COMPARO THE TALE OF THE TWO TOWERS
BMW AND MERCEDES-BENZ BATTLE TO SEE WHO CAN GET HIGHER. BY DANIEL PUND / PHOTOGRAPHY BY ANDREW TRAHAN.
PRICE $114,795 #2015
/ #2016 #USA
POWER 567 / 575 (EU DIN) hp
TORQUE 553 lb-ft
WEIGHT 5202 lb
0–60 MPH 3.7 sec
PRICE $118,610 #2015 / #2016 #USA (Tax free)
POWER 577 hp
TORQUE 561 lb-ft
WEIGHT 5397 lb
0–60 MPH 3.9 sec
GATHER ’ROUND THE FIRE, FOLKS, AND LET UNCLE CAR AND DRIVER TELL YOU A LITTLE STORY.
Some people might call it a fable or a fairy tale, but there ain’t fairies in this tale or brownies or sprites, not even a wisecracking woodland gnome. Where were we? Right, way back in the mists of time known as the 1920s, before interstate highways and chairs that give massages, there was a land known as the Irish Hills.
Now, that name is what fancier folks might call a misnomer, because these hills weren’t in Ireland and, truth be told, the hills really weren’t much in the way of hills, either. No, those hills were in Michigan, where any old lump is called a hill. Along U.S. Route 12, once the trail that connected Detroit and Chicago, there lived a farmer named Edward Kelly whose land included part, but not all, of Brighton Hill. In about 1924, the Michigan Observation Company (MOC) decided it would build an observation tower on that hill, because, well, because Netflix hadn’t yet been invented. The evil MOC decided to cash in on the tourists with this roadside attraction. The good Mr. Kelly was not at all pleased, but the MOC built its 50-foot tower anyway, mere feet from his property line.
So Kelly built his own damn tower, of similar design, right next to it. But Kelly's was 60 feet tall. It would come to be known as the Spite Tower. [Are we going to be mentioning the vehicles at any point in this comparison test?—Ed.]
Well, that wouldn't do at all, said the MOC. It was not about to lose a measuring contest to Kelly and added 14 feet to the top of its tower. Possibly you saw this coming, but Kelly then added four feet to the top of his tower, putting it even with the MOC's.
It wasn't until the MOC threatened to tear down its tower and build a much taller steel structure that Kelly called a truce. And the people rejoiced in this battle of the towers. Then the interstate came and sucked all the tourists away from the Irish Hills and its cheesy attractions. The towers were eventually joined and ringed by a half-bit miniature-golf course. They now sit, stained and boarded up with their observation decks removed, a last-ditch effort to try to save ahem from the wrecking ball by making ahem nominally weatherproof until the current owner could raise the $300,000 it would take to repair them.
We're not implying that the BMW X6 M F16 and the Mercedes-AMG GLE63 S Coupe are in any way like those two towers. For one, both vehicles were, in our testing, watertight and structurally sound. To see the towers as an allegory for these two hot-rodded coupe-ish SUV thingamabobs would be to imply that German carmakers are in a constant and sometimes futile measuring contest, caring only about one-upping each other. And that can't be true because, um, these two vehicles are both made in the United States.
Mercedes started this whole “four-door coupe” silliness with its CLS sedan, and was followed quickly by BMW and its two four- door coupes. BMW was the first to take the basic concept to new heights of absurdity with its X6. And it was Mercedes that fired back with the large bar of soap known as the GLE Coupe. And look at where this has gotten us: Testing 5200-plus-pound performance vehicles that ride on massive, sticky summer tires and provide precious little of the utility of an SUV with precious little of the fun of a proper performance car. It's a cautionary tale.
But here they are nonetheless. A second-generation snub-nosed F16 BMW X6 M, which pumps out 567 horsepower from its twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter #V8
, performs astonishing feats on the test track and looks from the rear-three-quarters view like a rat with no tail.
