fetched 23,752 customers in Europe, leaving the X6 with 37,246 units sold.
And as the wheels turn, guess who was giving away presents in 2018, one year before the X6 and the GLE Coupe were to receive their heirs? If was, of course Audi, which made it move with a pawn as powerful as a queen: the new Q8. So powerful that, for the first month since launch, in December 2018, 2,235 units were sold across Europe, which meant three times more than the X6 and the GLE Coupe both! Is though, the Q8 three times better than them or the sale figures owe it all to the context related to the generation change of the competitors?
Body and interior
Imposing: the Q8 shows its rebelious intentions, defying its competitors with its sharp look with 24 LEDs for each headlamp (1,690 euro, with only simple full-LEDs available as standard) and promises the sight of the 9 LED segments while outdistancing them. It features the greatest ground clearance (22 cm with the standard suspension, compared to the 20,1 cm of the GLE Coupe and the 21,2 cm of the X6), but the Q8 and the GLE Coupe were equipped with the pneumatic suspension (2.034.90 euro for the GLE Coupe, 950 euro for the Q8 or standard with the S-line package), varying the ground clearance.
I climb in the Q8, close the door on a second attempt (lacking the soft-close system of 640 euro, I have to seriously pull the doors) and I am welcome by the futuristic dashboard, endowed with three large displays: the configurable instrument cluster Audi Virtual Cockpit of 12.3 inches, the 10.1-inch touch screen of the infotainment system and the one of the climate control, of 8.6 inches, all coming as standard.
The two touch screens in the center console benefit from haptic feedback: the icons must be softly pressed, not just touched and each selection is confirmed by a slight vibration and a short sound. The finishing is impeccable, even above those of the X6. The Bavarian teases with a sporty feeling unfound in any of the opponents: the carbon fiber decorations, the thickest steering wheel that offers an exceptional grip, the seats with the best lateral support and the only shift paddles made of aluminum (made exclusively of plastic in the rivals).
I close my eyes, sense the dashboard wrapped in fine artificial leather (standard) and say to myself: ”The BMW remained the athlete of the segment”. The Bavarian also comes with a configurable digital instrument cluster, with a professional navigation system (both displays with a 10.25-inch diagonal) and with a head-up display, all standard equipment for the M-Sport Edition that we took on the test drive. Compared with its competitors, behind the steering wheel of the GLE Coupe, I feel like I am onboard a classic car. Maybe that is why I am attracted by the timeless elegance of the model.
I seem to be behind the steering wheel of a future classic model that, instead of eye-catching displays, provides classic switches, dials and Artico leather on the dashboard (as standard) and wood finishes that remind me of an era in which cars were driven, not driving. The Comand Online infotainment system offered as standad has an 8-inch central display, a navigation system and a hard disk, yet features no touch screen, yet can be controlled only by using the rotary controller in the central tunnel.
I take a seat in the rear seats, paying attention to the head and shoes (the cutting of the door is restrictive), but, once seated, I get more generous space than in the BMW for the 1.80-meter height that I have, both for the knees as well as in terms of height. The interior width is gigantic, with 9 cm more than in that of he Q8 and with more than 14 cm over the X6, that is why three people travel well in the rear seats, with the one in middle being slightly uncomfortable due to the central tunnel relatively large.
I also benefit from the most outlined bench of the three, with heated side seats (428,40 euro), but I cannot order separate climate control for the rear seats not even as an option, and the limited visibility, provided by the narrow side windows are far from being a joy. The X6 isn’t doing any better either, with the same tight access space and with no handles.
It features instead a better visibility and a floor that is almost flat, that would provide even greater freedom of moment to the legs of the passenger seated in the middle, if the central tunnel would not extend far back. 4-zone automatic climate control can be ordered (470 euro), a facility that the Q8 also offers (800 euro), but the access up the sleeve of the Audi model are others: the access onboard, secured by the high roof, is obviously easier than that of the rivals, the knee-room and the interior height are literally huge and above of those of the A8 liner as well, and the ample glasshouse makes traveling more enjoyable.
