Mercedes GLE SUV (2015-2018) review
The Mercedes GLE is a big SUV that’s brilliant for the family. However, it’s starting to show its age inside and the standard suspension is bumpy on rough roads
What's not so good
Mercedes GLE SUV (2015-2018): what would you like to read next?
If you’re looking for a big family SUV with a desirable badge then the Mercedes GLE is worth a look.
The GLE replaced the Mercedes ML-Class in 2015, but apart for some new front and rear headlight designs and a new tablet-style infotainment system, they’re basically the same car.
And that’s a good thing as far as interior space goes. The GLE has plenty of room for four people, numerous cubbies scattered through the cabin and a huge boot.
The interior also feels very well built and is made from expensive-feeling materials. The only downside is that the dashboard is packed full of fiddly buttons. If you want a Mercedes with a modern, minimalist design, then the E-Class or GLC are much better choices.
The same is true of the car’s eight-inch infotainment screen that just doesn’t look as nice as the ones you’ll find in the latest Mercedes models. It’s not particularly easy to use, but that’s less of a problem because the GLE comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, so you can use the more intuitive controls of your smartphone.
The old-fashioned theme even continues on the move. The GLE feels like an old-style SUV to drive, although that’s not necessarily a bad thing, depending on what you want from an SUV. The GLE certainly doesn’t feel agile in bends like a Porsche Cayenne or BMW X5, but the light controls, raised driving position and smooth-shifting automatic gearbox mean it is easy to drive, and it’s quiet and comfy on the motorway.
It’s well worth paying for the optional air suspension because it does a much better job at ironing out bumps than the standard set up.
The GLE is a practical and comfy SUV that is let down a bit by a fiddly infotainment system and uncomfortable middle rear seat
You can get the GLE with just one diesel engine, in addition to the high-performance petrol-powered GLE63 that’s reviewed separately. The powerful six-cylinder 350d is relatively cheap to run and has a good amount of overtaking oomph at motorway speeds.
Despite the lack of engine choice, the GLE is a brilliant car that’ll allow you and your family to travel in a good deal of style. Watch our SUV group test video to see how the GLE compares to the Lexus RX and BMW X5.
The GLE’s front seats come with more adjustment than a dentist’s chair and even the back seats recline as standard but alternatives are better for carrying three in the back at once
Flip the back seats down and you’ll turn this luxurious SUV into an equally well-appointed removals van with more than enough space for a few fashionable designer armchairs
The Mercedes GLE has plenty of room for adults in both the front and the back, and the big boot means you have lots of room for their luggage.
Getting comfortable behind the steering wheel is easy – it adjusts for height and reach, and the driver’s seat can also be raised, so you can enjoy the Mercedes’ raised driving position even if you’re a bit on the short side.
All Mercedes GLEs come with massaging front seats that are also cooled to help stop you sweating in the summer. They include a memory function, so you can return the seat, steering wheel and mirrors to your preferred position at the touch of a button after you have loaned the car to someone else.
Jump into the back and you’ll find the Mercedes GLE’s upright backrest isn’t quite as comfortable as the back seat in the Lexus RX with two people aboard – but it’s still very roomy with plenty of headroom (even with the panoramic sunroof fitted), knee room and massive footwells. All models’ rear seats recline and in Designo Line cars they’re also heated.
Stick three people in the back and the Mercedes GLE is a better bet than the Lexus because its middle seat doesn’t feel quite so high set, although it’s still a little too hard to be completely comfortable for long trips.
Fitting a child seat is also easier in the Mercedes than it is in the Lexus or the BMW X5. The Mercedes GLE’s huge doors give you brilliant access and its height means you don’t have to bend your back when you’re lifting the seat in. Getting the base locked onto the Isofix points is a piece of cake and the seat itself slots on top without any problems.
You’ll find lots of smaller cubbyholes scattered around the Mercedes’ interior, although calling them cubbyholes undersells them – they’re all actually pretty roomy.
