Car reviews - Mercedes-Benz - GLE - range
Belligerent AMG engine, refinement, ride quality, occupant room and safety
Room for improvement
Comfort mode control, gear selector still not a favourite, rear tailgate operation could be better
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24 Sep 2015
THE name might have changed but the second-largest SUV in the Mercedes-Benz range has plenty with which the driver will be familiar.
Revisions to the dashboard and centre console blend in with the well laid-out, comfortable and spacious cabin, with the touchpad and driving mode selector easy enough to use.
The new $109,900 plus on-roads GLE500 immediately impresses for its quiet cabin and forward vision, but once away from the motorway the Comfort mode on the standard Airmatic air suspension doesn't exhibit the level of control that it should.
Larger undulations can induce a little bit of wallow, behaviour that is better controlled in the Sport mode without overly sacrificing ride comfort, as well as giving the GLE a sense of enthusiasm when corners come.
The margin is much closer to the BMW X5 in terms of handling and steering prowess, but there is still a gap in favour of the Beemer.
The updated twin-turbo V8 powerplant is smooth and sounds pleasant when producing its 320kW and 700Nm, a solid set of outputs that not that long ago would have been AMG-worthy.
The quiet and smooth, if well-muted, V8 works well with the seven-speed automatic that carries over from the outgoing ML.
It needs 95RON PULP and claims an 11 litres per 100 kilometres thirst, but numbers in the mid-to-high teens will be more the norm in the real world, particularly if you're prone to pushing its pacier side.
It’s no slouch in the performance stakes, with the body-roll control-equipped air suspension keeping it tidy in the bends, but it's demure when compared with the fire-breathing AMG monster that was next cab off the rank.
Switching to the $189,900 AMG63 S flagship and the atmosphere immediately changes, with the exhaust at idle and aggressive stance and exterior strongly suggesting the numbers are not going to overstate the pace.
A full-throttle departure delivers a belligerent bray from the exhaust and the two-tonne SUV departs rapidly, sitting solidly on the road as it fires quickly toward the first bend on the road.
The active body control system on offer in the Sport and Sport Plus modes keeps roll well in check in corners but the ride quality and bite into the corners are both good.
A genuine manual gear change is on offer in the Sport Plus mode and the change is sharp, accompanied by all manner of burps, braps, crackles and other emissions as it swaps cogs under load even when left to its own devices the automatic is quick to down change and indulge the senses.
The AMG requires 98RON and while it claims an 11.8L/100km fuel use, numbers in the low 20s will be showing on the trip computer if the punchier side of its character is revelled in on a regular basis.
The volume seller of the outgoing range – and likely to remain one of the more popular in the new range – is the 350d, priced from $104,900.
It is quiet in terms of cabin and engine noise and with 190kW of power and 620Nm of torque on offer the forward progress makes the V6 the most versatile of the powerplants on offer.
The nine-speed auto rarely made it to top gear apart from on the motorway, but it preferred seventh and eighth for most cruising environments.
Switching to the entry level $86,900 250d, the same transmission is teamed to the four-cylinder unit, which has a diesel thrum more apparent than that of the V6, but 150kW and 500Nm of torque endows the base model with enough shove to make it a viable value alternative to the V6 350d.
The absence of Airmatic on the base variant test-driven didn't detract from the drive – ride quality is still good and the handling doesn't degrade through a lack of air suspension.
Both the diesels claim single-digit fuel use figures – 6.0 and 6.6L/100km for the 250d and 350d respectively – and both were displaying low double digits after some less than efficient driving at the launch.
Something that afflicts both the SUV and its Coupe twin is the low positioning of the boot release button, which sits beneath the bumper lip.
Benz has mimicked the Volkswagen system of having the rear logo concealing the pop-out reversing camera but they haven't managed to integrate the boot release function into the emblem mechanism.
The availability of the off-road package, as well as some prowess without that option ticked, sets it apart from the BMW opposition and it’s that versatility that doesn’t allow the on-road dynamics to match the X5.
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