Impressively tech-laden and desirable SUV
- Cutting-edge interior
- Excellent all-round comfort on air suspension
- Added seven-seat practicality
- Plug-in diesel hybrid on the way
- Only two engines available from launch
- Most of the hi-tech safety kit is optional
- No air suspension for the GLE 300 d
- Infotainment controls can be fiddly
The Mercedes-Benz GLE SUV is now in its second generation, yet its roots can be traced back far further. Previously named the M-Class, it was the German manufacturer’s first mainstream SUV when it launched back in 1997, pipping arch rivals BMW and Audi to the post with their X5 and Q7 equivalents.
Now, however, the market is awash with SUVs, and the GLE can count cars such as the Volvo XC90, Lexus RX L and Land Rover Discovery as contemporaries. A capacious boot and reasonable road manners are no longer enough to guarantee success in this ever more crowded sector.
So, is the GLE worthy of its billing as an SUV equivalent to the excellent E-Class Saloon, and can it make its mark against a growing list of rivals? Read our full review to find out.
Hi-tech Mercedes-Benz GLE cabin sets the tone for future models
Dominated by two 12.3-inch screens, the GLE’s dashboard showcases the design language of future Mercedes-Benz vehicles. The dual-screen design has also featured in the A-Class Hatchback earlier in 2018, but this is the first time we’ve seen it translated into one of the brand’s larger products.
The good news is that the overall effect is no less impressive. The cabin both looks and feels of an excellent quality, boasting swathes of high-end materials and crisp, easy-on-the-eye screens displaying all of the car’s major functions.
Mercedes’ updated MBUX infotainment features, as does the 'Hey Mercedes' voice recognition feature and Interior Assist – the latter allowing the user to control functions by employing simple hand gestures.
It’s not quite perfect, the main touchpad controller isn’t as easy to use as the rotary dial on the previous generation GLE – or the BMW X5 for that matter – while the smaller touchpads on the steering wheel can also be fiddly.
Broad range of Mercedes-Benz GLE engines – but only two on offer initially
From launch the GLE will be available with two engines – the 300 d and 450. The former is a 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel producing 245hp, while the latter is a 3.0-litre six-cylinder petrol with 367hp.
A number of other engines are set to follow, however, including two 3.0-litre diesels and a plug-in hybrid – also believed to be diesel. AMG performance versions are also set to follow at some point, in AMG 53 and AMG 63 guises.
Of the current engines on offer, the 450 version is smooth, punchy and refined but heavy on fuel, while the 300 d is much more economical, but gruff at low revs. We have also had a drive in the upcoming 400 d, and reckon it’ll likely be the sweet spot in the range. Power delivery is strong and linear, while refinement is noticeably better than the 2.0-litre 300 d version.
Superb comfort on air suspension
When fitted with Airmatic air suspension, the GLE’s all-round ride comfort is excellent. Large bumps and undulations are shrugged off with ease, while smaller imperfections are expertly ironed out. Refinement is impressive, too, with road and wind noise kept to a minimum.
And while the 300 d engine is noisier than we’d like at low revs, the 450 and 400 d versions are hushed throughout all but the top end of the rev range.
One caveat applies, however. The 300 d is likely to be a big seller, but disappointingly isn’t available with the Airmatic air suspension. We’ve not yet had a chance to drive a car with the standard suspension, so can’t offer an informed opinion on what it will be like. Check back soon for our first drive of the non-air-suspension GLE.
Vast array of Mercedes-Benz GLE safety tech – much of it optional
Along with the impressive spread of equipment in the cabin, the GLE also has a number of clever safety aids designed to help the driver avoid accidents.
Standout features include Active Blindspot Assist (automatically changes the car’s path if it detects an imminent collision with a vehicle in its blindspot), Active Lane-change Assist (automatically changes lanes when the driver applies an indicator), Active Speed Limit Assist (automatically sets the cruise control to the prevailing speed limit) and route-based speed adjustment (adjusts the cars speed before bends, roundabouts or junctions).
However, all of the equipment listed above is part of the optional Driving Assistance package and not standard on the GLE. If you’re buying new or used, try and ensure that this potentially life-saving kit is fitted to your car.
Seven-seat practicality for the first time
For the first time, this generation GLE features a seven-seat option, although earlier M-Classes had this additional flexibility on offer. Optional on the 300 d and standard-fit on all other models – apart from the plug-in hybrid version – this addition brings the GLE in-line with rivals such as the Volvo XC90, BMW X5 and Audi Q7.
However, access to the rearmost seats is a little tricky thanks to a narrow entry between the folded second row seat and door frame, while legroom in the third row is tight and best suited to children. All the seats fold electrically, however, meaning the conversion from five-seater to seven-seater can be done without using both hands.
Meanwhile, there’s generous amounts of room if you’re sitting in the second row, while the boot is of a competitive size. In two-seat mode, it’s capable of swallowing 2,055 litres – more than any of its rivals.
The Parkers Verdict
The Mercedes-Benz GLE is an accomplished luxury car that – when the full engine range comes along – will give little away to its biggest rivals or in-house E-Class Saloon equivalent.
It doesn’t drive quite as well as the latter, yet its cabin is more up-to-date and showcases a bigger wow factor, while the ability to carry seven and even do a spot of off-roading while you’re at it isn’t to be sniffed at.
If you’re in the market for one, however, we have one tip. Be patient. From launch only the 300 d and 450 engines are available – each being flawed. Therefore, we’d wait until the 350 d and 400 d 3.0-litre diesels are launched.
Both should provide a better driving experience and greater comfort (thanks to the standard-fit air suspension) for relatively little extra outlay – especially when you consider the seven seats are thrown in as standard, too.