We love driving fast. We like SUVs. When you merge those two together, you get fast and powerful SUVs. Sounds like fun, no?
BMW’s M division and Mercedes-AMG are both known for their performance coupes, but lately they’ve been crafting sporty SUVs with the aim of delivering the same go-fast experience you’d expect in one of their high-performance cars. Sure, SUVs are bigger, taller, and heavier, but when you add a powerful engine, retune the suspension, and add all-wheel drive, the result is a thrilling experience. The BMW X6 M Competition and the Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S are two gripping SUVs whose job is simple yet difficult to achieve: enchant the driver. The two automakers share the same objective, but each goes about the execution in its own way. Which one does it best?
Don’t let the BMW X6’s shape throw you off—the fastback’s weird proportions might not be classically pretty, but you’ll soon forget about that once you get behind the wheel. With 617 hp and 553 lb-ft of torque, the 4.4-liter twin-turbo V-8 never seems to get tired. Mated to an eight-speed automatic, the powertrain is smooth and responsive. One of the things we like about driving SUVs is the higher ride, and the X6’s 8.5 inches from terra firma is more than enough to give the driver a commanding view. With an as-tested price of $132,745, this X6 M Competition doesn’t seem that expensive. After all, this (along with the X5 M Competition) is the most powerful BMW SUV you can buy today.
BMW and Mercedes have always had a close rivalry, and the Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S is a strong adversary to the X6 M competition. Powered by a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 engine under the hood, this GLE puts out 603 hp and 627 lb-ft of torque. One big difference, however, is Mercedes’ EQ mild-hybrid system, which is composed of an electric motor that delivers 21 hp and 184 lb-ft. Besides helping its go-fast numbers, it can also shut off the engine and cruise using electric boost only. Compared to the BMW, this Mercedes adds an extra gear, but it didn’t feel as quick to respond. The Mercedes’ looks are stunning from every angle, but it lacks its Munich counterpart’s aggressive stance. The Mercedes’ as-tested price of $133,075 falls right in line with the Bimmer’s.
Although their looks might be completely different, this duo is trying its best to impress. It’s rare that we get two rivals so closely matched inside a ring.
On the Asphalt
Angeles Crest Highway, one of the best roads on the planet, served as the stage for this faceoff. Its twisty roads, hill climbs, and descents are perfect for anyone who loves driving.
The X6 M demonstrated that it likes to do the work. It pulls and pulls without getting tired. “It’s big, brutish, and powerful,” features editor Christian Seabaugh said. It’s so punchy that you forget about its size; it doesn’t feel heavy, its ride is composed, and it likes to lean into the corners without hesitation. You’ll feel vertical motions when driving on broken pavement, though. The ride isn’t as stiff as other M SUVs (think X3), but road vibrations can disrupt the peacefulness inside the cabin. Fortunately, the driver can tune the engine, chassis, steering, and brake response to their liking. Most of the judges preferred setting the engine in Sport Plus and keeping the suspension in Comfort, which made a huge difference in the ride quality.
On the other hand, the AMG is reminiscent of the GT R we drove on the same roads a few weeks back. “I really sensed the AMG GT roots with that motor, transmission, and steering,” road test editor Chris Walton said. “How is this possible in an SUV?” But an electronic issue sparked mixed reactions in the judges. For some, the stability control system would cut power randomly—sometimes during the worst possible moment, applying the brakes during a corner. The issue was random and happened a couple of times when going up or down the mountain road. When the AMG’s computer decided to cooperate, though, the SUV delivered.
The air suspension makes the ride very comfortable, and even when pressed hard, it always managed to stay controlled. Seabaugh said the AMG felt supple over bumps, and Walton described its body control as better than the X6’s. Mercedes engineers precisely tuned its suspension to deliver a sporty ride without beating up any of the occupants.
Whereas the Mercedes excels in ride quality, it misses in power delivery. The transmission took a while to downshift, affecting the quick torque delivery. “Even in Race mode, it upshifts too early and would sometimes downshift seemingly at random midcorner,” Seabaugh added. And when the boost is there, the AMG doesn’t feel as fast as the X6 M. On the other hand, the BMW never quits; its powertrain worked flawlessly, delivering the punch whenever the driver asked for it.
In the end, we were split on how the AMG handled. Some felt there wasn’t enough boost; others praised the engine for its sportiness. But the consensus was that its steering, though accurate, didn’t really provide any feedback.
“The X6 is a monster, a mutant freak,” features editor Scott Evans said. “It’s like a Porsche without the refinement.” It felt at home running up and down Angeles Crest Highway, sticking to the twisty slopes and carrying on like there was no challenge. BMW engineers really focused on the details to make the X6 a fun-to-drive SUV. Its V-8 felt effortless and seemed to do everything right. The transmission is precise and smooth, and its steering is accurate. “You can go deeper into corners than the hulk and bulk of the vehicle initially suggests to you,” senior features editor Jonny Lieberman said. “The thing just keeps on turning.”
Just like their exteriors, each SUV has a different appeal inside. The Mercedes looks very polished and features a large display and hidden buttons, while the BMW’s bucket-like seats and M badges on the center console, seatbacks, steering wheel, and shifter indicate that you’re inside a high-performance SUV. The GLE also has an AMG badge on the steering wheel, but the cabin doesn’t feel that different than the regular GLE’s.
Both designs flow well, but the Mercedes feels more luxurious than the Bimmer. Its layout is opulent without being too extravagant, and everything feels like it’s in the right place. We’re not huge fans of its touchpad controls; you have to dig through menus to navigate the infotainment system. But the overall look is premium and rich, with soft materials everywhere that make you feel like you’re actually driving something that’s worth north of $100,000.