Fresh this year is the GLE Coupe, a GLE SUV made less practical. Predictably, its 5.5-liter twin-turbo V8 makes 10 more horsepower than the X6 M's engine, because, nyah, nyah, nyah, ours is bigger.
Viewed directly from the rear, it looks like a sad robot with a chrome unibrow.
So what, pray-tell, constitutes a win in this segment of $100K-plus high-performance, low-utility parade floats? Good question. Let’s find out together.
2 BMW X6 M
Look at our performance-test results for the BMW. Go ahead, we'll wait... Right? How insane are those numbers? The BMW might have lost this comparison test, but it certainly didn't lose it on the test track. This 5202-pound chunk of automotive fashion hammers its way to 60 mph in an improbable 3.7 seconds. It stops from 70 mph in just 152 feet. And it circles the skidpad with a ridiculous 1.01 g’s of grip. For perspective, all of the above numbers are better than those achieved by the 3613-pound BMW M3 DCT.
If the guiding criteria for a win here rested on absurd achievements of absurdity, the X6 M would win hands down. BMW didn't just teach an elephant to dance; the company also strapped roller skates to its feet and mounted JATO rockets to its ass.
That the beefy X6 M can carry fewer beer cases in its cargo hold (behind the rear seats) than an A4-based Audi Allroad Quattro is no great demerit, since the even-beefier Mercedes can only match the Allroad’s beer-carrying space.
So why does the BMW lose? While we’d like to say that the most illogical vehicle—the one that best embodies the most devil-may-care flaunting of practicality and sense— should win, we can't. The BMW loses because it's a less-good day-to-day vehicle than the Mercedes.
The BMW's rear seats are cramped, forcing average-to-tall rear-seat riders to tilt their heads uncomfortably and assume a legs-spread posture, as if birthing the front-seat passengers. The BMW's ride is admirably compliant on most surfaces in comfort mode. But, in sport and sport-plus modes, the X6 M on lumpy pavement becomes a bucking bronco, its enormous Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires (sized 285/35ZR-21 in front and 325/30ZR-21 in the rear) yanking the steering wheel as it follows the prevailing terrain. From the remote, high-mounted seat, the driver is left to feel as if he or she is just a passenger along for the head-tossing ride. Mind you, on a smooth test track the BMW conquers our slalom quicker and with more predictable handling than the Mercedes. But that's the crux of the problem with the X6 M: It feels as if it were designed to be more of a handling engineer's proving-ground toy than a vehicle for the road.
The X6 M's seat and driving position are less comfortable than the GLE's, despite a near-endless variety of adjustments. The BMW's interior is such a bewildering assemblage of panels and textures and controls that you'd think it came out of a modern Cadillac. The instrument panel strata (from bottom to top) are black leather with tan stitching, tan leather with tan stitching, a strip of semi-gloss aluminium, shiny piano-black plastic, glossy carbon-fiber, four pieces of black leather with tan stitching, and a piece of black leather with black stitching.
Its engine, mighty powerhouse that it is, doesn't sound very inspiring. Instead, it just sounds strange, garnering descriptions ranging from “a V10 with an exhaust leak” to “BMW's synthetic exhaust note, version 2.0.” And while the engine makes plenty of thrust once up to full boil, the power pauses and surges before it gets there in a way unbecoming of a BMW.
These quibbles, however, do not diminish BMW’s otherworldly accomplishment developing the X6 M into a numbers-generating monster. And we appreciate that BMW delivered our test car in full peacock plumage, covered as it is in a sort of electric-teal paint and wearing medium-blue painted calipers. It makes a helluva statement. And as soon as we figure out what that statement is, we will let you know.
1 MERCEDES-AMG GLE63 S COUPE
During at least part of our exhaustive testing of this new and terribly misnamed “coupe,” an adorable little ladybug rode along with us. It would appear on the dash looking all children's-book cute for a leg of our journey, and then it would reappear on the windshield header for the next leg. We can only guess that it felt at home in the beetle-shaped GLE, or that it thought it had found in the Mercedes its god.
