Germans helped pioneer the crossover market: the Mercedes ML appeared in 1997, and the BMW X5 shortly thereafter in 1999. Ever since, these two gadget-laden vehicles have engaged in crossover competition. Each currently offers gas and diesel six-cylinder engines, as well as turbocharged V8s.
But which is the better choice for buyers who want safe and luxurious transportation for their families?
What the Mercedes-Benz ML350 Gets Right
Offering rear-wheel or all-wheel drive, the ML350 is a more willing partner for drivers with something to tow. It can handle up to 7,200 pounds, and is also the sturdier off-road choice.
The Mercedes-Benz has a lower base price than the BMW, but it also has fewer standard options -- leather upholstery and seats with memory will cost extra.
What the BMW X5 Gets Right
Its on-road orientation doesn't make the X5 a less capable vehicle -- it simply shines as a family vehicle for driving enthusiasts.
The BMW is a tighter fit inside, with interior volume that's 30 cubic feet less than the ML's. But it does offer a third row of seats, making the X5 a seven-seater. Want a Mercedes-Benz SUV that seats more than five? The larger, more expensive GL is your only choice.
So, Which is the Better Choice?
The adage "there's no replacement for displacement" is disproved when we compare the X5 xDrive35i and the ML350. BMW's 3-liter inline-six has an extra 30 pound-feet of torque. Thank you, turbo. What's more, the BMW has a more flexible powerband, holding peak numbers longer. Thanks again, turbo. BMW also gives buyers an eight-speed automatic that puts that power to good use.
The Mercedes has a larger interior, offers better off-road and towing capabilities, and appears to be a less expensive choice -- but might not be cheaper once options are ordered.
Our Verdict: BMW X5
With greater seating capacity, more standard equipment and a performance edge, the BMW X5 is our choice in this comparison.