Ever wondered which ultra-luxury SUV would reign supreme in an all-out comparison battle? Typically we would use this time of the year to reflect on 2021 and give you our picks for the best and worst cars of the year. But with the Michigan office receiving a bountiful supply of ultra-luxury SUVs to review, we decided to do something unique. Over the next few days, we will be doing a three-part comparison challenge. The rules are simple, each of our four contenders (Aston Martin DBX, Bentley Bentayga, Alpina XB7, and The Mercedes-Maybach GLS600) will go head to head in comparison tests with the winners from each moving onto a third test. The lone survivor from that one will then move to the championship round (that will be released in January), where they will go up against the segment benchmark, the Rolls Royce Cullinan Black Badge. Will one of them pull an upset as big as Julia Pena did against Amanda Nunes, buckle in, and prepare for a wild ride.
The Latest Chapter In A Long-Running Rivalry
Our first comparison shines a spotlight on the rivalry between BMW and Mercedes-Benz. The two have been closely competing against each other for the bulk of their respective corporate histories, and the stakes are always high when the two duke it out in various vehicle segments. However, in this case, both companies are entering new territory with the Mercedes-Maybach GLS600 and the BMW Alpina XB7.
In the case of the Alpina, it’s a trailblazer for BMW, with this model being the first Alpina-tuned SUV to make its way to our shores. Before this, we only received their sedan models in the U.S., and the SUVs the German tuner created were a forbidden fruit exclusive to the European market. The Alpina XB7 we experienced this year reflects the tuner’s core values, with the exterior styling of the donor X7 SUV receiving some slight tweaks to help send the message that this is something different. An Alpina sourced body kit enhances the profile of the SUV while the optional 23-inch wheels fill the wheel wells very nicely.
As for the Mercedes-Maybach GLS600, it prefers to flaunt the elegant side of life with the exterior styling being inspired by million-dollar superyachts. As a result, the Maybach loses some of the inherent sportiness that the Alpina possessed but made up for it by doing a better job of drawing attention to itself. That’s primarily due to the two-tone paintwork, which will relieve your wallet of $18,500 and manages to blend nicely with the massive chrome grille and the chrome encrusted 23-inch wheels. The GLS600 is also Maybach’s attempt to woo over SUV buyers with the sub-brand hoping to cash in on the recent surge in demand for utility vehicles while also adding some variety to their largely S-CLass sedan-based lineup of models.
In the battle of aesthetics, we have to give a slight nod to the XB7, which does a better job of living up to the “Sport” portion of the SUV acronym. The body kit and wheels help add some depth to the X7’s character, and they even manage to alleviate some of the eye strain created by the massive twin-kidney grilles. As for the Maybach, it was let down by some of the odd angles that the rear styling brings to the table, and while the two-tone Lunar Blue/Iridium Silver color combination is visually better than the Alpina’s, the fear of denting or scratching the canvas forced us to park carefully and to have that stress can be taxing to some SUV buyers in the long haul.
Maybach Smashes The Alpina In Interior Features
While the BMW managed to notch a victory in exterior styling, the script is flipped when you slip inside the interiors of both SUVs. The Alpina’s interior walks a very delicate tightrope between luxury and sport, with the X7’s core DNA being evident in multiple areas of the interior. The Alpina exclusive Myrtle burled wood pieces splashed throughout the interior help add some visual pop to the cabin, and that’s especially true when you combine it with the Alpina sourced leather seats. The XB7 also has its fair share of visual gimmickry, including backlit sunroof glass. As a bonus, the XB7 even comes with a third-row seat.
But the main problem with the interior is that while it manages to create balance, it doesn’t deviate enough from the standard X7 to make the Alpina a noticeable upgrade. The standard X7 is already a very luxurious place to spend time in, and it does a decent job of delivering the goods when it comes to design. While the Alpina manages to get some of the finer details right, it’s not a big enough leap to make it a genuine alternative to the standard X7, and as a result, it might be hard to justify its higher price tag.
That’s not the case with the GLS600. While the Maybach treatment forces buyers to pitch the third row for a novel second-row lounge area, what seems like a significant sacrifice actually helps enhance things in the long haul. Both second-row seats can fully recline, and the center space even comes with an optional refrigerator that can store drinks, and Maybach sourced champagne flutes. Once you’re nestled in place and have a chance to look around, Maybach’s superiority in interior quality and features is hard to ignore. There’s a better balance of high-quality materials, electronics, and outright luxury here, with the multi-purpose touchscreen (a glorified Ipad) reminding us of the TSR screen in the Bentley Bentayga.
The front seats are also desirable places to spend time in, and the infotainment system uses the latest version of the company’s MBUX system, which is a bit more usable out on the move than the clunkier I-Drive system. These features and more help the Maybach do a better job of being distinct from its pure Mercedes sibling, which will please customers looking for a noticeable upgrade over mainstream SUV luxury.
Duel Of The V8s Reveals Different Approaches To Performance
Both the Maybach and the Alpina get their motivation from twin-turbocharged V8s, with the Alpina’s 4.4-liter lump having slightly more displacement than the Maybach’s 4.0 liter V8. The Alpina is the more powerful of the duo, with the customized Bimmer producing 612 hp while the Maybach makes slightly less at 550 hp. The extra power on hand also allows the Alpina to make the sprint to 60 mph in 4.0 seconds (versus a 4.8-second sprint for the Maybach.)
The Alpina’s eight-speed automatic loses a gear to the nine-speed in the Maybach, but the big SUV makes up for it by having laser-focused handling. The Maybach can also move with the best of them, but here the focus is on the smoothness and as a result, the steering and suspension don’t have the same amount of communication with the road that drivers experience with the Alpina. However, the Maybach makes up for this by ultimately being the more accommodating SUV of the pair, especially when placed into Maybach Mode which smoothes out the acceleration by starting it in second gear and also making tweaks to the suspension to improve passenger comfort. A second mode called Curve eliminates body roll and is also meant to improve ride comfort. It also helps that the nifty air suspension has a softer tune than the BMW’s, allowing the GLS to waft over potholes and other road imperfections.
Fuel economy is something that’s typically not a prime selling point for SUVs of this caliber, but both the Alpina and the Maybach are very close to each other in this regard, with the Alpina getting two more mpg in freeway driving (21 mpg) versus 19 mpg for the Maybach. That’s despite the GLS coming equipped with Benz’s EQ mild-hybrid system, which uses an electric motor to help add more performance while also giving the Maybach the ability to drive on pure electric power but only at low speeds.
Who Will Move On?
In this battle of ultra-luxury utility, we have to give the win to the Mercedes-Maybach GLS600. While the Alpina delivered the goods when it came to driving fun, the critical requirement of any ultra-luxury SUV is that it also has to offer the goods in other categories, and it’s in this regard where it fell short. The interior is nice and richly appointed, but Maybach designers pushed the bar higher. The suspension is also a bit too firm for the segment, and some of the gimmicks I-Drive brings to consumers were more frustrating than helpful. Stay tuned for our next pairing when the Bentley Bentayga V8 and the Aston Martin DBX duel to decide which one will move on to take on the Mercedes-Maybach GLS600.
Carl Malek has been an automotive journalist for over 10 years. First starting out as a freelance photographer before making the transition to writing during college, his work has appeared on numerous automotive forums as well as websites such as Autoshopper.com.
Carl is also a big fan of British vehicles with the bulk of his devotion going to the Morgan Motor Company as well as offerings from Lotus, MG, and Caterham. When he is not writing about automobiles, Carl enjoys spending time with his family and friends in the Metro Detroit area, as well as spending time with his adorable pets.