Parkers overall rating: 4.1 out of 5 4.1
  • Just two engines when it was launched
  • But now a full suite of powerful options 
  • Nine-speed auto and all-wheel drive as standard

From launch the Mercedes-Benz GLE was available with two engines – a 2.0-litre diesel named 300 d 4Matic (the latter part referring to the standard-fit all-wheel drive system) and a 3.0-litre petrol badged 450 4Matic. Both come with a nine-speed automatic gearbox as standard. More engine options – including a plug-in hybrid variant – have been added to the range since then, covering a range of options.

>> We rate the best hybrid SUVs for 2020

Powerful petrol engines

The only petrol engine currently available in the regular part of the GLE range produces 367hp from a 3.0-litre straight-six turbocharged engine. It's badge the GLE 450 4Matic and is capable of 0-62mph in 5.7 seconds and an electronically limited top speed of 155mph. Torque is rated at 500Nm.

Helping it on its way is Mercedes-Benz’s EQ Boost mild hybrid system – also seen on the C-Class and E-Class. Using a 48-volt onboard network, all you need to know is that EQ Boost provides an additional 22hp on top of the petrol engine’s output, designed to improve performance and driveability, while also helping the car to switch off sooner and conserve energy.

It's a smooth engine with power all over the rev range and a burbly exhaust note to match. It doesn’t feel pin-you-in-the-back-of-your-seat fast, but does make swift progress up to and beyond motorway speed limits.

Following this, Mercedes added an AMG 53 if you're focused more on performance. It uses a 3.0-litre engine with 435hp, but if you want more than that, there's also a more powerful AMG 63 S 4Matic+ coming, boasting a frankly ridiculous 612hp from a 4.0-litre V8. 

Strong diesel engines 

Opt for the GLE 300 d 4Matic diesel and you’ll be getting a 245hp 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine producing 500Nm of torque. Accelerating to 62mph takes 7.2 seconds while top speed is rated at 140mph.

Pleasingly, the 300 d’s small displacement doesn’t stop it from hauling the 2.2-tonne GLE along perfectly well, although we’d caveat this by saying we haven’t sampled one with seven people on board. With fewer occupants, it’s got a usable surge of low-down torque and reasonable throttle response.

If you do want diesel power, though, we reckon you’re better off spending a little more (if you can) on either the 350 d or 400 d models, both boasting a 3.0-litre six-in-line engine. We’ve driven the latter, and can confirm that it’s a sweet spot in the range, blending effortless low-down torque with genuine pace and impressive refinement.

The 350 d offers 272hp and 600Nm of torque while the 400 d produces 330hp and 700Nm of torque. We'd aim for the 350 d as it's cheaper to buy than the 400 d, but it's also available across all four trim lines, where the 400 d is the reserve of top-spec AMG Line Premium Plus only. 

Smooth 9G-Tronic automatic transmission

The 9G-Tronic automatic transmission majors on delivering silky smooth changes, but can feel a little hesitant when you require a burst of power. All GLE’s feature paddle shifters behind the steering wheel, allowing the driver to temporarily override the automatic changes.

You can hold it in manual model, although this requires delving into the infotainment system, and even then the car will automatically shift up if you get too close to the rev limiter.

Mercedes-Benz GLE 350 de plug-in hybrid

A diesel plug-in hybrid GLE has been added to the range, badged GLE 350 de, denoting a diesel combustion engine teamed with an electric motor. It’s not the first time that Mercedes-Benz has gone with this setup, the first iteration being on the C 300 Bluetec Hybrid, followed more recently by E 300 de. It uses a detuned version of the 2.0-litre diesel found in the 300 d with 194hp, but with the addition of a 136hp electric motor for a higher combined power output than the entry-level diesel. 

This battery and electric motor also enables the GLE to drive for around 62 miles on electric power alone, with CO2 emissions of just 29g/km. If your normal driving habits suit and you're able to charge regularly, it could be a very efficient option for you, especially as it costs around the same as the equivalent diesel models. We're yet to drive this model, but will update this page as soon as we have to see if it's just like the rest of the GLE range or not.

More details on the GLE plug-in hybrid here

How does it handle?

  • Comfortable rather than sporty
  • Reasonably agile for its size
  • Off-road Pack adds mud-plugging ability

With a set-up aimed far more towards comfort than sportiness and a kerbweight of around 2.2-tonnes, the GLE was never going to pull up any trees when it comes to outright cornering ability – but then, neither are any of its rivals.

That said, unless you insist on driving enthusiastically the GLE remains composed and very well behaved on all road types. Body roll (where the body of the car leans out of corners) is kept in check by the Airmatic air suspension, while the steering provides reasonable accuracy, if very little feel - it's very light (which is better for manoeuvring). 

If you do begin to press on, the GLE grips well without feeling like it's out of control. Plus, the safety blanket of the GLE’s plethora of driver assistance aids means that even if things do get a little out of hand, the car quickly reigns it in. 

How easy is it to park? 

Thankfully, the GLE comes with the Park Assist pack as standard. This includes cameras providing a full 360-degree view of the car, all-round parking sensors and an automatic parking function. Without this, you could be forgiven for expecting the GLE would be likely be a bit of a nuisance to thread into a tight on-street parking space.

The bonnet is high and long, while the blindspots caused by chunky windscreen and rear pillars means that lampposts, bollards and even people can easily disappear from sight. Even with all the clever parking aids, it’s worth being extra careful when manoeuvring this large SUV. However, Mercedes has managed to bless the GLE with the manoeuvrability of something much smaller, thanks to light steering and a tight turning circle. Yes, it's big and wide which may restrict you in terms of parking spaces, but when you do find one, it'll be easier to get it in than you might think. 

What is the GLE like off-road? 

We’ve yet to drive the GLE on anything rougher than a cobbled street, so will update this section when we do get a chance to take one off-road. Needles to say, all models come with all-wheel drive, while the optional Off-Road package (not available on the 300 d) gets additional underbody protection and a low-range transmission. 

Also included on the GLE for the first time is fully-variable Torque on Demand all-wheel drive (also unavailable on the 300 d), capable of distributing from 0-100% of power between the front and rear wheels. For off-road novices, this, in theory, enhances the GLE’s potential traction over uneven terrain. 

How much can it tow?

With the optional Towing Package fitted (currently only available on 450 versions), the GLE can tow up to 3.5-tonnes. Also included in this package is Trailer Manoeuvring Assist (controls the steering angle of the towing vehicle at speeds of up to 3mph, making it easier to reverse with the trailer attached) and an electronically folding tow bar.