BMW’s latest iDrive system is easier to use than the GLE’s touchpad thanks to simpler menus and easier access. With wireless Apple CarPlay, you only have to connect your phone once, and it will automatically reconnect every time you turn on the engine. Although you must use a cord to use CarPlay in the Mercedes, the GLE 63 S gets extra points for having Android Auto compatibility, something the Bimmer lacks. (Starting this summer, BMW will add Android Auto to its vehicles.) Like in the GLE, when you enter the X6, you feel you’re in a special cabin, and depending on the color combination, the X6 feels unique—especially when you get the Ametrin Metallic exterior paint, an elegant eggplant shade.
Both SUVs feel quite spacious, with plenty of legroom and headroom. Even in the BMW, where its “coupe” shape might interfere with headroom, the designers made sure to leave plenty of space for tall passengers. The coupe profile also helps the Bimmer feel cavernous; with the seats folded flat, the X6 can fit long items and a bunch of other stuff. The GLE’s cargo capacity is also superb, but it doesn’t feel as spacious as the BMW’s.
In our comparisons, like in baseball, we always pick a winner. Fortunately, the match didn’t go into extra innings, as the BMW X6 M Competition clearly took the W. With its punchy powertrain, athletic handling, and right balance, the X6 felt at home on twisty roads. On the highway and in normal driving, it mixed a go-fast feel with a touch of comfort.
Although the Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S is also remarkable, some of us felt it was missing the hype. On a post-comparison drive in a healthy unit, Evans said the high-performance Mercedes felt like its younger sibling, the AMG GT four-door. Still, he said that although the GLE is incredibly competent, “the X6 M is just a lot more fun.”
BMW take the prize in this match with the performance and handling of the X6 M Competition. But if the rear just looked a little better …
|2020 BMW X6 M Competition||2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 63S 4Matic+ SUV|
|DRIVETRAIN LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD||Front-engine, AWD|
|ENGINE TYPE||Twin-turbo 90-deg V-8, alum block/heads||Twin-turbo 90-deg V-8, alum block/heads, plus electric motor|
|VALVETRAIN||DOHC 4 valves/cyl||DOHC 4 valves/cyl|
|DISPLACEMENT||268.2 cu in/4,395 cc||243.0 cu in/3,982 cc|
|POWER (SAE NET)||617 hp @ 6,000 rpm||603 hp @ 5,750 rpm (gas), 21 hp (elec), 603 hp (comb)|
|TORQUE (SAE NET)||553 lb-ft @ 1,800 rpm||627 lb-ft @ 2,500 rpm (gas), 184 lb-ft (elec), 627 lb-ft (comb)|
|REDLINE||7,200 rpm||7,000 rpm|
|WEIGHT TO POWER||8.8 lb/hp (MT est)||9.1 lb/hp (MT est)|
|0-60 MPH||3.5 sec (MT est)||3.4 (MT est)|
|TRANSMISSION||8-speed automatic||9-speed automatic|
|SUSPENSION, FRONT; REAR||Struts, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar||Control arms, air springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; multilink, air springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar|
|STEERING RATIO||13.0:1||Not yet available|
|TURNS LOCK-TO-LOCK||2.6||Not yet available|
|BRAKES, F; R||15.6-in vented, drilled disc; 15.0-in vented, drilled disc, ABS||15.8-in vented, drilled, disc; 14.6-in vented, drilled, disc, ABS|
|WHEELS||10.5 x 21-in; 11.5 x 22-in, forged aluminum||10.0 x 22-in; 11.0 x 22-in, forged aluminum|
|TIRES||295/35R21 107Y; 315/30R22 107Y Michelin Pilot Sport 4S (star)||285/40R22 110Y; 325/35R22 114Y Michelin Pilot Sport 4S M01|
|WHEELBASE||117.0 in||117.9 in|
|TRACK, F/R||66.9/66.5 in||66.7/67.7 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||195.0 x 79.5 x 66.7 in||190.0 x 79.4 x 70.2 in|
|GROUND CLEARANCE||8.4 in||7.5-8.1 in (MT est)|
|APPRCH/DEPART ANGLE||18.2/20.7 deg||18.0/19.8 deg|
|TURNING CIRCLE||42.0 ft||40.7 ft|
|CURB WEIGHT||5,400 lb (MT est)||5,500 lb (MT est)|
|WEIGHT DIST, F/R||51/49% (mfr est)||56/44% (MT est)|
|TOWING CAPACITY||Factory hitch not available in U.S.||3,858 lb|
|HEADROOM, F/R||39.3/37.5 in||40.5/39.6 in|
|LEGROOM, F/R||40.4/35.7 in||40.3/40.9 in|
|SHOULDER ROOM, F/R||60.0/57.7 in||59.3/58.3 in|
|CARGO VOLUME, BEH F/R||59.6/27.4 cu ft||74.9/33.3 cu ft|
|BASE PRICE $119,595 $114,945|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$132,745||133075.0|
|AIRBAGS||10: Dual front, f/r side, f/r curtain, front knee||9: Dual front, f/r side, f/r curtain, driver knee|
|BASIC WARRANTY||4 yrs/50,000 miles||4 yrs/50,000 miles|
|POWERTRAIN WARRANTY||4 yrs/50,000 miles||4 yrs/50,000 miles|
|ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE||4 yrs/Unlimited miles||4 yrs/50,000 miles|
|FUEL CAPACITY||21.9 gal||22.5 gal|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB ECON||13/18/15 mpg||14/18/15 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||259/225 kW-hrs/100 miles||241/187 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||1.40 lb/mile||1.25 lb/mile|
|RECOMMENDED FUEL||Unleaded premium||Unleaded premium|