New Mercedes GLE: Elegance and intelligence in one SUV package
Longer and wider than before, Merc's new GLE is a comfortable and capable SUV option - but what's it like to live with? Jack Evans finds out
What is it?
This is the all-new Mercedes-Benz GLE, and it's the latest incarnation of Merc's SUV range which started with the old ML-class way back in the late-90s. It's now longer, wider and lower than the car it replaces, and it's available with seven seats for the first time too.
Forming up as one of eight SUVs in Merc's current range, the GLE slides in between the smaller GLC and the larger GLS in the range. And with so many rival offerings currently on the market, the GLE isn't alone elsewhere, either. We went out in the four-cylinder powered GLE300d to see what it's like.
Being one of the most successful SUVs produced by Mercedes, it's little wonder why the firm's thrown so many features at the new GLE. It's packed with tech, including the manufacturer's latest MBUX infotainment system. Most of the higher-powered models feature air suspension as standard; our test car would usually have ridden on steel springs but had air suspension fitted as an optional extra instead.
Merc has overhauled the perception of quality inside too, with plenty of sturdy materials used to help justify the car's high price - even this relatively low-powered model cost from £57,015 on the road.
What's under the bonnet?
For this particular GLE, there's a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged diesel pushing out 242bhp and 500Nm of torque. Sent to all four wheels through a nine-speed automatic gearbox, this unit can power the GLE to a top speed of 140mph - and it'll dispatch the sprint from 0-60mph in just 6.9 seconds too. Efficiency is at the forefront however, with Mercedes claiming up to 39.2mpg combined and CO2 emissions of 169g/km.
Though you'd usually associate a six-cylinder engine with a luxury SUV like the GLE, the four-cylinder unit suits the character of the car well; it's torquey and surprisingly refined, while the gearbox is well-matched and shifts smoothly.
What's it like to drive?
This is a big car, so you'd expect it to feel pretty unwieldy from behind the wheel. However, thumb the starter button and kick the engine into life (met with a slight four-cylinder grumble) and you'll quickly find that the GLE is a far more compact car to drive than its outwards appearance would lead you to believe.
The ride is excellent on air too, ironing out almost all of the potholes and road imperfections that are such a frequent occurrence on the UK's roads. The steering is light but not overly so, while the nine-speed automatic gearbox is smooth shifting and doesn't delay when you need a quick burst of acceleration - when moving away from a roundabout, for instance.
How does it look?
The GLE is a large car and therefore quite the presence out the on the road. The front grille is uber-wide, with a Mercedes badge so large that it looks as if it's prepped and ready to draw other cars up and into it. Ours was finished in a silver colour which didn't do it any favours, however; we'd probably opt for a darker shade to give it more impact.
Our car rode on 20-inch wheels, which despite their size only look 'just' large enough for the GLE's wheel arches. The biggest benefit is the tyres that the alloys wear; big and squashy and a welcome break from the painted-on rubber that we've become accustomed to on premium vehicles.
What's it like inside?
Mercedes has cut a fine line between outright luxury and the rugged usability that people want from their large SUV. It means that while there are plenty of widescreen displays and high-quality materials, you also get solid grab handles in the centre and chunky controls for the air suspension height.
And there's plenty of space too - though you'd expect this given the car's size. There's the option of seven seats - which makes it a great option for larger families - and the boot is impressive too; there's 630 litres of space with just the second row of seats in place, rising to a palatial 2,055 litres with all rows folded flat. Put those sixth and seven seats into place though, and space does take a dive, falling to 130 litres.
What's the spec like?
The GLE 300d starts at £57,015, which, in anyone's book, is a fair amount of money. You do get plenty of kit, however, with our AMG Line-specification test car including a full sports bodykit, LED performance headlights and even ambient lighting with a heady 64 colours to choose from.
But it's the new MBUX infotainment system which makes the biggest difference here. It's arguably one of the best systems around at the moment, and though the new touchpad may not be quite as intuitive as the old rotary dial, it's still a breeze to use.
The Mercedes GLE makes an admirable first impression. The biggest feature here is that ride; it's super-refined and transforms the driving experience. It also means that the GLE will be a great go-to option for those who travel big miles on a regular basis.
The engine, likewise, is refined and economical, while the overall build quality builds on the excellent form being set by Merc's other cars. It's a well-rounded package for sure, and one which manages to tick all the boxes that you'd want ticked on a four-wheel-drive. An SUV for every day? The GLE feels like just such a vehicle.