Neither the pioneer nor a trendsetter, the GLE’s been reinvented to have another go.
The Mercedes-Benz GLE is Stuttgart’s entrant into the lucrative and popular large SUV segment, and while the ‘GLE’ badge is new, the car isn’t. Despite that all-new model designation, look closely and you’ll find the bones of the old ML-Class beneath a reworked body (not extensively, but enough to claim to be reworked), packing a revised engine range and the refinement and poise that we’ve always appreciated from the big Merc.
While we aren’t all that impressed with Mercedes’ claims that this is a new model, what’s undeniable is that the GLE is a decidedly old-school approach on a rapidly-changing segment, with a clear focus on luxury over the sporty athleticism that its rivals go for (except for Volvo’s XC90, naturally), and an execution of the luxury SUV recipe that makes no qualms about its premium positioning.
Available in our market in GLE 250d, GLE 350d, and GLE 500e (plug-in hybrid) guises, with all variants getting 4MATIC all-wheel drive, it’s clear that the GLE is not one to be sidelined. But is this aged tank falling behind the competition, or is this a gift that just keep giving?
“The GLE arrives in Australian showrooms with more than just a new badge though as it coincides with a major facelift that brings updated exterior styling.” — Drive
The GLE sits on one particular end of the SUV market, proudly standing tall and upright with its distinctly classic SUV stance. The tall grille, slab sides and unadventurous roofline puts it in the same class as the Jeep Grand Cherokee, with the Volvo XC90 getting an exception only because it’s so sleek. This German tank makes no qualms about its duality, with its design making it very clear that it’s just as good on road as it is off road.
Actually, if you look at the GLE properly, you’ll see that it’s made no compromises insofar as the SUV package is concerned. It rides high, provides a commanding presence on the road, and the unimaginative roofline we mentioned earlier means that luggage space isn’t compromised either, resulting in the sort of practical family-friendly offering that first defined the SUV segment and their appeal. It’s no wallflower that’s for sure, but then again, is an SUV ever supposed to be?
Engine & Drivetrain
“The Grand Cherokee offers excellent diesel and petrol engines.” — WhichCar
The Mercedes-Benz GLE is offered with three powertrains in total, starting with the 250d diesel, powered by a 2.1-litre four-pot turbo jobbie, good for 150kW and 500Nm. What it lacks in power it makes up for with grunt, with the torque coming in early to help pull the car along with considerable gusto, making this the best engine for urban use. Fuel consumption for the 250d is rated at 6.0L/100km, which isn’t bad for something with all-wheel drive.
If that’s not enough (or if you want something bigger), there’s the GLE 350d. Under the bonnet lies a turbocharged V6 diesel motor measuring 3.0-litres in capacity, which produces a more brawny 190kW. Fuel consumption, despite the bump in power, is only slightly higher than the 250d at just 6.6L/100km, though many will appreciate the extra torque and smoother operation that this six-cylinder provides.
The sole petrol in the range is actually a petrol-electric hybrid in the GLE500e, which marries a 6-cylinder 3.0-litre biturbo V6 that produces a considerable 245kW on its own, but then gets paired up to a 85kW electric motor too. As a result, you have a car capable of doing 130km/h without consuming any fuel at all, for up to 30km at a time. Hence why it can claim to do 3.3L/100km on the combined Euro test cycle, even though that’s not a number you’re likely to hit most of the time.
All cars get Mercedes-Benz’s 4MATIC all-wheel drive system, with transmission duties handled by a 9-speed auto for the diesels (they’re made for long-distance driving, we tell you), and a 7-speed automatic for the hybrid.
“‘The upgrades to the cabin add more convenience and connectivity, but the largely carry-over design highlight the GLE’s ageing origins.” — Drive
While the changes to the exterior were at least significant enough to justify the rename, the interior is more of the same song on repeat. Yes, there’s a new tablet-style display sitting atop the dash and there’s been an exercise in minimalism where buttons are concerned, but for the most part, the cabin of the GLE feels a lot like the ML-Class Mercedes. It’s rather old-hat compared to the flashy cabins you get in the GLE’s rivals and even in Merc’s passenger cars, but some may prefer it that way. And if you do, you’ve found a friend in the GLE.
Where some cars have tried to reinvent the wheel as it were, the GLE keeps it simple and timeless, with a design that can at least be called timeless. The cabin feels like it’ll stand the test of time both in terms of quality and aesthetics, and that’s not something that can be said about many of its rivals. There are still many buttons that do things, and no silly all-in-one infotainment system that could probably reorganise your life if you ask it nicely. That may not be to all tastes, but if you still view your car as a car, then the GLE will do just fine.
One pro of being old-hat is that you cannot fault it for space. The GLE is vast, for passengers and for luggage, thanks to a body that has resisted every urge to follow trends and has remained steadfast in its presentation. There’s acres of space for up to 5 passengers inside, while boot room is rated at 650L for the diesels, and just 480L for the hybrid. Speaking of the hybrid, the blows keep coming as the battery storage that eats up that cargo room also raises the boot floor, which not only makes loading and unloading that much more challenging, but it also looks really rather tacky.
