Mercedes-Benz GLE It’s good – but better than an X5 good?

Like an E-Class but taller, Merc’s new GLE is a seriously well equipped alternative to the BMW X5.

HAVE A GUESS how many SUVs there were in the Mercedes-Benz range when the M-Class launched back in 1997? Four? Five? No. Two. Alongside the G-Class, the forebear to the GLE was an off-road aberration in a sea of luxury saloons and svelte two-doors.

Oh how times have changed. Skip forward 21 years and you’ll find seven SUVs proudly wearing the three-pointed star, with more on the way. It’s not only Mercedes that’s expanded its SUV line-up, of course, and the new GLE is up against a crowded field. Accordingly, Mercedes has made sure the GLE is as well equipped as its E-Class cousin.

While the body is new but broadly familiar, the interior is transformed. The bland, button-heavy old cabin has been replaced by a crisp new facade, dominated by two 12.3-inch displays – one serving as a customisable digital dashboard and the other a multi-function infotainment screen.

Boasting the MBUX infotainment system (including the ‘Hey Mercedes’ personal assistant), it’s a vast improvement over the old software, with graphics and tech now befitting a £60,000 car. It’s just a shame Mercedes ditched the perfectly serviceable rotary control dial for a fiddlier touchpad.

Highlights of the MBUX system include augmented-reality sat-nav – as seen on the A-Class – and Interior Assist, which allows simple gestures to be used as pre-assigned shortcuts. Both sound gimmicky, but make driving easier.

Delve beyond the fancy tech and you’ll discover a wide range of engines on offer, including two 3.0-litre diesels (350d and 450d) and a diesel plug-in hybrid, although only two will be available at first. That’s a 362bhp 3.0-litre straight-six petrol with 48-volt EQ Boost assistance, badged 450, or a 242bhp 2.0-litre diesel, the 300d. Both come with AMG Line trim, 4Matic all-wheel drive and a nine-speed automatic gearbox.

Frustratingly, though, neither engine makes much sense. Sure, the 450 is rather nice, but it will go through fuel like a Hummer with a hole in the tank. Meanwhile the 300d is gruff at low revs, isn’t available with the silky-smooth air suspension, charges £2k extra for the seven-seats (a first on the GLE) and can’t be specced with the off-road pack (extra modes plus underbody reinforcement).

Best to wait for either the 350d or 400d, so you’ll be able to enjoy that torquey, 3.0-litre goodness and standard-fit air suspension. It’s in this spec that the GLE really comes together, with smooth, brisk power delivery and a pillowy ride that’s up there with the best this class has to offer.

It still won’t hustle quite as well as a BMW X5, or an E-Class, but can match them both for luxury and refinement. And that’s mostly what the GLE is: a luxury car, but taller.

MERCEDE S-BEN Z GLE 450 4MAT IC
> Price £62,300 > Engine 2999cc 24v turbo 6-cyl, 362bhp @ 5500rpm, 369lb ft @1600rpm > Transmission 9-speed auto, all-wheel drive > Performance 5.7sec 0-62mph, 155mph, 33.6mpg, 191g/km CO2 > Weight 2220kg > On sale Now

LOV E
Useful tech, superb cabin
HATE
Best engines are a few months away
VERDICT
An E-Class with seven seats
****


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