Premium Mercedes GLE SUV gets more tech and a seven-seat option, but is it a winner?Verdict4The GLE is Mercedes’ most popular SUV, and that looks set to continue. Being available with seven seats will open it up to more buyers, while the great quality, comfort and standard kit will ensure its position near the top of its class. We just need to try one in the right spec.
If you’re in the market for a new SUV, no maker offers more choice than Mercedes. The German brand has an eight-strong SUV line-up and next year that will increase to nine. But the latest model to arrive on the scene is the all-new GLE.
The firm’s BMW X5 rival, previously known as the ML, is one of Mercedes’ veteran SUVs. It’s been around since 1997; this latest fourth-generation model is the largest and most technologically advanced yet.
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It’s been redesigned inside and out and is now available with the option of seven seats, making it a stronger competitor to the likes of the Volvo XC90 and Audi Q7, as well as the X5.
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In the UK, there’s a choice of only two engines for now: a 2.0-litre diesel, badged GLE 300 d, and a 3.0-litre six-cylinder petrol called GLE 450. The latter uses Mercedes’ new 48-volt EQ Boost mild-hybrid technology to deliver better economy and improved engine response at lower revs. An even more efficient diesel plug-in hybrid will be added to the range next year, along with a pair of six-cylinder diesels.
The seven-seat package is standard on the six-cylinder models, but a £1,995 extra on the GLE 300 d we’re driving here. Is it worth having? Well, if you intend on mainly putting small children back there then yes, but head and kneeroom will be in short supply for adults. Yet in fairness to the GLE, none of its rivals – aside perhaps from the Land Rover Discovery – performs any better when it comes to space in the third row.
Where you will be more comfortable is on the middle bench; Mercedes has extended the wheelbase of the latest GLE to almost three metres, so there’s plenty of space for three adults in the back. And if you fold down the second and third row of seats you’ll free up 2,055 litres of storage; that’s 100 litres more than you get in a Q7 and almost 200 more than in an XC90. Dropping just the third row still reveals a very generous 825 litres of load space.
As you’d expect, the 242bhp 2.0-litre diesel will be the most popular engine option in the UK; it has a useful 41bhp more than the outgoing model and a hefty 500Nm of torque. If you’re looking for any sort of engagement, however, you’re going to be disappointed. The GLE has been to designed to work as a luxurious, refined and comfortable SUV – and here it excels.
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A lot of that comes down to the cabin, which is bathed in swathes of Nappa leather, brushed aluminium and wood trim. It’s a supremely luxurious place to pass the miles and wouldn’t look out of place in a car wearing a six-figure price tag.
On the move the 2.0-litre motor is a little gruff, but once up to speed it begins to fade into the background, helped by the slick nine-speed automatic transmission, which slurs the gears effortlessly.
Our test car was fitted with Airmatic air suspension, but in the UK the 300 d will only be offered with standard steel springs. Still, as we’ve come to expect from Mercedes’ top end models, the ride is plush and consistently smooth even on standard 20-inch wheels. We’ll have to wait and see how the standard steel springs fare when the GLE arrives in the UK in the spring.
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One piece of tech designed to improve the GLE’s off-road prowess and on-road comfort is a new E-Active Body Control system, but it’s only compatible with six-cylinder models. Its party trick is being able to bounce the car on soft surfaces, such as sand or snow, to help it regain traction and send you on your way. But the bone-dry roads of Texas didn’t allow a demonstration.
The system also adds a new Curve driving mode to the GLE’s Dynamic Select roster. Select it and it attempts to improve cornering and refinement by leaning the car into bends to keep it flat and level. It’s made possible be the system doing away with anti-roll bars so each wheel can move independently from the other – so ride height, damper stiffness and spring rate can be adjusted at each corner.
It has three levels of severity, one to three, and you can certainly sense it working, but it feels very unnatural in something so big and heavy, removing any concept of how much grip you have. It works better on the motorway where it remains flat and stable through long, high-speed bends. Having said that Mercedes UK is also undecided over whether to offer the system in its cars, because it’s likely to be an eye-watering £7,000 option.
- Model: Mercedes GLE 300 d AMG Line
- Price: £55,685
- Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl diesel
- Power/torque: 242bhp/500Nm
- Transmission: Nine-speed auto, four-wheel drive
- 0-62mph: 7.2 seconds
- Top speed: 140mph
- Economy/CO2: 46.3mpg/162g/km
- On sale: Now
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