Car reviews - Mercedes-Benz - GLE - GLE300d
Bold styling, leading infotainment, excellent packaging, pleasing performance, light steering, sublime ride comfort on optional air suspension, loaded with advanced driver-assist systems
Room for improvement
Expensive option packages, no USB-A ports, several cheap interior finishes, standard steel suspension is good but not luxurious, copious amounts of body roll spoil driving dynamics
Box-fresh Mercedes-Benz GLE300d shows rival large SUVs how to do comfort, technology
9 Aug 2019
THEY say a year is a long time in technology, so you can imagine how far large luxury SUVs have moved on in the seven years since Mercedes-Benz launched its previous-generation competitor.
Thankfully, 2019 has ushered in the second-generation GLE – a much-needed ground-up redesign of a model that is looking to loosen the BMW X5’s stranglehold on the $70,000-plus large-SUV segment.
So, it comes as no surprise that the new GLE is kind of a big deal for Mercedes-Benz and it is throwing everything – including the kitchen sink – at its box-fresh model in an attempt to be a class leader.
While it is undoubtedly bigger and bolder than before – and chock-full of cutting-edge tech – is the latest GLE actually a better overall proposition? Read on to find out how the entry-level GLE300d stacks up.
And just like that, the Mercedes-Benz GLE is back in the game. Frankly, the second-generation model couldn’t come soon enough in the face of stiff competition, but now that it’s here, buyers of large luxury SUVs have another choice to strongly consider.
While GLE has several strong points, it would be remiss of us to not start with one of the key characteristics buyers look for in such a model: comfort. And GLE has it in spades.
Look past its imposing exterior styling and jump inside to find a cabin that is so superbly packaged that it shocks when you just keep finding more and more space.
In no place is this truer than in the second row, where legroom feels comparable to a long-wheelbase S-Class limousine. Headroom is generous, too.
And then there’s the cargo capacity. While 630L with the rear bench upright is on par, 2055L with it stowed is damn impressive. The lack of a load lip also makes loading bulkier items a cinch.
Another nice touch is the underfloor storage area that, among other things, can be used to store the parcel shelf when it is not in use. It sounds simple enough but is a rarity in the vast majority of vehicles.
So, other than the obvious, what can you do with all this space? Option a third row for $3900, of course. Now while a four-grand spend for two extra seats may seem excessive, this package also includes power operation for the second row.
Behind our 184cm driving position, you can slide the middle bench forward to allow enough legroom for adults while ensuring that the kids in back aren’t being crushed.
Which brings us to an important point: adults can sit in the third row on short journeys (emphasis on short), but ingress and egress is less than graceful, even with middle bench moved to its most accommodating position. It might be worth waiting for the even larger GLS, then.
It’s not all good news inside, though, as some of the materials used don’t quite belong in a six-figure SUV. Our main gripe is with the Artico leather-accented upholstery that comes as standard on GLE’s three launch variants.
While this is not the first time Mercedes-Benz has employed Artico, it is one of the most disappointing executions of it when it comes to look and feel. Specifically, we’re talking about the seating coverings here, which are at odds with the other surfaces where it is used.
The upper dashboard and door shoulders both use Artico and look and feel good, but the seat coverings are made of a different version that isn’t of the same standard. For what it’s worth, you get real cow hide in BMW’s X5.
Hard plastics are also used for the door bins and armrest controls, the switches of which are actually trimmed in expensive metal. It really is a mish-mash of materials inside.
But we suspect occupants will rarely be paying attention to any of these cheaper finishes as they will be distracted by GLE’s dual 12.3-inch displays. Sitting side by side, a digital instrument cluster is paired with a central touchscreen.
The latter is powered by Mercedes-Benz’s new MBUX infotainment system, which as we’ve said before, resets the benchmark in nearly all regards.
Sharp graphics, a wide breadth of functionality and cutting-edge technology (including always-on natural voice recognition that is activated with the phrase ‘Hey Mercedes’) are sure to captivate all parties.
