Mercedes GLE SUV Review
The new Mercedes GLE offers superb space, luxury and technology. It’s a shame that the entry-level car isn’t particularly comfortable and space in the rearmost seats is tight
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The Mercedes GLE is the ideal car for you if you want an SUV that can carry seven in a large and luxurious cabin with the emphasis on comfort, not sportiness.
There is even a twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 model that hits a whole lot harder than it looks – imagine Arnold Schwarzenegger in Kindergarten Cop and you’ll be close.
There’ll be no missing the Mercedes GLE in the company car park, that’s for sure. From its whopping front grille to its giant air intakes and 20-inch alloy wheels, everything looks suitably imposing. But it’s a shame you have to pay extra if you want it painted a colour that isn’t just black or white.
Thankfully, the Mercedes GLE’s interior isn’t such a monochrome affair. You get plenty of lovely brushed metal trims, shiny black plastics and gorgeous unvarnished wood inserts, which lend it a seriously classy air.
To help make sure all this wood and leather doesn’t make the Mercedes GLE feel like a stuffy old country club, it also comes with one of the coolest-looking infotainment systems around. Its two huge screens merge together to form one wide wraparound display through which you control everything from the climate control to the built-in sat-nav. Despite its flashy looks, it’s still not quite as easy to use as the BMW X5’s simpler iDrive system, though.
At least getting comfy in the Mercedes GLE won’t present any problems. The leather seats come with plenty of adjustment as standard and there’s room for seriously lofty drivers to get comfortable. It’s a similar story behind, but the cramped sixth and seventh seats – which come as standard in all but 300d or 350de PHEV cars – are only really big enough for kids.
Mercedes has some great tech these days, including its augmented reality sat-nav and semi-autonomous driving aids. Naturally, the GLE features both
Much roomier, however, is the Mercedes GLE’s boot. It’s bigger than the BMW X5’s and easily large enough to hold a family’s luggage for a week away. The back seats fold down at the press of a button and form an almost completely flat load bay – perfect if you ever find yourself needing to carry some bulky furniture.
If hauling heavy loads sounds like something you’ll be doing regularly, the 400d diesel model is the GLE to go for. It’s pretty smooth, doesn’t cost the earth to run yet has decent pulling power. There’s also a more affordable diesel model with a bit less power and a perkier petrol model that’s faster, but also quite a bit thirstier.
Whichever engine you pick, you’ll want to upgrade your GLE with the optional air suspension. This helps make it quieter and more comfortable to drive – especially around town. There’s also a suite of driver assistance systems worth considering that’ll accelerate, brake and even steer for you – just the thing to take the sting out of long motorway journeys.
The Audi Q7 is still a smidge more relaxing to travel in, however, and the BMW X5 is more fun to drive on a twisty country road. But, if it’s a stylish and spacious SUV you’re looking for, then the Mercedes GLE is well worth considering.
All but entry-level Mercedes GLE 300d models come with seven seats as standard, but the cramped rearmost row is only big enough for kids.
Okay, the rearmost seats are very much occasional, but used as such, the GLE offers a very generous amount of space to four tall adults and their luggage inside
Every Mercedes GLE comes with four-way electric front seats and the steering wheel adjusts for height and reach, so you’ll be able to find a comfortable driving position easily. If you fancy memory functions for both front seats – handy if you share your car with someone else – you’ll have to fork out for the rather expensive AMG-Line Premium trim.
Even without this feature, you’ll find there’s ample head and legroom in the front of the Mercedes GLE. The same goes for the row behind, where two six-foot-tall adults have plenty of space to stretch out, even with the optional panoramic glass roof fitted.
There’s more space for carrying three passengers in the back at once in the GLE than you get in the BMW X5, and there’s plenty of space to lift in and secure a bulky child seat using the standard Isofix anchor points.
Besides entry-level 300d cars and the 350de plug-in hybrid, every Mercedes GLE comes with a third row of back seats. This also adds electric adjustment for the middle row so the outer passengers can slide and recline their seats individually.
These middle seats also move all the way forward at the touch of a button (albeit very slowly) to let two more passengers climb in the back. Unfortunately, these rearmost seats are only just big enough for kids – unlike in the Audi Q7 where two adults can get relatively comfortable for short journeys.
It’s all good news when it comes to storage space. Both of the GLE’s front door bins are generous in size, easily taking a large water bottle, while beneath a sliding cover in front of the infotainment system’s control pad you’ll find two decent cup holders and a further small cubby for keys or a phone.