Whatever the case, features editor Jeff Sabatini, a man who knows from luck, deemed the bug's presence auspicious. And that line of unreasonable reasoning makes as much sense as either of these utes, so...
It's true that the heavyweight GLE63 S is not as quick as the X6 M. (Unlike other AMG models, no non-S version of the GLE63 is offered because, why would it be?) Nor does it stop in as short a distance. And its Continental summer tires can't out-stick the BMW's Michelins on the skidpad, despite their identical section widths. But at 3.9 seconds to 60, the 5397-pound GLE63 S Coupe is as quick as the stonking new Chevrolet Camaro SS. It circles the skidpad with as much grip, 0.95 g, as a new Ford Mustang GT with the Performance package. And it stops from 70 mph in 159 feet.
Those numbers are legit, certainly for a vehicle with a roof 67.7 inches off the ground. But it's the GLE63's comportment on the road, when it's not at the absolute limit, that gives it the win over the X6 M. There's just something about the AMG philosophy that is better suited to big- baller performance vehicles.
For one, the company produces the biggest, beefiest exhaust notes in the business. Turbos? Yeah, the Mercedes has them, but they don't muffle the thunder. We judged the exhaust to be best in comfort mode. In the sport-plus setting, the GLE63 does its best Jaguar F-type imitation (although an octave lower) by spitting and popping in response to a lifted throttle. It's of sufficient violence to make us imagine the GLE's exhaust splitting at its seams. And it farts excitedly on upshifts of the seven- speed automatic. That's cool, if you're into that sort of thing.
Have a look at the top-gear acceleration results for the two vehicles. From 30 to 50 mph, the Mercedes is actually quicker than the BMW. Okay, it's only by a tenth of a second. But, it implies greater powertrain flexibility. In day-to-day driving, the AMG feels at once more alert and willing than the M— and also less strained.
There is less of a noticeable difference between comfort and sport than in the BMW, but in any of the settings, the Mercedes provides a more pliant ride. It is unperturbed by undulating pavement and still provides a pretty amazing resistance to body roll. In this respect, the GLE63 doesn't feel as if it's trying as hard to feel sporty as the X6 M, but it achieves performance nearly as high.
Our track tester complained about the GLE63's wayward tail during our slalom test, but we never felt it on the road. Below the limits, the GLE feels eager to turn in a way that belies its 114.8-inch wheelbase.
In place of the BMW's visually cacophonous interior, the Mercedes' cabin is calm and well thought out. The front seats are comfy, with good lateral support. Its back seat is roomier than the BMW's, and the seat bottoms provide great leg support.
We think the Mercedes looks a bit dumpy on the outside. Passers by just seemed confused by the thing once their eyes made their way back to the truncated rear. And the height of the cargo-hold opening is a back strain waiting to happen.
Still, Mercedes' Spite Tower is the taller of the two for now. Or was BMW's the Spite Tower? Either way, in this competition, there's no truce on the horizon.
Mercedes covers a sensibly designed interior in a not-sensible wrapper. The GLE63’s comfy and supportive front seats will even give you a massage, albeit a feeble one.
MERCEDES-AMG GLE63 S COUPE C292-series
+ Sounds spectacular, plenty quick enough, comfortable.
- Looks not spectacular, absurd lift over height, “less insane” remains a variety of insane.
= The gentleman’s high-performance SUV thing.
BMW X6 M F16
+ Test-track performance that defies physics.
- Fussy controls, uninspiring synthetic soundtrack, can’t relax.
= If you’re looking to dominate the two-and-a half-ton class at track day, this is the vehicle for you.
Opposite top: Only 12 cases of beer will fit in the X6 M’s cargo hold, barely enough alcohol to make you forget how odd this vehicle is. Opposite and below: Fussiness abounds inside the BMW.