The skinny: A new look front end, a new dashboard, and a new name help set the Mercedes-Benz GLE apart from the outgoing ML. Dig a little deeper though and there’s still acres of space and a properly high-end feel to the interior.
Competition in the luxury SUV category (which Mercedes-Benz helped to define with the original ML) is sharp, but with added safety features and extra luxury inclusions the GLE shouldn't be too bothered by the advancing opposition.
Vehicle Style: Large luxury SUV
Price: GLE 250d $86,900 - GLE 63 S $189,900 (plus on-roads)
GLE 250d 150kW/500Nm 2.2 4cyl turbo diesel | 9spd automatic
GLE 350d 190kW/620Nm 3.0 6cyl turbo diesel | 9spd automatic
GLE 400 245kW/480Nm 3.0 6cyl turbo petrol | 7spd automatic
GLE 500 320kW/700Nm 4.7 8cyl turbo petrol | 7spd automatic
GLE 63 S 430kW/760Nm 5.5 8cyl turbo petrol | 7spd automatic
Fuel Economy claimed:
GLE 250d 6.0 l/100km | tested: 8.5 l/100km
GLE 350d 6.6 l/100km | tested: 10.4 l/100km
GLE 400 9.3 l/100km | not tested
GLE 500 11.0 l/100km | tested: 15.1 l/100km
GLE 63 S 11.8 l/100km | tested: 18.3 l/100km
The Mercedes-Benz GLE pioneers a new name for the brand
The most obvious changes can be seen in the new bonnet and grille, with new head and tail lights, as well and new bumpers front and rear and a range of new alloy wheel designs.
Under the bonnet the engine range is much the same as before, however diesel models (GLE 250d and GLE 350d) now come paired to a new nine-speed automatic transmission.
Inside there’s a newly designed centre stack, instrument cluster, steering wheel, eight-inch Comand system featuring Comand Online, and a touchpad interface borrowed from the C-Class range.
Standard equipment also gets plumped, with the entry level GLE 250d picking up LED headlights, a powered tailgate, Keyless Go proximity key, and DAB+ digital radio amongst other goodies.
While the price rises by $3000, Mercedes-Benz claims there’s $5000 of added value, before taking into account features like the new nine-speed auto which simply wasn’t available previously.
Other highlights include improved fuel economy for the GLE 350d, a sunroof and Harman Kardon audio for the GLE 400 and above, and more a powerful V8 engines in the GLE 500.
GLE 63 S cops a $7000 price rise but now comes standard with a panoramic sunroof, a standard AMG performance pack (now denoted by the S designation). bi-modal exhaust, AMG-embossed seats, newly designed 21-inch wheels and a higher 280km/h speed limiter, which Benz equates to $7800 of extra value.
We jumped behind the wheel and hit the winding roads and rolling hills around Victoria’s Yarra Ranges to see how the new GLE stacks up.
- GLE 250d: Artico man-made leather upholstery, cruise control with speed limiter, powered tailgate, luggage blind with built-in cargo divider, electrically adjustable front seats, aluminium trim highlights, multifunction steering wheel with Nappa leather rim, dual-zone climate control, 19-inch alloy wheels
- GLE 350d (in addition to GLE 250d): Nappa leather upholstery, dark graphite poplar wood trim highlights, electrically adjustable front seats and steering column with memory function, heated front seats, auto dimming mirrors, 20-inch alloy wheels
- GLE 400 (in addition to GLE 350d): Harman Kardon audio, powered glass sunroof
- GLE 500 (in addition to GLE 400): heated and ventilated luxury front seats, Artico-trimmed dash and doors, rear privacy glass, tyre pressure monitoring, 21-inch alloy wheels
- GLE 63 s (in addition to GLE 500): AMG Exclusive S Nappa leather upholstery, AMG instrument cluster, flat-bottomed AMG steering wheel, sports pedals, illuminated door sills, multi-contour sports seats, dash, doors, and armrests trimmed in Nappa leather, Dinamica roof lining, three-zone climate control, alarm system, panoramic sunroof,
- Infotainment: Comand Online, 8.0-inch colour display, satellite navigation, 200GB hard disk, CD/MP3/AM/FM/DAB+ playback, voice control operation, Bluetooth phone, audio, and internet connectivity.
