5 0 5
Plus & Minus
Spacious interior, clever technology, attractive pricing
Base engine a bit weak, stock suspension lacks sophistication, third-row feels too tight
The Wheels Verdict: Those that care about how it drives won't be impressed with the jostling ride and lack-lustre engine, though both can be fixed for a further ten grand. At that point, the GLE presents a serious bit of kit to rival the best in class and features such as the expansive displays and MBUX can't be beat. But as a sub-$100k premium SUV, the 300d will still find plenty of homes, with approachable steering and a dazzling cabin the likely highlights for many.
What is the Mercedes-Benz GLE?
Merc’s GLE badge isn’t old but the platform it came from is. Originating as the M-Class, the third-generation GLE had been on the same running gear since 2012, albeit with some nips and tucks to look a bit nicer. Now in its fourth-generation it’s a completely new beast, promising a host of improvements to elevate it to the top of the class.
Are SUVs popular? Right, now you know why we have to test Mercedes’ latest crossover.
Mercedes finally has a gun to fight against luxury SUV rivals with its fourth-generation GLE. It’s been a while in the waiting as rivals such as BMW and Volvo have introduced polished competitors to the segment in the form of the new X5 and venerable XC90, but Merc’s bigger and better GLE looks to have the panache to win back buyers. (To find out if it does reign king, read our GLE, X5 and XC90 comparison test in the September issue of Wheels, on sale 15th August). Launching with three variants, the 80mm longer wheelbase brings seven seats for the first time, and there has been a huge improvement to technology and interior packaging – areas that should lure shoppers to showrooms. Well, that, and its sub-$100k price tag.
Read next: 2019 Mercedes-Benz GLE revealed
Starting at $99,900, the entry-level GLE300d looks plump with value. Helping keep costs down though the Benz is powered by a relatively small 2.0-litre twin-turbo four-cylinder diesel that’s good for 180kW and 500Nm. Moving to the middle of the range is the petrol 450, costing $111,700 and boasting a larger 3.0-litre inline six augmented by mild 48v electric power. It develops a meatier 270kW and 500Nm that’s over one second quicker in the claimed 0-100km/h race. Most expensive is the $118,500 400d, which gains a 3.0-litre turbo diesel producing 243kW and 700Nm.
RIVAL REVIEW: 2019 BMW X5
Despite the price differential, this entry-level 300d is included with plenty of Merc’s best safety technology, including AEB, collision protection system, 360-degree view camera, adaptive cruise control, steering assist, lane change assist, blind-spot monitor and automated parking. It all helps the GLE score a five-star ANCAP rating.
Other standard inclusions are twin 12.3-inch display screens with MBUX (Mercedes-Benz User Experience), head-up display, Artico leather, Nappa leather steering wheel, heated front seats with electric adjustment, open pore oak wood trim inlays, DAB+ radio with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, multibeam LED headlights with adaptive highbeam, roof rails, powered tailgate, 64-colour interior ambient lighting and 20-inch alloys.
Steel spring suspension with passive dampers is standard; Merc’s more sophisticated air suspension is a $3800 cost-option and E-Active (fully active suspension) body control costs $13,000 – though the latter is only available on 450 and 400d variants.
Other options are the $4800 Night Package which includes black highlights and 22-inch alloy wheels, and the $9900 AMG Sport Package with panoramic sunroof, wireless charging, leather upholstery and 21-inch AMG alloys. If you want seven-seats, that’ll be a further $3900, and braked towing capacity can be increased to 3500kg in the $1900 Towbar pack.
As a package, the new GLE is leaps ahead of the old stablemate. Interior dimensions have grown to provide a more airy feel and second-row passengers will appreciate the liberated footwell between seats. The wide rear-door aperture is also a boon for parents throwing kids up onto the rear pew. Third-row passengers aren’t as well catered for with restricted ingress and tight legroom, but at least the boot remains a capacious 630L even with the seven-seat option ticked.
The front of the cabin is a technological delight, fitted with Merc’s latest 12.3-inch twin-screen arrangement that’s unlike any conventional dash. Behind the scenes is MBUX, Mercedes’ personal assistant for you, which can be called upon at any time by saying ‘Hey, Mercedes’ and a command such as ‘open the sunroof’. Given its debut in the A-Class last year, you’ve probably heard all about it, but suffice to say it’s intuitive and can do some neat tricks – though for it to be a proper personal assistant it needs a few months to figure out your routine.
Beyond voice control, the infotainment screen is touch sensitive and can be controlled via a (mostly) slick pad on the centre console. All other touch points are equally impressive with nice tactility and quality trims used throughout; it’s certainly the premium standard we’ve come to expect from the Three-Pointed star, feeling sumptuous from the first impression even in this entry-level model.
While MBUX can’t start the car using voice control, push-start ignition kicks over the little oiler and it quietly idles upfront. It feels quick off the mark and suits the urban environment, bringing a surge of grunt down low where you need it in traffic. But stretching its legs the 2.0-litre runs out of power further up the rev range, and despite nine cogs to call on the ratios can’t hide a lack of overtaking power above 80km/h. The more powerful 450 should fill this hole, but for most urbanites, it's a sufficient Toorak tractor.
Though that leaves us with our only real quibble about Merc’s new luxo barge, which is that the standard steel spring suspension isn’t a great fit for lapping up long kays on country roads. The underlying Modular High Architecture (MHA) platform feels tight and responsive, but it doesn’t respond well to passive dampers that feed a brittle response into the cabin from the larger 21-inch alloys. On hard bumps it's edgy, and over corrugations it can wobble about.
But, again, it’s fine around town, jostling slightly but mostly unintrusive to the premium experience going on up top, which, for most city buyers, is where the real event happens. Ticking the right options, like air suspension, you’ll likely have the perfect all-rounder, and there’s no doubting it’s another aspirational SUV for the Joneses to keep up with.
BMW X5, Volvo XC90, Audi Q7, Range Rover Velar
Mercedes-Benz pricing and specs
Model: Mercedes-Benz GLE300d
Engine: 1950cc 4cyl 16v twin-turbo diesel
Max power: 180kW @ 4200rpm
Max torque: 500Nm @ 1600-2400rpm
Transmission: Nine-speed automatic
0-100km/h: 7.8s (tested)
On sale: Now