The door bins, for example, are huge – they’ll happily swallow a litre bottle of water, with plenty of space leftover for a smaller bottle, and the massive glovebox can pull off the same trick. The storage area under the front centre armrest will hold another bottle of water and it has a USB plug for charging your phone.
All models have four cupholders, but go for AMG 63 trim and the ones in the front can cool or warm your drinks. Splendid!
The Mercedes GLE’s 690-litre boot compares favourably to the ones found in alternatives such as the BMW X5 (650 litres) and the Lexus RX (453 litres).
The boot also has a number of handy features such as a hook to keep your shopping upright, tethers for safely securing your luggage and a 12V power socket that’ll power an electric pump or a portable vacuum.
Mercedes gives you a bottle of tyre repair goo rather than a spare wheel, but the upside is that you’ll find a massive storage area under the boot floor that’s perfect for hiding valuables.
It goes without saying that Mercedes GLE’s boot will carry everyday items such as a baby buggy or a set of golf clubs, but it’ll also happily swallow four suitcases with the load cover retracted, and the lack of a boot lip means you can slide them in – once you have cleared the annoyingly large rear bumper.
Folding the back seats down is more of a faff than it is in a BMW X5 because you have to lift up the bottom of the rear seats before dropping the backrests. Your efforts are rewarded though, with a massive total load capacity of 2,010 litres, which means the Mercedes GLE can double as an extremely plush van. The boot floor is completely flat with the rear seats down, so it’s even easy to load awkward items such as a bike with both its wheels attached.
The Mercedes GLE is a quiet cruiser on the motorway and is very comfortable with air suspension, but the lack of engine choice is limiting
The 350d is perfect for all occasions, but will be at its most fuel-efficient on the motorway. Around town, it starts getting thirsty
The Mercedes GLE is available with a 258hp diesel engine only. The six-cylinder engine is quiet and sends fewer vibrations into the cabin than the four-cylinder diesel in a Volvo XC90, for example, making it a better match for a premium SUV like the GLE.
The 3.0-litre diesel shifts this 2100kg leviathan with ease and the 0-62mph time of 7.1 seconds is impressive for something so big. More useful is the decent amount of torque that makes overtaking quick and stress-free – as does the standard nine-speed automatic gearbox, which helps with quick reactions and good gear-picking decisions. The 350d is a great engine that suits the Mercedes GLE’s character well, so the lack of other choices isn’t as bad as it seems.
There’s no getting away from the fact that the Mercedes GLE feels like a big car to drive, so if you’re looking for an SUV that feels nimble in corners you’ll be better off going for the surprisingly agile Porsche Cayenne.
The Mercedes’ size does have its advantages though, and one of them is the brilliant view you get out the front of the car. It feels tall compared to most other cars – so you can peer over queues of traffic and navigate your way through traffic-packed streets. The big rear window gives you get a decent view out the back and the small side windows help you see other cars when you glance over your shoulder.
Even parking is relatively easy because all models have parking sensors front and rear, and a reversing camera with guiding lines that help you aim the Mercedes GLE into spaces. All models come with an automatic gearbox that makes the car easy to drive smoothly at slow speeds.
On the motorway, the gearbox changes gear almost imperceptibly and the Mercedes GLE is very quiet.
The standard suspension is set up with comfort not sport in mind so it’s decently cosseting as long as you dong go crazy with the wheel sizes. But, if you want the ultimate comfort, you can get the optional air suspension that does a great job of ironing out bumps.
All GLEs come with an automatic emergency braking system – which can apply the brakes when it detects an imminent collision – and attention assist that can warn you if it reckons you’re getting sleepy behind the wheel.
The Mercedes GLE itself hasn’t been crash-tested by Euro NCAP. However, the old Mercedes ML-Class that it’s based upon was awarded five stars when it was evaluated under 2012’s less rigorous test conditions.
The Mercedes GLE’s cabin comes with plenty of plush-feeling materials and some decent in-car tech but alternatives look more modern and are easier to use