Then, beneath the central armrest that pops open at the push of a button, you’ll find a wide, deep cubby and, if you’ve added it as an option, a wireless charging ledge for your smartphone. The GLE’s glovebox is also a decent size, but if you pick the optional Premium Plus Equipment line with the built-in air freshener a perfume dispenser occupies quite a bit of space.
Finally, both rear door bins are also a good size, while there are a couple of sturdy pockets on the front seats backs for storing slimmer items. There’s also a pair of USB C ports between the front seats and a folding rear armrest with two built-in cupholders.
The Mercedes GLE has 690 litres of boot space with the third row of seats folded down into the boot floor. That’s around 5 percent more space than you get in a BMW X5, but more than 10 percent less than the capacious Audi Q7 can carry.
In reality, the GLE’s boot is still extremely generous, easily swallowing three large suitcases, a couple of pushchairs or a set of golf clubs. It also has no loading lip, is a good square shape and comes with hooks and nets that make securing smaller items a doddle. There’s also a little extra space under the boot floor for hiding away a few soft bags.
If you pick a seven-seat model, the GLE’s rearmost seats fold electrically into the boot floor. The middle row then also folds electrically forward in a 40:20:40 configuration and lies almost flat. With just the middle seat flipped down, you can carry two back-seat passengers and some long luggage – such as skis – at once.
With all but the Mercedes GLE’s front seats folded, there’s ample space to carry a few bikes with both their wheels attached.
The best-driving Mercedes GLE is the 350d, because the 300d isn’t quite comfortable enough and the 450 petrol isn’t particularly frugal. All are pleasingly quiet though.
There are three diesels available, kicking off with the 245hp 2.0-litre version in the 300d models. This is followed by a 272hp 3.0-litre six-cylinder diesel in the 350d, and a 330hp version of the same engine in the 400d. There is also a plug-in hybrid version that links the 2.0-litre diesel with an electric motor to provide 330hp. Petrol fans will like the six-cylinder 450 petrol with 367hp, plus a 22hp electric boost assistance. All models come with all-wheel drive as standard, as well as a nine-speed automatic gearbox.
The 300d is no speed demon, but it’s quick enough to overtake slow-moving traffic and sprint down motorway sliproads. It also returns respectable fuel economy (more the 40mpg is possible if driven carefully), but is a little noisy when you accelerate hard. That said, it settles down nicely on the motorway once you’re up to speed.
The 450 petrol is quicker when you put your foot down, yet also smoother when idling and when you’re pottering around town. It can’t run on electricity alone, nor is there a plug-in option because there’s, well, no plug, but its 48-volt electrical system with ‘EQ’ boost assistance helps take the strain off the engine when accelerating. Even then, the 450 feels swift rather than truly speedy. It’ll also demand more fuel than the 300d.
The 350d best suits the GLE’s character because it provides strong performance, smooth running and fuel economy somewhere between the 300d and 450 petrol.
Faster AMG-tuned GLE 53 and 63 models are also on sale, and provide genuinely eye-opening pace.
The Mercedes GLE is all about comfort and quiet rather than agility, so it’s perhaps no surprise that a BMW X5 feels more agile around corners. The GLE leans more and its light steering doesn’t have quite the same connected feeling as the X5’s.
It’s a little easier to drive in town thanks to its tighter turning circle and light steering, but you’ll still wince every time you need to guide your GLE through a width restrictor. At least you get a reversing camera and a 360-degree surround-view camera system to help you avoid kerbing your lovely alloy wheels.
How comfortable the Mercedes GLE is depends on which model you buy – air suspension is the key. Crucially, you can’t have it on the entry-level 300d and, as a result, it feels a little firm over rough roads and potholes – even with the adaptive dampers in their most comfortable setting. The 350d gets air suspension as standard and offers better comfort at all speeds, no matter which driving mode you’re in. Despite this, the Audi Q7 is still slightly more comfortable.
Still, the GLE does a good job of keeping wind and road noise at bay at higher speeds, which all works towards making it feel very luxurious and calming to drive.
Mercedes’ optional Driving Assistance package also includes one of the best semi-autonomous systems on sale. It’ll accelerate, brake and steer you within the white lines automatically confidently at set speeds, while the pack also includes things like traffic sign recognition and blind spot monitoring.
The Mercedes GLE can also be made more capable off-road with Mercedes’ Off-road Package which includes an under guard for the engine and floor, or you can pay extra for the Towing Package to increase the GLE’s towing limit from 2700kg to 3500kg. This also includes an electrically folding tow bar and steering assistance to help you reverse with a trailer attached. Unfortunately, the higher towing limit does not apply to 300d cars.
The Mercedes GLE has an attractive interior that looks much more interesting than that of an Audi Q7 or BMW X5. A few cheap plastics do let the side down, however.