What impressed us most, though, was the sheer size of GLE’s windshield-projected head-up display. It is the largest we’ve tested to date and encompasses so much information that the digital instrument cluster is almost redundant.
And let’s not forget that GLE is filled to the brim with advanced driver-assist systems. No need to option anything here. Autonomous emergency braking, lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise control and blind-spot monitoring, among others, are all standard. Big tick.
This technological tour de force does, however, have its downsides. Namely, there isn’t a single USB-A port to be found inside. Instead, seven USB-C units are spread across the three rows. This is great if your smartphone or tablet requires it, but many still don’t. So, where’s that adapter at?
Now don’t think we were done talking about comfort, because we haven’t addressed yet GLE’s ride. Spoiler alert – It’s damn good … at a price. See, GLE comes with steel springs as standard, and while it certainly rides well, it isn’t overly luxurious.
Now, a lot of this impression can likely be attributed to the firmer-riding run-flat tyres our test cars were fitted with, which are bundled in with optional seven seats due to the associated deletion of the spare wheel.
So, it goes without saying that the $3400 Airmatic Package is an absolute no-brainer, with it bundling in air springs and adaptive dampers that are frankly transformative.
Road imperfections are soaked up, with potholes no longer met with fear. Even corrugated, gravel roads are remarkably rendered to feel like tarmac. Again, this suspension upgrade is a must.
It also improves dynamics, as by switching the adaptive dampers from Comfort to Sport makes for a flatter ride through the corners, but it comes at the trade-off of firmness.
That said, body roll is the main talking point when attacking corners with intent. GLE leans into bends like nobody’s business, but – you guessed it – there’s an option for that.
While we haven’t had the chance to test it yet, E-Active Body Control features a curve-tilting function that leans the vehicle into bends in order to optimise road-holding and passenger comfort.
Now before you go ahead and tick that box, you should know that it costs an eye-watering $13,000. Yikes. Like a lot of GLE’s options, it requires a lot of thought before committing.
It goes without saying that the reason why GLE rolls so much is its sheer size and mass. Case in point: it’s 105mm longer than before, at 4924mm. Feels big to drive? You bet.
Thankfully, its steering is nice and light, which makes low-speed manoeuvrability much, much easier. It’s also fairly direct, which is also helpful.
But as beloved as the optional suspension is, it doesn’t translate to a great deal of road feel. If you want that, you’ll have to stick with the steel set-up, which is more communicative.
As mentioned, there are three GLE launch variants, but only the entry-level GLE300d was available to test at the model’s national media launch.
Priced from $99,900 plus on-road costs, the GLE300d undercuts the identically specified GLE450 and GLE400d by $11,441 and $18,242 respectively.
It is motivated by a 2.0-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder engine that produces 180kW of power and 500Nm of torque – strong outputs for this displacement and cylinder count.
Teamed to a nine-speed torque-converter automatic transmission that sends drive to all four wheels via Mercedes-Benz’s permanent 4Matic system, the GLE300d sprints from standstill to 100km/h in a hot-hatch-worrying 7.2s – a 1.4s improvement over its direct predecessor.
In reality, it serves up pleasing performance. The GLE300d is certainly no speed demon, but it just gets the job done and is the logical choice among the three launch variants.
Torque is plentiful from the get-go, with brisk acceleration achieved when going up hills. It also helps that gear changes are buttery smooth, if not quick.
This refinement means engine noise rarely penetrates the cabin to detrimental effect. In fact, it is whisper quiet around town, while only a fraction of wind whistle is heard over the side mirrors when vehicle speed is in excess of 110km/h.
So, is the new GLE worthy of consideration? Absolutely. There is no doubt that it is back in the hunt. For those that prioritise practicality, comfort and technology, it’s a winner.
But it won’t tick all the boxes for buyers that covet dynamism. Well, not without some expensive options being added into the equation.
And if you had to pick only one, it would have to be the sublime air springs and adaptive dampers. Now that is some serious ride comfort.
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Model release date: 1 July 2019
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