OK so instead of a ‘dual to the death‘, how abouts an actual duel of sorts-a head to head between the two most likely candidates for my next car. These two cars are of course the BMW X5 and Mercedes ML, choices which have been front runners since even before I passed my driving test and that have continued to swing in and out of favour in my mind over the almighty build-up to my purchase; in actual fact it is beginning to sway again slightly and so I decided that now was probably the best time to outline for both myself and any readers quite why I should keep my decision between these two chunky German fraulines.
I have already made a similar comparison between the X5 and the Porsche Cayenne, and although I tried to remain as unbiased as possible the fact I already had a Cayenne lined up to view meant that I did maybe overlook some of the weaknesses of the Porker with a view to getting one. Hopefully the fact I am already torn between the ML and X5 means that my observations will be a little more balanced!
Looks and Image:
Always a topic which brings groans of dread from ‘true’ car enthusiasts, but the fact remains that more often than not people purchase cars based on aesthetics and attitudes as opposed to brand philosophy or handling prowess. Looks-wise I am going to be controversial and say I slightly prefer the cleaner lines of the ML to the aggressive haunches of the first generation X5; maybe it’s a litle unfair to compare a vehicle launched in 1999 to one which debuted 6 years later, but with it’s pre-Bangle design traits and stubbier dimensions the BMW does look a bit dated, albeit more aggressive. The Mercedes’ flowing design will likely age well and establishes a clear link to both it’s predecessor and the current model, but I will concede it is a more boring shape (especially in silver) and lacks some of the distinctive detailing the X5 such as it’s ‘halo eyes’ headlights. The image of these vehicles is similarly different but harder to separate in terms of preference; being around 15 years old in terms of design and a common sight on UK roads, the X5 has turned into a bit of a chav wagon in some areas…but when you say you own any BMW, especially an X5, people show some begrudging respect and/or jealousy. The Mercedes lacks some of the negative connotations of X5 ownership but suffers from an image which is a fair bit older/less exciting, and to be fair the first-generation ML long ago became a wagon for the less-well heeled, so this one may soon follow!
In the cabin:
Looking inside both cars and it’s clear to me that the newer design of the Mercedes gives it the edge here. A more modern and comprehensive navigation system plus standard aux input mean that the ML offers me many of the features that I desire in my new car, and whilst Bluetooth may not feature on all models it is still a relatively common option which I wouldn’t use much anyway. That doesn’t mean that the X5 disgraces itself though; the design may be older but it does feature a more upmarket, sweeping design that continues to be a feature of modern BMW’s…this by no means looks like a car that was launched in the last millennium! Feature wise the X5 also does very well, as although it may lack aux input most Sport models are extremely well equipped with heated leather seats, navigation with TV function and the aforementioned Bluetooth, plus a few even have rear heated seats! Comparatively many ML’s miss out on either the navigation or the heated seats…especially in the price range I’ve been looking at! The X5 also benefits from having a more conventional control layout in terms of gear level and hand brake; the ML’s foot brake and column shifter would require a (small) learning curve, as would the indicator/light stalk positioning. Finally although practicality isn’t key for me by any means , it is the ML that easily wins space wise, many coming with an electronic tailgate (even if it isn’t entirely reliable!)on it’s spacious boot – the X5 is fine for rear passengers but has a smaller load area and I am not convinced on the tailgate design anymore!
On the road:
I never got around to driving the X5 after my spate in the Cayenne but nevertheless I can already confidently say that it is the better driver’s car of these two vehicles. Handling is a renowned BMW strong point, and in the X5 this means relatively car like handling and stability around corners; when I test drove the Porsche I realised that handling, whilst not crucial, was still quite important coming from a small hatchback and being used to it’s quick responses. The ride in Sport models is not likely to be amazing (especially with those massively wide tyres) but I doubt it is unlivable. Mercedes has always focused on luxury and comfort so it’s not a surprise the ML is a little softer, even if it was cited as a near match for the X5 when it was first launched. I am not overly concerned about this softness as I have a teeny bit of experience in cars on this platform (see R Class) and nothing seemed too daunting, plus the ride would be better too. In terms of performance it is a pretty close match if the Mercedes is the higher powered ML320 version instead othe ML280. 230ish bhp from both the 320 and the X5 mean a 0-60 time in the mid 8 second range, but the 190bhp 280 takes closer to 10 seconds and to offers no benefits in terms of fuel consumption or emissions! Overall the straight 6 cylinders of the BMW probably sounds a bit nicer but the 7 speed gearbox of the Mercedes should give it the refinement advantage, plus there are steering wheel mounted gear shifters.