Three people may travel in decent conditions at the rear and, further more, the bench slides by 10 cm and the backrest features stage-tilting (220 euro), that is why the interior space and that of the boot may be varied depending on necessities. Depending on the position of the rear seats, the boot measures between 465 and 566 liters, figures that frame those of the opponents (494 liters for the GLE Coupe and 523 liters for the X6).
Dynamics and comfort
The terms of the problem: both the Q8 and the GLE Coupe were equipped with the optional pneumatic suspension, while the X6 M Sport was fitted with the adaptive suspension (as standard), with no possibility to order a pneumatic suspension. Even though my model does not have one, the Q8 is the only of the group that can be ordered with an integral steering (1.150 euro).
In conclusion – similar equipment, similar engines – nobody gets disadvantaged. I start off onboard the Q8, that the engineers made efforts to slim down by using aluminum and high-strength alloy steel in the architecture of the body (in shares of 15% each) and by manufacturing the front wings, doors, roof, rear wheelhouses and tailgate of aluminum, as well as parts of the suspension. They only made it partially, because the weight similar to that of the opponents (2.375 kg) becomes obvious in corners, where the Q8 shows a pronounced inertia and does not show more agility than them.
Actually, the extremely short and sharp steering precisely draws the trace and the suspension set in the Sport mode lowers the ground clearance to 165 mm and limits body-roll, emphasizing sportiness. Unfortunately though, the feeling is more synthetic compared to both rivals, that more sheerly convey towards me the level of the grip in the steering wheel.
The champ is, in this situation, the X6, whose short steering (2.3 steering wheel turns between ends, as of that of the Q8 vs 2.8 in the GLE Coupe) and heavy (1.8 kg rotation force, compared to 1.7 in the Q8 and 1.4 in the GLE Coupe) offers enchanting sensations, lures towards sporty driving and ensures thorough control. Surprisingly, the GLE Coupe comes with a feedback identical to that of the X6, but the higher gear ratio and the low turn force of the steering wheel perfectly match the comfortable nature of the car.
The limits of the X6 is high up, thanks to the perfect mass distribution onto axles (51/49%), while the GLE Coupe and the Q8 understeer somewhat faster, but remain easy to control.
The Q8 teases with the most capable of suspensions, that, in the Comfort mode, does not induce to a vertical acceleration greater than 2.5 m/s2 to the body not even when passing over speed bumps (3,0 m/s2 in the X6 and GLE Coupe) and that silently operates in the opponents. The brakes are just as good,more efficient(only 38.4 m from 100 km/h) and more finely dozed than in rivals.
On paper, the engine of the Q8 is more powerful, with extra 28 horsepower compared to both rivals. Actually, the output differences are indistinguishable, but each of the models has a different behavior. The most tamed of the power unit of the GLE Coupe, that pulls with a sheer force of 1,500 rpm, assisted by the most harmonious transmission – 9G Tronic. Regardless of the speed and load, the assembly operates flawlessly and the nine gears provides it with an extremely relaxed driving (1.750 rpm la 130 km/h vs 1.850 rpm of the Q8 and 1.950 of the X6).
The drive software faultlessly selects the gears in any circumstance and, even though it is the quietest unit of the test (67,7 dB(A) in maximum acceleration vs 70,1 of the Q8 and 70,4 of the X6), it comes with an exciting sound. Yet, not as sporty as that of the X6, whose engine offers getaways above those of the rivals. It also benefits from the support of the sportiest transmission of the test, that shifts higher than in the rivals, regardless of the driving program and which, upon startoff, it even tends to slightly jump. It is not the case of the ZF gearbox of the Q8, that gracefully operates at low speed, but is undetermined when selecting the gear at partial load.
The TDI engine, even though relatively noisy, is by far the most efficient of the test (8.7 l/100 km vs 9.6 in the GLE Coupe and 10.3 in the X6), thanks to the mild-hybrid system with a 48V technology and the 10 Ah battery in the boot. Additionally, during highway rides, the ultimate aerodynamics of the Q8 brings quiet driving up to speeds of 150 km/h, while turbos are heard starting 140 km/h in the GLE Coupe and 130 km/h in the X6.