- Cargo volume: 690 litres seats up, 2010 litres seats down
While the GLE largely carries over the interior of the ML before it, there’s been an important change to the infotainment and centre stack that sets the new car apart from the old.
With a new 8.0 inch screen emerging from the top of the dash, and restyled ventilation on either side the GLE looks more modern. the bigger change though is the centre console which now houses a touch-controller (as seen in the C-Class range) and a rotary drive-mode controller.
Artico man-made leather trims the GLE 250d, but the GLE 350d and above all come with Nappa leather. DAB+ digital radio, satellite navigation, LED headlights, and keyless go also join the standard features list across the board.
Interior dimensions remain the same as they were in the ML, which means there’s no shortage of space inside the GLE. There’s plenty of room up front, and standard electrically adjustable seats make finding the perfect position a breeze.
Honestly, it's baffling the way more automakers don’t locate their seat switches on the door, the way Mercedes does, instead of jamming them under the seat.
Those delegated to the rear aren’t shortchanged either, with generous head and legroom, and a reclining backrest. There’s enough width for three adults as as well.
Behind the powered tailgate there’s 690 litres of storage available, which can be expanded to 2010 litres with the rear bench folded flat.
Inside the cabin there’s a large glovebox and centre console, door pockets in each door, and lidded cupholders up front, which also come with heating and cooling on the GLE 63 S.
ON THE ROAD
- GLE 250d: 150kW/500Nm 2.2 litre turbo diesel inline four
- GLE 350d: 190kW/620Nm 3.0 litre turbo diesel V6
- GLE 400: 245kW/480Nm 3.0 litre turbo petrol V6
- GLE 500: 320kW/700Nm 4.7 litre turbo petrol V8
- GLE 63 S: 430kW/760Nm 5.5 litre turbo petrol V8
- Transmission: Nine-speed automatic (250d and 350d), seven-speed automatic (400, 500), seven-speed dual clutch automatic (63 S), permanent all-wheel-drive.
- Suspension: four-wheel independent suspension with steel-spring selective damping system (250d, 350d, 400, or height adjustable Airmatic suspension (500, 63S, optional on all others)
- Brakes: Four wheel disc brakes - vented front rotors, solid rear rotors (250d, 350d) vented front and rear rotors (400) cross-drilled vented front rotors, vented rear rotors (500), cross-drilled vented front and rear rotors (63 S)
- Steering: Electric power steering, 11.8m turning circle
- Towing capacity: 3265kg braked, 750kq unbraked, 265kg downball.
It’s hard to find a weak point amongst the GLE range. Even the base-model, the GLE 250d arrives with an engine capable of 500Nm from as low as 1600rpm, and with a 2150kg kerb weight, that’s a handy figure to have on your side.
While it may not be blisteringly quick, it won’t get left behind in the traffic light grands prix. The engine does have to work a little to deliver those results through, and can sound slightly buzzy as a result.
For those after more serious pulling power, the GLE 350d is as effortless as you’ll find, It also feels more refined - there’s less vibration and engine noise.
Both diesel models transmit their power to 4matic all wheel drive via a nine-speed automatic transmission.
It offers clean gearshifts, is swift to kickdown, sharpens up smartly when shifted to sport mode, and can be manually shifted via steering wheel paddles if you feel inclined.
The mid-step in the lineup, and the first of the petrol offerings is the GLE 400, powered by a twin turbo V6 engine. Sadly, the first shipment didn’t reach Australia in time for the launch, so we’ll bring you more on this version once it arrives.
That leaves the two top-tier V8s to round out the range. The GLE 500 which offers a charming V8 burble, brisk acceleration and more subtle look on the outside, or the devil’s own sleigh - the Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S.
