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Retirees want a diesel SUV that lets them tow in comfort and style

2013 BMW x5 xDrive 35d


Guys: I follow you every week, and love the work you do. I am recently retired, and the better half will be joining me soon. We want to do long-distance touring in comfort, maybe tow the motorbike in an enclosed trailer to parts unknown. I want something diesel – with comfy supportive seats – and the choices come down to the Mercedes M-Class BlueTec or the BMW X5. We think either would likely be a good long-term purchase. – Wayne and Carolyn in Ajax, Ont.

Vaughan: Cato, that's the life for you. Cruising around in a big SUV with a Harley-Davidson on the back, stopping at biker bars and weight-lifting emporia.

Cato: Heaven. First stop: the Black Hills of South Dakota. You know, the big Sturgis Rally. It's on every Harley rider's bucket list. Next August, the great ZZ Top will be rocking the house! Come with me, old fella; we'll grow ZZ Top beards and get tattoos.

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Vaughan: Now, now, take it easy. As all the boomers get put out to pasture, there's going to be a lot of this going on. Don't get run over in the stampede.

To me, it sounds like these two have enough dough to get exactly the right SUV and embrace their inner V-Twin. They're looking at the latest M-Class, which is a gem. I think it's now the third-generation.

The M-Class has come a long way from the first one; it was a dog. This one is comfortable, calm and collected in all circumstances, including the off-road. You sit in an interior that is the equal of the high-end Mercedes sedans.

Those old M-Class trucks were terrible gas guzzlers, but the 3.0-litre V-6 BlueTec diesel ($61,000) smoothly cranks out 240 horsepower and 455 lb-ft of torque. It will pull that trailer and deliver respectable fuel economy.

Cato: For some reason, I've never been a huge fan.

The M-Class reminds me of Beyonce singing the U.S. anthem at President Obama's inauguration – looks stunning, and the singing brought me to tears. Then we find out she lip-synced the whole thing. Ugh. The M feels like Mercedes is lip syncing an SUV. It plays the part, but something just doesn't feel authentic – even though it is made in Alabama.

For authenticity, I give you the X5 xDrive 35d ($64,300). This Bimmer – 265 hp and 425 lb-ft of torque – does not put any pretentions that it's a serious off-roader, I mean. It's not and neither is the M-Class. This is a tall road-going wagon with all-wheel-drive for slippery roads and gravel paths. It's pretentious in an unpretentious way, if you know what I mean.

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Vaughan: I rarely know what you mean. I will say that I like the X5 a lot more since they put the diesel in it. I agree that it drives extremely well for such a big, heavy beast.

But I say: if you've got it, flaunt it. Wayne and Carolyn apparently have got it.

So, I suggest they check out the Porsche Cayenne ($64,500) because it is now available with a diesel. Porsche is part of the Volkswagen conglomerate, like Audi, and everybody knows how good Audi diesels are. There's no reason to think the Cayenne diesel isn't as good. For that matter, there's reason to think the Cayenne diesel might be the same as Audi's.

Cato: Well, many of the vehicles in the mighty Volkswagen Group – including Audi, Porsche and Skoda – share parts. Hmm. But Porsche tunes the road manners to its own brand specs, remember.

Look, if our pensioners care about handling and performance, the Cayenne diesel leads the pack – 240 hp and 406 lb-ft of torque. I know the torque number trails the other Germans here, but this rig is all about handling and here it's brilliant – that and the range and fuel economy of an excellent diesel from the VW Group. Did I say that? The Cayenne D would look perfect dragging a Harley to Sturgis!

Vaughan: My only problem is I think it looks too much like the old Hyundai Santa Fe and I wouldn't want my boomer pals to think I was trying to get by on the cheap.

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Cato: Now, wherever would any of them get such an absurd idea? Just checking: got your wallet on you?

Vaughan: You are getting too personal, Cato.

I will end my erudition on this topic to this: these are all good choices, but I think W and C should opt for the M-Class. The three-pointed star had a few bad years when they were making a mess of Chrysler, but it looks like they're back with some top products now; the M is one of them.

Cato: Nope. I am a fan of the X5 diesel. It lands in a sweet spot between the Cayenne D and Beyonce – I mean, the M-Class oil burner. Pretentious in an unpretentious way.

Vaughan: What on earth does any of that mean?




2013 BMW X5 xDrive 35d2013 Mercedes-Benz ML350 BlueTEC 4MATIC2013 Porsche Cayenne AWD Diesel

Wheelbase (mm)


Length (mm)


Width (mm)


Track, front (mm)



3.0-litre six-cylinder, diesel, turbo3.0-litre V-6, diesel, turbo3.0-litre V-6, diesel, turbo

Output (horsepower/torque)

265/425 lb-ft240/455 lb-ft240/406 lb-ft

Drive system

All-wheel driveAll-wheel driveAll-wheel drive


Six-speed automaticSeven-speed automaticEight-speed automatic

Curb weight (kg)


Fuel economy (litres/100 km)

10.8 city/7.6 highway10.4 city/7.1 highwayN/A

Base price (MSRP)


Source: car manufacturers

Jeremy Cato and Michael Vaughan are co-hosts of Car/Business, which airs Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. on Business News Network and Saturdays at 11:30 a.m. on CTV.


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About the Author
Senior writer, Globe Drive

In 25 years of covering the auto industry, Jeremy Cato has won more than two-dozen awards, including three times being named automotive journalist of the year. Jeremy was born in Montreal and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. More


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