Can BMW’s classy wagon sock it to Benz’s cleverly packaged SUV?

By Paul Gover, July 1 2019

In a world crowded with big, small and medium SUVs, it’s a rare treat to mark the arrival of one of a breed that was almost as popular, once upon a time: a smooth new station wagon.

The updated 3-Series Estate from BMW is appealingly old-school, marrying practical load-lugging ability with the driving dynamics of the recently arrived, all-new ‘Three’ sedan that is already locking horns with the dominant Mercedes-Benz C-Class.

It’s enough to make you wonder: why did we fall out of love with wagons?

Enter arch-rival Mercedes, which is making the case for the exact sort of compact, upright SUV that has stolen favour from wagons, but which you might easily cross-shop against the 3-Series Estate.

Its new GLB slides into a fresh niche between the baby GLA and the GLC, based on Benz’s belief that the B-car will be more practical than the GLA, without the bulk of the GLC.

The ace up the GLB’s sleeve is seating space – into a layout that’s small by SUV standards goes a five-plus-two configuration.

That means it’s comfy for five, but can carry seven, something that works for blended families or for carrying kids who have a few friends. Chalk up a small win for the SUV.

Still, the arrival of two such appealingly practical, yet diametrically different models raises another question: how many people truly need an SUV?

Unless you have hip or knee problems and access is a priority, an old-school wagon can be just as useful (setting aside the five- versus seven-seat question), and has plenty of other advantages besides.

They’re more enjoyable to drive, quieter, lighter on fuel, and – if we’re being honest – just as practical. And, in this guise, every bit as luxurious. Park a pair side-by-side and the SUV is exposed as a jacked-up wagon with bigger wheels.

Yet worldwide research shows that families – and women, in particular – want SUVs.

Aston Martin, the sports car manufacturer that is about to roll out its first SUV, the DBX, has unsurprisingly done a tonne of research on car choices.

“Eighty percent of car sales in the world are decided by women,” the global head of marketing at Aston Martin, Simon Sproule, tells Australian Business Traveller. “It logically follows that their vehicle preferences will have a substantial impact on the market.

“SUVs are attractive to both sexes, but there is a closer correlation between what women look for in a car and an SUV or crossover type of vehicle.”

He might be cheerleading for the DBX, but that’s also good news for Mercedes’ GLB against BMW’s Estate in Australia. It’s a no-brainer that the former will do better in showrooms.

Apart from packing in seven seats, the GLB will come with a choice of petrol and diesel engines when it lands later in the year. On size, it also lines up against the Land Rover Discovery, which also has a 5+2 cabin, but is more focused on off-road and towing jobs.

BMW’s 3-Series Estate is expected to arrive with a choice of two petrol engines, but promises a bigger 500-litre boot space, with a wider opening for easier loading.

It also has an electric tailgate with a glass upper half that can be opened separately. That means it’s easier to drop the shopping into the boot than in a higher-riding SUV with a one-piece lifting tailgate.

Family wagon, or compact, 5+2 SUV? Either way, you’re about to be spoiled for choice.

Paul Gover
Paul Gover

Paul Gover

As Motoring Editor for Executive Traveller, Paul Gover spends less time at his Gold Coast home than he does on the road (literally) test-driving the best of the four-wheel world.

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05 Jan 2018

Total posts 23

Interesting that the GLB middle row split is still the wrong way around for right hand drive countries. Like the GL, which makes this such a pain for families loading kids into the back row.

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