If you only need five seats from a car of this kind and want a prestigiously badged great all-rounder, it’s a strong contender.
On the road, you’ll find that Mercedes has usefully embellished the package offered by the old third generation M-Class SUV this GLE is based upon. So mainstream models get a much more sophisticated nine-speed automatic gearbox. And across the range, there’s a new ‘DYNAMIC SELECT’ vehicle dynamics system so you can set the car up to suit the way you want to drive. As before, there’s a permanent ‘4MATIC’ 4WD system and most models get supple AIRMATIC suspension. This can be tweaked through the ‘Sport’, ‘Comfort’ and ‘Slippery’ settings of the ‘DYNAMIC SELECT’ package, a set-up that at the same time will alter steering feel, throttle response and gearshift timings. You’ll get more from these various modes if you pay the extra for the ‘ACTIVE CURVE’ roll stabilisation system that improves the ride and reduces bodyroll.
Under the bonnet, the mainstream diesel engines have been carried over from that old M-Class model. There’s a four cylinder 2. 1-litre 204bhp unit in a base GLE 250d variant frugal enough to return 49. 5mpg on the combined cycle and 155g/km of CO2. Alternatively, the GLE 350d derivative offers 258bhp from its 3. 0-litre diesel V6. There’s a 3. 0-litre petrol V6 on offer too. It develops 367bhp in the GLE 450 AMG, or alternatively, you can get it mated to an electric motor in a clever GLE 500e plug-in hybrid variant that puts out a combined 442bhp system output. At the top of the range, there’s a Mercedes-AMG 63S high performance V8 petrol model with 585bhp. That’s not a car you’d want to take off road but a mainstream diesel GLE variant like this one should actually be quite happy on the mud, especially if you specify an optional ‘Off-Road package’ that provides a low range gearbox, a centre differential lock, an extra Off-road +’ mode and various extra ride height settings.
This GLE is certainly a more purposeful-looking thing than its M-Class predecessor - and needed to be. If you’re not going to provide seven-seat practicality in a luxury SUV of this sort, then you need it to have dynamic looks and a menacing overtaking presence instead, something that in truth, previous M-Class models never really had. Fortunately though for Mercedes, that now appears to have been effectively integrated into this car’s DNA.
So you’re getting the idea: in evolving its luxury SUV contender into this GLE guise, Mercedes has spent its money where it matters. So first impressions are of a sportier, more dynamic car, both when first you see it from the front and when you take a seat behind the wheel. In place of the dull, conventional family-orientated layout of the old M-Class, you’re sat more purposefully in front of a sportier three-spoke leather-stitched wheel.
No, you don’t get the exquisite attention to detail you’d get in an S-Class, but specified correctly, it can feel very high end indeed, especially if you pay extra for the stitched quilted leather of the plusher ‘designo Line’ models or the piano black lacquered finishes.
Time to pull back one of the wide opening doors and take a seat in the rear where you’ll find a cabin with ample head and legroom that’ll certainly feel luxurious enough for a couple of adults, even if they’re six-footers.
Time to take a look out back and raise the standard electrically-operated tailgate. One of the advantages this car holds over its BMW X5 arch-rival is that it offers you 40-litres more bootspace, the 690-litre total proving to be class-leading.
And overall? Well it’s true that there are sportier, more dynamic models of this kind you could buy. But we’re struggling to think of many that offer a better all-round package. Quick, capable, practical and luxurious, this is at last the car Mercedes always should have had in this segment.