A coming-together of familiar elements of yesterday and today.
German luxury carmaker Mercedes-Benz must’ve been sick of seeing spy shots, speculative articles, and even more spy shots of its new GLE-Class SUV making its rounds online, because the large family SUV’s been unveiled ahead of its in-the-metal debut at the Paris motor show next month. The GLE, the SUV formerly known as the ML-Class, has been a solid seller for the German luxury marque even as the outgoing model began to age, and so this new car which packs all of Mercedes-Benz’s latest innovations in the marque’s contemporary aesthetic, is an incredibly important car for the brand.
“The new GLE is not only more comfortable than ever before on the road, but also shows its superior off-road character off the beaten track. This alone shows our determination to reinforce our claim to leadership in the SUV segment. Significantly more space in the interior, the new control concept, considerably-extended and refined assistance systems, the best aerodynamics in the segment, a completely new range of engines, and numerous other innovations emphatically underline this.” — Ola Källenius, Sales & Marketing, Mercedes-Benz Cars
The new GLE doesn’t immediately strike you as new at first glance. Mercedes has been surprisingly restrained with this new model, choosing instead to integrate their latest design flourishes and features onto a mostly familiar canvas. Despite being built on a brand-new platform, the 2019 GLE-Class maintains a profile that’s similar to the outgoing model, and also seems to take the glasshouse shape from the older car.
But on that canvas, Mercedes has thrown some of its latest design developments: You’ll find the LED daytime running light signature from the E-Class up front, paired to an enormous grille (and equally-large badge) underscored by a huge, mostly-fake air intake. Down the side and you’ll get what we’re saying about it looking familiar, and sans the new-shape taillights that were undoubtedly inspired by the CLS-Class and new A-Class, it’s broadly similar to what we’ve come to know from the outgoing-generation GLE. Despite that, the new car does improve significantly in one area: Aerodynamics. In a specific specification, the GLE can cut through the air with a 0.29cd drag coefficient, improving from the 0.32 recorded on the old car.
Step inside, and yet again it’s a meld of familiar elements from newer Mercedes-Benz models being mashed together for the first time. The immediate attention-grabber are the two screens sitting ahead of the driver, running on Merc’s proprietary MBUX advanced infotainment system. Around that sits a cabin aesthetic inspired by the larger, brawnier G-Wagen with its central grab handles and flat-face dashboard, while it also integrates elements from the E-Class saloon, like the quad-aircond vents in the middle (which are square in the application).
Going back to MBUX, this will likely be the highlight of the cabin if you’re into technology. One of the most advanced infotainment systems on the market, MBUX makes use of artificial intelligence (AI) to better understand inputs made either by voice or by the haptic controller. You can even trigger the system to do your bidding by simply saying ‘Hey Mercedes,’ followed by your command. MBUX goes a step further in the GLE though: It’s been tailored specifically for this application and now includes off-road displays, and it also supports a function that moves the seats into a “usually suitable position” automatically based on the driver’s height. It will also learn from you: It’ll pick up your favourite contacts, your favourite radio stations, your favourite driving routes, and adapt itself to integrate those favourites to make your MBUX experience perfect for you.
Of course, in-car technology is worthless if the cabin itself is rubbish, but there’s no risk of that in the GLE. The new car sits on a wheelbase up 80mm than the previous generation, resulting in a 69mm improvement of rear-seat legroom and 33mm of overall headroom. Practicality’s been taken care of too with 825L of space behind the rear seats, though a cavernous 2055L can be accessed if the second- and (optional) third-row of seats are folded flat.
The Mercedes-Benz GLE is launching with just one engine, though many many more are expected to join the lineup later in its lifecycle. The debut model is a GLE450 4Matic, which pairs a 6-cylinder turbo-petrol mill with a 48V EQ-Boost mild-hybrid system. System output is rated at 270kW and 500Nm, though the integrated starter/generator system can provide an additional 16kW and 250Nm when needed. Power goes to all-four wheels via a 9-speed automatic gearbox, which sends that power through Merc’s 4Matic all-wheel drive system before it actually gets to the road.
The 4Matic system in the GLE450 and other 6-cylinder models will allow torque to be sent where needed based on situation, prioritising fuel economy & grip. However, 4-cylinder models will utilise a more rudimentary 4Matic system set in a permanent 50/50 front/rear torque split.
The GLE also benefits from the very latest advanced driver assistance innovations from Mercedes-Benz, as befitting the model and its intended pricepoint. So you’ll find things like autonomous emergency braking, intelligent cruise control with traffic-jam assistance, lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and so on. The GLE also gets something called E-Active Body Control, which utilises the 48V MHEV system to power a “fully-networked hydropneumatic active suspension system” that works in concert with the AirMatic air-suspension system. E-Active Body Control allows for individual control of the suspension in each corner, and in theory, should allow the GLE to offer a degree of body control and ride comfort that will best the current market offerings.
The 2019 Mercedes-Benz GLE still has to make its in-the-metal debut at the upcoming Paris motorshow, but we already know that the GLE will be arriving on Australian shores in the second-quarter of 2019. However, leading up to the arrival of the all-new GLE, we reckon you can snag a pretty good deal on the outgoing model.