Matt Kimberley tests out the new Mercedes-Benz GLE and discovers why this spacious new model is a solid choice…
Mercedes has realigned its naming structure to something more straightforward. If it starts with ‘GL’ then it’s an SUV, while the suffix (C, E or S, mirroring the saloon range) defines the size.
With this shift comes a new GLE that’s actually half the old ML, with the chassis, parts of the bodywork and the suspension carried over. But a new interior and lower emissions, plus a plug-in hybrid option, add new dimensions to consider.
Avoid pale colours and you can’t lose. There’s a slight awkwardness to the upper-rear bodywork between the C- and D-pillars that’s hidden by dark blue, for example, and that’s always a classy choice anyway. The GLE looks bulky without being flabby, muscular without the road rage and classy without being boring.
As for image, a new naming structure takes time to settle into consumer consciousness but the GLE is one of the less ostentatious and in-your-face SUVs you could buy, though that means some of the standard wheel designs are a bit dull.
With five seats in place there’s a whopping 690 litres of boot to play with, which rises to more than 2,000 litres with the 60:40 split bench seat folded. There’s a mountain of legroom for rear passengers, too, and only the longest-legged drivers will spoil that.
The cabin’s cupholders aren’t positioned in the most helpful place but it’s probably not a deal-breaker. What’s of much greater import is the sense of size on the road, which some people will actively want and others just won’t get on with. A test drive will tell you which category you’re signed up to.
The entry-level four-cylinder 250d model is actually much better than you’d imagine, hauling the 2,075kg body along with little less real-world grunt than the 350d and its diesel V6. It’s not the quietest by a long shot, and its stop-start action is coarser than the 350d’s, but the 250d is a much cheaper option.
Body control is good through corners, but without the high-spec adaptive air suspension there’s a noticeable jiggle to the ride quality that, in the UK, might be a bit sub-par. The few larger bumps we could find on the Swiss ribbons of perfection that made up the test route suggest the GLE won’t like potholes much – although we’d need to try it out thoroughly to be sure.
If you can bring yourself to lift off the throttle (very) early when slowing for hazards, and to use momentum control to help smooth out short inclines, this GLE can actually record decent fuel economy. The figures experience some bad times if you jam your foot into the carpet though. The nine-speed automatic gearbox is standard and shifts seamlessly and instantly, but can hunt around for the correct ratio too often.
The GLE has a lovely sense of solidity about it that makes you feel you’re getting a quality product. That goes a long way to justifying the price, but at the same time the options list is long and tempting. List prices are rarely left unmolested on models like this, so prepare to budget for add-ons.
An obvious target buyer is the safety-minded parent who wants that height and size on the road, combined with a level of premium feel not found in cheaper cars. No doubt plenty will crop up in Kensington, for example, but the GLE does harbour a secret – a deeply impressive off-road ability (with the £3,000 off-road package) that will appeal to people who tow heavy trailers on grass, gravel or mud.
If this car was a… flavour of fruit squash it would be orange. It’s a satisfying classic that you always seem to come back to.
MERCEDES-BENZ GLE 250D SPORT, FROM £49,280
Engine: 2.1-litre turbodiesel producing 201bhp and 354lb/ft
Transmission: Nine-speed automatic driving all four wheels
Performance: Top speed 125mph, 0-62mph in 8.6 seconds
Economy: 52.3mpg combined
Emissions: 140g/km of CO2