Behind the Wheel
“There have been major improvements to the dynamic ability of the GLE, compared to its predecessor.” — CarAdvice
As the GLE was designed as a comfortable luxury family wagon from the outset, there’s little to fault if you value it as such and treat it the way it’s supposed to be treated out on the road. There’s little road and wind noise at speed, and the GLE enjoys a comfortable, relaxed ride thanks to suspension that’s tuned more towards comfort more than some of its rivals. The seats are welcoming and supportive enough on long journeys, while the inclusion of driver assistance tech means that the GLE is more than equipped to take you towards the horizon with minimal fuss.
Where the ML-Class that preceded the GLE was an ungainly thing to drive, there’s been significant improvement under the skin to ensure that while the GLE may just be an extensive model refresh, it feels all-new where it matters. That comfortable ride is more than capable of handling the GLE’s body roll, and helps to ensure the car feels confident and planted on the road, lending it more credibility on the motorway. So much of the car has been improved upon that even the steering feel has been improved dramatically, so much so that you could even go as far as to say it offers some involvement (but not much). It’s clear that its priority in offering this more assertive driving experience is geared towards safety and not outright driving pleasure, but there’s a grin to be had while piloting something this sure-footed out on the road.
An aside on the GLE500e PHEV, it’s a great car to have around, especially in town. On a full battery charge you can easily do the urban commute without ever having to engage the petrol engine, though once the combustion motor kicks in, there’s enough power there that it never feels overworked (something that you’d see on something like a Toyota Corolla hybrid at motorway speeds). That said, the 500e does command a significant premium over the diesels and will cost more at the pumps, so it’s a matter of matching the right car with your lifestyle in the end.
Safety & Technology
“Extra equipment is a key part of the upgrade, feeling well kitted out for the money will the full roster of Mercedes’ extensive safety gear in the deal.” — The Australian
Being a family wagon at its core, the Mercedes-Benz GLE is packed to the hilt with safety and convenience kit, which belies the age of the model beneath. The rise in popularity in cars like these have forced Mercedes to cram as much kit as they can into every GLE that rolls out the door because, if they don’t, it’ll just lag behind the competition. All cars get things like the COMAND infotainment system with satellite navigation and touch-pad input, along with ‘intelligent’ (but slow-reacting) LED headlights, keyless entry and go, and an electrically-operated tailgate.
Safety kit is well catered for too, with things like 9-airbags, Collision Prevention Assist (collision warning and partial automatic braking), active cruise control with traffic-jam assistance, ‘Pre-Safe Brake’ and ‘Pre-Safe Plus,’ blind-spot monitoring, lane-keep assist, and LED ‘Intelligent Light System’ with high-beam assistance all coming as standard. If there’s one accusation you can’t level at the GLE, it’s that it’s sparsely equipped.
The Mercedes-Benz GLE might be an old dog in this segment, but it packs enough new tricks to stay in contention in this very competitive end of the market. Its old underpinnings are well-masked by a deft revision to the suspension tuning, while the cabin’s been given enough of a spruce up that its aged aesthetics feel inviting and familiar, and not outdated. And on top of all that you get an exterior that’s been reworked in all the right places, ensuring that your neighbour knows your car is that much better than his own ML-Class.
A refined ride, a range of competent engines, and plenty of safety kit means that while the GLE won’t set your heart on fire on the open road the same way a BMW X5 or a Jaguar F-Pace can, it’ll definitely go the distance you need from it with little fuss and plenty of resolve. The GLE is a testament to tried-and-true engineering over new-fangled technology, and how continual improvement will yield excellent results. Mercedes-Benz may have experienced a design revolution, but the GLE’s evolution over the years has resulted in a car that isn’t just another player in the segment, but one that’s deserving of your unbiased consideration, assuming you weren’t already swayed by the enormous three-pointed star on the nose.
Of the three variants on offer, our recommendation lies with the powerful GLE350d 4MATIC, which blends assured performance with every-day economy really well, without the premium commanded by the GLE500e PHEV. That said, the base GLE250d offers immense value and packs enough punch, as we’re just swayed by the allure of six cylinders. But in any case, the GLE500e isn’t really worth looking at as, as far as a plug-in hybrid is concerned, you’re better off in a Volvo XC90 T8 TwinEngine.
Either way, the GLE delivers on the established SUV promise excellently, and we reckon it really shouldn't be an outlier in the large SUV segment.
CarAdvice – 8.0/10 – “The GLE is an improvement over the ML it replaces, and it needed to be, too. With the new Audi Q7 on its way and the impressive BMW X5 reigning supreme at the top of the sales charts, the Mercedes-Benz GLE will have its work cut out for it – new name or not.”
CarsGuide – 6.0/10 – “The BMW X5 is the darling of the SUV-buying set in Australia, outselling the GLE by two to one. There’s little new about Benz’s GLE, but it can be a surprisingly capable off-roader.”
Drive – 7.0/10 – “In the end, the GLE’s updated styling keeps it fresh, the added equipment keeps it up to speed, and the 350d is an absolute standout. But while the GLE might introduce an all-new name, it’s not an all-new car.”
Motoring – 64/100 – “The Mercedes-Benz GLE is in essence a refresh of the marque’s US-built large-SUV, with a decent choice of engines and even a plug-in hybrid. Mercedes is hoping that the combination of choice and style will address the BMW X5’s sales superiority. We think it may take more than that.”
The Australian – 3.5/5.0 – “The main game, by a handsome margin, is the traditional boxy SUV with affordable diesels, with increased equipment levels and improved fuel consumption. But given its badge clout, there’s enough here to keep the GLE in the game. Just.”