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Driven: Benz bites back with GLE

Familiar feeling: The Mercedes-Benz GLE is a new moniker for the brand but it is essentially a revised version of the third-generation ML-Class SUV, released in May 2012.

ML-Class becomes GLE with Mercedes’ big SUV, which is set to claw back sales


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23 Sep 2015

RENAMED and reborn, the new Mercedes-Benz GLE SUV returns to take up the ML-Class' fight against BMW’s dominant X5, as well as resurgent opposition from Land Rover and Volkswagen.

Chief among the weapons in the arsenal is the most powerful SUV on sale in Australia, a mainstream range that uses the nine-speed automatic transmission in the turbo-diesel variants, as well as the Dynamic Select adaptive suspension system.

While the addition of a coupe is expected to count for one in six GLE sales, Mercedes-Benz expects a net sales gain from the newly named model line-up.

Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific senior manager of public relations, product and corporate communications David McCarthy said the new SUV line-up offered a good value proposition to take the fight back to its opposition from BMW.

“If you look at the extra kit in the car there's a lot of extra value,” he said. “Prices have been stable for a long time, sometimes we're cheaper and sometimes we're not.

“We do (price) them as sharp as we can. We made a decision of adding extra kit and minimising the price increases, it's a trend we will continue.

“There's nothing wrong with being late to a party, provided you have something to add, and we do – the most powerful SUV in Australia,” he said.

Benz aims to turn around a 20 per cent drop in ML sales with the GLE in the face of strong X5 sales (2925 sales so far this year, up 5.6 per cent) as well as the Land Rover Discover and Range Rover Sport that have both racked up more than 1800 sales each to be ahead of their 2014 year-to-date tallies.

Volkswagen's Touareg has improved by 35 per cent to hit 1800 units for the year so far.

While the penultimate SUV in the Benz range is sporting a new model designation, there's plenty to remind buyers of the ML being replaced.

The GLE has been mildly updated from the ML with a revised bonnet (with power domes) a new radiator grille, LED headlights with intelligent light system (as standard), new front and rear bumpers, new chrome tail pipes and refreshed alloy wheels.

The interior has been updated with a recessed – but still separate – 8.0-inch tablet-style screen countersunk into the dash with Comand Online, as well as an updated instrument cluster, a chunkier steering wheel, touchpad-equipped infotainment controller within a revised centre console, the Dynamic Select control system (which offers Comfort and Sport modes as well as adaptive suspension settings for top-spec models) and interior trim option changes.

Replacing the $83,900 ML250 is the GLE250d, starting from $86,900 plus on-road costs, but for the $3000 price increase the brand claims an extra $8000 worth of features as well as undercutting the BMW X5 xDrive25d by $2300.

The features list has been bolstered by the addition of LED headlights, keyless entry and ignition, a powered tailgate, the driver assistance package (lane keeping and blind spot warnings and active cruise control), digital radio reception as well as the addition of the nine-speed automatic.

The entry level 150kW/500Nm four-cylinder GLE250d offers combined fuel consumption of 6.0 litres per 100 kilometres and the new drivetrain is expected to maintain its position as one of the top-selling versions.

In GLE350d guise, the Benz wears a $104,900 pricetag – the outgoing ML350 was $101,900 – which slots it in between the $100,900 X5 30d and the 40d at $116,900. The features list also adds keyless entry, a powered tailgate, 20-inch alloys and the nine-speed automatic, which has helped to reduce fuel use by 0.7 to 6.6L/100km.

The V6 turbo-diesel-powered model – responsible for 45 per cent of the outgoing model's sales – produces 190kW and 620Nm.

The petrol range kicks off with the GLE400, priced from $109,900 – about $2000 more than the X5 xDrive35i but well below the xDrive50i at $134,510 – and replaces the $103,900 ML400.

Powered by the direct-injection petrol twin-turbo 245kW/480Nm V6, the combined-cycle fuel use claim is 9.3L/100km when teamed with the seven-speed automatic, which is retained for the bulk of the petrol-powered range.

Among the 400's standard fare is leather trim, heated front seats and 20-inch alloys, a 360-degree camera system, a glass electric sunroof and a 14-speaker Harman Kardon Logic 7 surround-sound system.

The $127,900 GLE500 4Matic (also priced well below the 50i) uses the seven-speed auto and is propelled by a direct-injection twin-turbo V8 engine producing 320kW and 700Nm, with a claimed fuel use figure of 11L/100km.

Standard fare on the 500 includes the adaptive Airmatic suspension (optional at $3300 on all bar the 500 and 63) with the Active Curve anti-body roll system, 21-inch alloy wheels, and heated and ventilated front seats.

The performance SUV flagship is the Mercedes-AMG GLE63 S, sporting the S performance pack optional on the outgoing $182,900 ML63 AMG – part of a $15,000 boost in features to offset the price rise to $189,900 – just over $4000 beyond the X5 M price-tag.

The AMG is Australia's most powerful SUV, with the 5.5-litre twin-turbo V8 engine punching the two-tonne SUV to 100km/h in 4.2 seconds using 430kW and 760Nm via a 40/60 front/rear torque split (the mainstream models are 50/50).

The GLE63 S has as standard the AMG Driver’s Package, a panoramic sunroof, AMG Performance Package (which raises the top speed limit to 280km/h), 21-inch alloys and AMG Nappa leather trim.

Standard safety fare range-wide includes nine airbags, adaptive cruise control, Pre-Safe automatic braking with pedestrian detection, Crosswind Assist, Active Blind Spot and Lane Keeping assistance, trailer sway control (where applicable) and an LED intelligent lighting with adaptive high beam assistance.

A segment first for towing, the GLE is available with a full-electric extendable and retractable tow hitch coupling to make the most of a 3265kg braked towing capacity with a 265kg ball download.

Optional on all bar the AMG is the $3350 Off-Road Engineering package, which adds low range, a locking centre diff, higher ground clearance settings and off-road specific programming for the traction control systems.

Mercedes-Benz GLE pricing*
250d (a)$86,900
350d (a)$104,900
400 (a)$109,900
500 (a)$127,900
AMG 63 S (a)$189,900

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