The BMW X6 starts the highest, but only because it is the M Sport Edition. Otherwise, the X6 xDrive30d comes with a starting price of 72.300 euro, placed between the prices of the two competitors. When prices compared, the GLE Coupe stays the most convenient, while the new Q8 is halfway between the two veterans.
The Audi Q8 takes the trophy, but it can only breathe easy for a few months until the riders receive new generations. Even with current generations, opponents are more athletic, while in Q8 the driver is more detached from the road. The great benefits of the newcomer remain connectivity and sensational gadgets, accessibility and inner space, which is bigger of those of the opponents. And if the current models are doing so well, the Q8 is waiting for hard days.
The latest model in the segment wins today’s comparative drive test. The huge interior space, the much greater access to the rear seats compared to those of the rivals and the efficient mild-hybrid drive system are its aces. It loses points due to the undecided transmission and the insufficient feedback of the steering.
The inventor of the SUV coupe segment stays the sportiest model, providing fast getaways and in-gear accelerations, but also exceptional control up to the limit. The large boot highlights its practical nature, but it loses ground due to the relatively high fuel consumption and the starting price of the M Sport variant.
You won’t find such refinement in any of the opponents: from the noble materials of the interior to the flawless engine-transmission combo, everything leads to a bohemian luxury. It comes with the lowest compared price and drives silently. But the out-of-date infotainment system and the weaker brakes bring penalties on it.
|Technical data||Audi Q8||BMW X6||Mercedes-Benz|
|Model||50 TDI Quattro||M Sport Edition xDrive30d||GLE 350 d 4Matic Coupé|
|Engne type/no.of cylinders||V6, turbodiesel||L6, turbodiesel||V6, turbodiesel|
|Max. output/revs (HP/rpm)||286/3.500-4.000||258/4.000||258/3.400|
|Max. torque/revs (Nm/rpm)||600/2.250-3.250||560/1.500||620/1.600|
|Gearbox||8 gears, automatic||8 gears, automatic||9 gears, automatic|
|Tyres||Continental WinterContact TS 850 P 255/50 R19||Pirelli Scorpion Winter 255/45 R20||Nokian WR SUV 4|
|Tyres dimensions||255/50 R19||255/45 R20||275/45 R21 - 315/40 R21|
|Ground clearance (mm)||220||212||201|
|Boot volume (l)||605-1.755||580-1.525||650-1.720|
|Acceleration 0-100 km/h (s)||6,3||6,7||7,0|
|Top speed (km/h)||245||230||226|
|Fuel consumption urban/extraurban/mixt (l/100 km)||7,0/6,4/6,6||7,8/6,4/6,9||8,8/7,2/7,8|
|CO2 emissions (g/km)||172||183||205|
|Tank volume (l)||85||85||93|
|0-60 km/h (s)||3,2||2,8||3,3|
|0-100 km/h (s)||7,4||6,5||7,6|
|0-130 km/h (s)||11,8||11,3||12,6|
|0-150 km/h (s)||15,7||14,9||16,2|
|0-1.000 m (s)||27,8||27,7||28,6|
|In gear acceleration|
|70-90 km/h ( D) (s)||3,4||2,9||2,7|
|70-120 km/h ( D) (s)||7,4||7,0||7,1|
|Top speed (km/h)||249,1||223,106||230,39|
|Braking from 100 km/h|
|From 100 km/h minimum load, cold (m)||38,4||42,4||43,3|
|From 180 km/h minimum load, cold (m)||117,4||125,3||135,8|
|In D, la 90/100/130 km/h (l/100 km)||6,87/7,35/9,62||7,04/7,63/9,35||6,84/7,63/10,30|
|City/national road/highway (l/100 km)||9,35/7,52/9,17||12,04/9,43/9,09||10,52/8,47/9,80|
|Mixt test consumption (l/100 km)||8,70||10,30||9,61|
|At 50 km/h (dB(A))||54,6||55,6||54,2|
|At maximum acceleration (dB(A))||70,1||71,4||67,7|
|Prices (euro with VAT)|