With 320kW at 5250rpm backed up by 700Nm between 1800 and 4000rpm the GLE 500 is a veritable iron fist, wrapped in a Nappa leather glove. The strong surge of torque is instantly on tap at any speed, endowing the GLE 500 with the force of a rolling locomotive.
Crowning the range is the Mercedes-AMG 63 S, which holds the title of Australia’s most powerful SUV thanks to a massive 430kW and 760Nm.
The AMG treatment lifts the GLE to another level, with the seemingly limitless power straining at the leash every time you touch the throttle, be it a gentle prod, or a hefty stomp.
Firmer air suspension keeps the AMG model in check, and through some threateningly tight bends the big Benz remained level, held the road like a vice, and carried higher speeds than we’d have thought possible.
All of the vehicles provided at the launch included Airmatic suspension, which allows the ride height to be lifted for off-road work, and can be firmed up via the Dynamic Select rotary controller. Airmatic comes standard on GLE 500 and GLE 63 S, but is a $3300 option for the rest of the range.
Dynamic Select is another new feature across the range allowing the driver to choose from Comfort, Sport, Slippery, and Individual drive modes. Changes to steering weight, engine and transmission response, suspension, and stability control allow the GLE to go from mild cruiser to mud-slinger, or can be sharpened up for more demanding roads.
An additional Sport+ mode also features on the GLE 63 S, enhancing the drive all the more, and opening up the bi-modal exhaust for an absolutely brutal exhaust bellow, accompanied by a series of rapid-fire pops on overrun. It’s all stupidly addictive.
At the other end of the spectrum, the GLE 350d and GLE 500 both run in near silence. It’s only if you push hard that you’ll start to hear what’s going on beneath.
The 500 in particular offers a soft, but satisfying rumble, but without the AMG’s bimodal exhaust it is kept suitably demure.
As for ride quality across the range, the cars we drove were variously equipped on 19, 20 and 21 inch wheels, and none were in any way hard riding in Comfort mode. Pick Sport and things firm up appreciably, but not enough to upset occupants.
If we had to pick though, and Individual mode with Sport engine and transmission, but Comfort suspension calibrations is the ‘just right’ zone with lively acceleration, but no reduction is cabin comfort.
ANCAP rating: 5/5 Stars - Although the GLE has yet to be tested by ANCAP the structurally identical ML scored 36.34 out of 37 possible points in 2011.
Safety features: Standard safety items include nine airbags (2x front, 2x front seat side, 2x rear seat side, 2x curtain, and 1x driver’s knee), stability and traction control, downhill speed regulation, Distronic radar-guided cruise control, collision warning, blind spot monitor, rear cross traffic assist, 360-degree camera (GLE 350 d and above), and front and rear park sensors.
Pre-safe Plus can prepare the vehicle if it senses an accident, and now includes rear impact detection, while an active bonnet on all models except GLE 63 S aids pedestrian protection.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
Cross-town rivals for the GLE range include the dynamically strong BMW X5, and the recently renewed Audi Q7. There’s also a fresh Volvo XC90, or the well-finished Range Rover Sport.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
With a range of willing engines and secure on-road behaviour, the GLE SUV range impresses out on the open road.
Despite slightly higher prices, extra equipment bridges the gap so the value proposition isn’t harmed as a result. High levels of refinement and technology remain.
Even the entry level GLE 250d comes strongly equipped, with a suitably premium feel to the interior. For those wanting more, each step through the range adds performance and equipment in suitable measure.
Of course, the brutal Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S truly takes the cake, with menacing looks and stellar performance.
But no matter which GLE you pick, the spacious and refined range should keep the whole family happy, from the driver, to those squabbling in the back seat.
PRICING (plus on road costs)
GLE 250d $86,900
GLE 350d $104,900
GLE 400 $109,900
GLE 500 $127,900
GLE 63 S $189,900