Each week our team of experienced senior road testers pick out a new model from the world of innovative, premium and performance badges, and put it through its paces. This week, it’s the Mercedes GLE GT.
The GLE is the mid-size SUV for Mercedes, sitting between the compact GLC and monstrous GLS. The new version has the option of seven seats and gets Mercedes’ new user interface – a brand new, large screen with incredibly snazzy graphics and some very clever tricks indeed for music and satnav.
This is only the second generation of the GLE, but like all of Mercedes’ SUVs, its roots lie in the old 1997 M-Class, the very first premium sports utility vehicle (which was followed in quick succession by the BMW X5 and Volvo XC90).
Engines include a four-cylinder diesel and a collection of 3.0-litre straight-six petrols, all mated to Merc’s smooth nine-speed automatic transmission. There’s some mild hybrid action going on, too. But really, it’s the new tech in this car that has catapulted the GLE to the top of the luxury SUV tree at the tail end of 2019.
The new GLE is made in Alabama, USA , where the M-class began life, alongside the GLE coupé.
A fantastic new glass interface stretches across the dashboard and covers a large infotainment screen and digital dials and read-outs behind the steering wheel. The graphics are crystal clear and pin-sharp and do some whizz-bang stuff. Take the music library imported from your smartphone, for example. Have it on shuffle and you can swipe the curved carousel of song images behind the one currently playing to elect the next one. Very clever.
The satnav has an augmented reality function. Set a route, and at low speeds the image changes from map to a camera view of the road ahead from the car. When your next turn approaches, a blue arrow with the road name written on it appears on your camera.
The ambient lighting strips in our test car were set was green, but if you turned the temperature up, they changed to red; turn it down and they changed to blue. Nice touch.
Standard equipment on our car included the ambient lighting (with a choice of 54 colours), black kappa leather upholstery, open-pore wood trim, puddle lamps, active park assist and reversing camera, blind spot and traffic sign assistance and a choice of dynamic driving modes (comfort, sport etc).
Options on our car included off-roading and towing packs, metallic paint schemes, more safety functions such as evasive steering and premium plus pack including wireless charging, perfume and a Burmester surround sound system.
The least powerful engine in the range is a 2.2-litre, four-cylinder diesel in the GLE 300d (pictured). At the other end of the spectrum you’ve got the GLE 53 AMG with 435 horsepower 3.0-litre, V6 petrol. We tested a GLE 400d 4MATIC has a 3.0-litre, straight-six diesel engine, developing 330 horsepower and 700Nm (518lb ft) of torque. It accelerates to 62mph in 5.8 seconds, which is impressive for a seven-seater SUV with a four-wheel-drive system to carry about. Combined fuel consumption is about 30mpg which seems fair enough given the prodigious performance. That nine-speed Mercedes automatic transmission really makes light work of the shifts in pace, leading to a sense that you have far more than 330 horsepower aboard, and, combined with a lot of sound deadening, creates an extraordinary driving experience more akin to a luxury car starting with a strong six-figure price tag. The steering is light but well weighted at speed, there’s good visibility for manoeuvring in tight spaces, and this is the complete family car, with loads of space in all three rows, for drivers who still want some hefty performance.
The GLE is our seven-seater of 2019. It’s not often that we feel £65,000 is a bargain for a car, but the new version is a real step change for Mercedes, that banishes the last doubts about slightly old-fashioned interiors designed for older drivers. It provides a contemporary, luxury experience while preserving the inherent practicalities of a large SUV – plenty of head, shoulder and leg space, comfy seats and a large boot with the third row folded. The new tech and creamy powertrain has suddenly catapulted this SUV ahead of rivals from Volvo, Audi and BMW.