To remove any element of doubt, the GLE is the new name for the SUV more commonly known as the Mercedes-Benz ML. Which means it’s up against the Audi Q7 and BMW X5 – both of which have been revised this year – along with the XC90, Volvo’s brand spanking new SUV.
Tough competition, then, especially for an SUV introduced back in 2011, having been in development since 2006. All Mercedes SUVs will utilise the GL nomenclature, with the E in GLE signifying that it’s the SUV equivalent of the E-Class. Later this year we’ll see the introduction of a GLS, of which Mercedes is promising great things.
But back to the GLE, which we tested having driven the new GLE Coupe a day earlier. A brief early drive in the new GLE 500e Plug-in Hybrid was followed by some off-roading in a GLE 350d and a fairly lengthy drive to Munich Airport.
Here are seven things you need to know if you are considering buying a 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLE.
1. The GLE is better than the GLE Coupe
Sure, the GLE Coupe looks and feels like a much newer product, but it’s the standard GLE that feels more authentic. In truth, the new front grille, headlights, new front bumper and front wings represent little more than an exterior facelift, but it’s impossible not to notice the bonnet’s so-called ‘power domes’ when driving the GLE. They help to give it a more chiselled look.
Around the back, new taillights are joined by a new bumper and tailgate. So it’s hardly a groundbreaking or radical overhaul, but the overall effect is far less in-your-face than the rather vulgar GLE Coupe. It makes no pretence about being anything other than a practical SUV. And it’s all the better for it.
2. The Off-Road Package gives the GLE proper skills
When Mercedes-Benz told us we’d be doing some off-roading, we had visions of a few cones in a gravel car park, maybe a coupe of water-splashes and some logs. What we actually got was a working Austrian quarry and a mountain. OK, so the GLE 350d in question was fitted with the optional Off-Road package, but at £1,985 this seems like an absolute steal. Especially if you happen to live halfway up an Austrian mountain.
The package adds additional Airmatic ride heights, an off-road driving mode, reinforced underbody paneling, a reduction gear and an inter-axle differential lock. You can also monitor your off-road exploits via a 360-degree camera.
On some properly challenging climbs, near-vertical descents and loose rocks and gravel, the GLE hardly put a foot wrong. Forget your namby-pamby coupe nonsense, the GLE was born to do stuff like this.
3. The 500e Plug-in Hybrid is good, but it’s no XC90 T8
You’ll remember that the all-new Volvo XC90 was born with electrification in mind. In other words, the Scalable Product Architecture (SPA) allows Volvo to add hybrid technology to the XC90 without impacting on space inside the cabin or luggage area. It’s one of the many reasons why we rate the T8 Plug-in Hybrid so highly.
The GLE is unable to fall back on such a platform, which is why the hybrid’s battery pack makes such a significant impact on boot space. Not only does it raise the floor, it also sees a reduction in capacity from 690 litres to 480 litres. That really isn’t good.
On the plus side, the hybrid system did all it could to keep us running in E-Mode (all-electric driving), only switching to Hybrid when a burst of power was required. In fact, we managed to travel a full 19 miles on battery power alone, without really trying. Thanks to a combined 449hp from its V6 petrol engine and electric motor, the 500e will accelerate to 62mph in 5.3 seconds, going on to reach a top speed of 152mph.
These are AMG-rivalling figures, but the AMG 63 S simply can’t match the 78g/km CO2 emissions of the 500e. The 500e is also some £30,000 cheaper than the full-bore AMG.
We should also point out that the 500e didn’t feel as refined as the XC90 T8, occasionally ‘clunking’ between driving modes. Then there’s the small matter of the price. You can order an XC90 T8 for £59,955, which is £5,000 less than the GLE 500e. Plus you get the benefit of two extra seats in the Volvo.
4. The nine-speed automatic transmission can be frustrating
There will be two diesel engines available in the UK – the 2.1-litre of the 250d and the 3.0-litre V6 of the 350d. Both are equipped with a new nine-speed automatic transmission and permanent all-wheel drive.
For the most part, the transmission is perfectly acceptable and you barely notice the up and down shifts. But it does have a tendency to get confused when exiting a junction or powering out of a corner, leaving you off the torque curve, which results in delayed acceleration.
At best, this can be frustrating on a twisty Alpine road, but at worst it can be tad unnerving when pulling out into a main road. On more than one occasion we were left high and dry by the transmission’s hesitation. Not fun.
5. The Bang & Olufsen BeoSound AMG audio system is a must-have upgrade
At £3,495, the Bang & Olufsen BeSound AMG audio system isn’t a cheap upgrade. But given it’s one of the best in-car audio systems we’ve ever experienced, we suggest you give it some serious thought.
The tweeters at the base of the A-pillars, complete with built-in lights, are the biggest clue that the GLE has the optional audio system. That is, until you turn the volume right up to the max. There’s a complete lack of distortion, even when streaming through an iPod. Haddaway has never sounded so good. Ahem…
6. The GLE’s interior really is very good
Mercedes-Benz knows a thing or two about putting an interior together and the GLE remains a masterclass in quality and comfort. The seats offer exceptional levels of support and plenty of scope for adjustment. There’s also stacks of legroom and headroom for rear-seat passengers, while the GLE’s boot doesn’t suffer from the same high loading lip found in the GLE Coupe.
That said, you really need to take into account the reduced load capacity if you opt for the 500e hybrid.
The infotainment screen feels more integrated and ‘at home’ in the GLE than in other models and offers a crystal clear display and supreme ease of use. We also find it refreshing to find the climate control is operated by dials, although the centre console does look rather fussy. Meanwhile, Mercedes continues to put multiple stalks behind the steering wheel, which can be a tad confusing at first.
Sadly, we have to play the XC90 card again, because the Volvo’s interior does feel more special and is loaded with the kind of details you won’t find in the GLE. It’s all very well screwed together, it just lacks that finishing touch.
7. The GLE will eat miles, but it’ll also drink fuel
You may find yourself disappointed with the fuel economy in the GLE 350d. Mercedes claims you could see up to 42.8mpg on a combined cycle, yet on a lengthy and mostly relaxed drive through Bavaria and Austria, we achieved an average of just under 28mpg.
OK, so that should improve once the engine has loosened up, but the 2.2-tonne SUV isn’t going to get any lighter. You may need a very gentle right foot to get anywhere near the claimed figures.
In summary, we rather like the Mercedes-Benz GLE. The GLE Coupe left us scratching our heads and desperately searching for a reason to buy it. In the case of the GLE, we find it much easier to recommend. In fact, if you happen to live half way up the mountain, we’d gladly recommend a 350d with air suspension and the brilliant Bang & Olufsen audio system.
Just make sure you check out the Volvo XC90 first.