Again both ML and X5 are pretty evenly matched when it comes to running costs, for the most part anyway. In terms of fuel consumption an official figure of 29-30mpg for each car does not sound too awful and apparently is not unrealistic either…I mean yes there are horror stories of both models recording sub 25mpg figures on everyday jaunts, but the BMW in particular seems to get a decent return on fuel. Looking at insurance prices and about £900 seems the amount I will have to pay for this first year, not too bad but still a good chunk more than my current car although the lesser powered ML280 should be a couple of hundred pounds cheaper. Things like servicing and repairs are slightly more difficult to estimate however, as although both cars have variable service intervals there is still likely to be a wide scope depending on how well cared for my chosen example has been. Neither car is without it’s faults; the BMW has more horror stories associated with it but my friend’s R Class has not been the most reliable car either, but regardless a good independent dealer is vital and that hands the advantage to the Mercedes from a personal perspective. However last but by no means least is the issue of road tax; in March 2006 any cars emitting over 224g of CO2/km were hit with a higher rate of tax – currently £465 (or £480 if over 255g/km), compared to £270 for cars registered before this date. An X5 from pre March 2006 would be an easy find, but the vast majority of ML’s were registered past then and therefore attract the extra £195 of tax, an amount which could easily make up a couple of tanks of fuel or a small repair.
Dis-respective of all the other costs, the one which draws the majority of my attention at the moment is the purchase price of the vehicle itself. As it is an older design the BMW is a fair bit cheaper any way you look at it; 2005 cars tend to be priced between £9k-£11k dependent on location and mileage. Considering you can pick up a pre-facelift 2003 model for under £7k and it’s a little disappointing that later X5 prices have held at this level, thankfully most models are well specced but at most I’d want to pay £9500 less whatever I got for my own car. Only the scrappiest ML’s command less than £10k on the used market, and unfortunately Sport models with navigation and heated seats tend to be a bit more expensive…a minimum of £12k and likely more – although admittedly for that money you’re looking at 2006/7 cars. I could stretch my budget to £12k (less £1k for my car) if the ML was exactly what I wanted, but given the higher tax anyway it is still something to think about.
Whereas I debated before between differing engine choices in the Cayenne and X5 I am pretty certain now that I will go with a diesel car, especially seeing as though these are by far the most common on the market – sure a petrol X5 could be quite fun but they are not all that much cheaper than the diesels, and petrol ML’s are like hens teeth! No what gives me more pause for thought are alternatives other than the two German vehicles…a list which includes many other cars I’ve considered before. Land Rover models are always tempting but their reliability and high prices sort of rules them out for me at the moment (even if I am tempted). The VW Touareg is a good value alternative but the V6 diesel is thirsty and the 5 cylinder slow, plus seeing as though I’ve already poo-pooed the Cayenne it seems stupid to consider it’s twin! A more realistic option is the Volvo XC90, a car I’ve long admired and one that falls slap in the middle of my budget…I could even get a 2007 model for around £10k! However the Volvo suffers from poor performance, low cabin tech and ultimately a pretty boring/middle aged image – I know that none of these cars scream youth but owning a Volvo in particular seems a step too far for a 23 year old! The XC90’s smaller XC60 sibling suffers from a similar problem with me, but there is a German double act that’s very appealing; Audi’s Q7 and Q5. I’ve always liked the Q7 despite it’s vast size and thirst for fuel and tyres, but with prices falling under £13k it is pretty tempting…as is the Q5 but any nicely specced examples could easily fetch nearer £20k than £10k! Second generation X5’s are another tempting if expensive option-£15k would see me in a passable example but that’s still a good chunk more than even the ML, and last but not least are another couple of BMW’s…either an E46 M3 or an E92 330Ci. Both of these coupes would be significantly faster and arguably better suited to my age, but given that I have just ruined my Astra’s suspension for the second time in 2 months maybe a low slung coupe is not the best idea!
As you can see my mind is pretty all over the place at the moment full stop, not least when considering cars! What does not help is my lack of certainty over my job situation; I have an assessment centre at M&S on Monday which could result in a new job and possible commute! Equally I may have the opportunity of a temporary contract job with a health company in Paddington…a role which would mean significantly less in-car time but that might also mean a couple of days a week trawling up and down the motorway across the South of England. Either of those jobs could mean a radical rethink on the car front, but in the meantime m mind is happy to wander!
(Pics will follow on Monday evening…I’m away this weekend and then job interview on Monday, eeek!)