The best-driving Mercedes GLE is yet to come – the 300 d isn’t quite comfortable enough and the 450 petrol isn’t particularly frugal. Both are pleasingly quiet though
Two engines will be available from launch – a 2.0-litre, 245hp four-cylinder diesel called the 300 d and a six-cylinder 450 petrol with 367hp, plus a 22hp electric boost assistance. Both comes with all-wheel drive as standard, as well as a nine-speed automatic gearbox.
The 300 d is no dragster, but it’s quick enough down motorway slip roads and when overtaking slow moving B-road traffic to feel comfortable. It also returns respectable fuel economy (more the 40mpg is possible if driven carefully), but is a little vocal when pushed hard. That said, it settles down nicely at a cruise on the motorway once you’re up to speed.
Large SUVs should be about luxurious comfort - sharp handling is a bonus. Happily, the Mercedes GLE does comfort well - if you buy the right one, that is
The 450 petrol is quicker when you put your foot down, yet also smoother when idling at a stop and quieter in all situations. It isn’t a true hybrid as it can’t run on electricity alone, nor a plug-in as there’s, well, no plug. Instead its 48-volt electrical system with ‘EQ’ boost assistance is designed to take the strain off the engine when accelerating, but even with it on-song the 450 feels swift rather than startlingly quick. It’ll also demand more fuel than the 300 d.
We’ve also tried the 340hp, six-cylinder diesel 400 d, which will join the range later. It suits the GLE better than the other two engines, providing strong performance yet smooth operation and fuel economy somewhere between the 300 d and 450 petrol. When the lesser six cylinder 350 d with 286hp (on which the 400 d is based) also turns up, that’ll likely be the sweet spot of the entire range.
Beyond that, a diesel plug-in hybrid called the 300 de, the 560 V8 petrol, and hot petrol Mercedes-AMG models such as the GLE 53 and 63 are also due down the line.
The Mercedes GLE is about comfort and quiet rather than agility, so it’s perhaps no surprise that a BMW X5 feels a sharper SUV to drive around corners. The GLE leans more and its light steering doesn’t have quite the same connected feeling as the X5’s, even if there’s lots grip available.
How comfortable the Mercedes GLE depends on which mode you buy – air suspension is the key. Crucially, you can’t have it on the entry-level 300 d and as a result it isn’t as settled over potholes and road ripples as those models with it, even with its adaptive dampers in the most comfortable setting. The 450 petrol gets air suspension as standard and offers better comfort at all speeds, no matter the driving mode. Even then, an Audi Q7 is very 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 a feeling of luxurious, isolate calm on the move.
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, but 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. It includes an under guard for the engine and floor and more advanced info on what is happening beneath the wheels. Mercedes is also deciding whether to bring an E-Active suspension system to the UK that allows the driver to individually control each corner of the air suspension separately, as well as ‘hop’ the car up and down to free it from deep sand or mud.
Lastly, a Towing Package increases the GLE’s towing limit to 2700kg to 3500kg (only on the 450 petrol), adds an electrically folding tow bar and provides steering assistance and on-screen guidelines to help you reverse with a trailer attached.