It's not just the XML that's horrible. Maven is just not a very good build tool. It's output is overly verbose, it doesn't really support multiproject builds, the default conventions are ancient by now... there is just so much to dislike.
Gradle is definitely the "next easiest thing" to ANT. Maven is just an overcomplicated mess.
But I mean, if you like typing 90x as much information to do the same thing and then have a worse experience... who am I to stop you? Hopefully you never have to step even slightly outside of the limited "maven way" dogmatic BS.