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The first premium-badge road-biased SUV is now in its fourth generation. We find out if it raises the bar in the large SUV sector.
20in alloy wheels, leather upholstery, reversing camera, DAB radio, dual-zone climate control, MBUX multimedia system with sat-nav and touchscreen/touchpad interface, heated front seats, LED headlights, blindspot alert, Agility Control suspension
Mercedes-Benz reckons it created the premium SUV segment over 20 years ago with the original M-Class. The GLE badge replaced it in 2015, but at its core this all-new GLE remains a road-biased SUV as an alternative to BMW's X5, the Porsche Cayenne and the Range Rover Sport.
The all-new GLE can be ordered now, to reach customers in Spring 2019. Benefitting from Mercedes-Benz's latest engine family, the GLE will be introduced in the UK in GLE 300d and GLE 450 guises. That entry-level four-cylinder turbodiesel is the fleet choice at launch, though buyers will be offered more options when the 350d and 400d models, with an in-line six-cylinder turbodiesel, join it later in the year. More petrol as well as hybrid choices will also be offered as the range expands through its initial launch phase.
Until the range is revealed in its entirety, then, that GLE 300d with 245hp will be the pick for fleet users, with a P11D of £54,800 for the five-seat model and £56,795 for the seven-seater. All UK GLE 300d models come as standard in AMG Line trim, with a CO2 figure of 162g/km on its standard 20in alloy wheels.
Using Mercedes-Benz's latest 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel, mated exclusively to a nine-speed automatic transmission and four-wheel drive, the GLE 300d is a sweet spot in the range. Its entry-level status sees it make do with Mercedes-Benz's Agility Control suspension with selective damping, which does a fine job of control and comfort. With the 300d, buyers are not offered the option of air suspension, but are no poorer because of it.
Likewise, the standard specification wants for little, with Nappa leather upholstery, a reversing camera, blindspot alert, LED headlights, DAB, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control and Mercedes-Benz's MBUX multimedia system with its dual 12.3in screens. Following the A-Class here, one screen is for instrumentation, the other being a central touchscreen for drive, comfort, information and entertainment functions.
A Premium equipment line adds memory seats, a 360-degree parking camera, multibeam LED headlights, and wireless charging for your mobile, with Premium Plus gaining upmarket Burmester audio, extended Keyless-Go functionality, a panoramic glass sunroof as well as an 'energising package' and scented air. At £4,295 you might be wise to avoid that.
More useful for business users will be the Tech or Tech Plus packages, which bring augmented navigation and smartphone integration, the Plus also benefitting from MBUX Interior Assistant, which adds a degree of gesture control, as well as a sizeable head-up display into the equipment mix. There is Mercedes-Benz's Driving Assistance Package option, too, which bundles the firm's latest safety equipment into a difficult-to-ignore £1,695 tick box.
Plenty of choice, then, though the GLE's extensive option configurability isn't at the expense of its core appeal. Key to its development has been greater space and comfort, the cabin appreciably bigger thanks to a wheelbase stretch, every dimension - except height -having outwardly grown. There is plenty of passenger space for adults in the five standard passenger seats, but the third row seating is only useful for children or shorter adults. With the extra pews stowed in the floor the boot is a sizeable 690-2,055 litres.
The comfort is two-fold behind the wheel, relating firstly to the suspension's fine ability to smother poor surfaces, as well as the hushed suppression of road, wind and engine noise. The nine-speed automatic transmission is slick in its operation, while the 2.0-litre turbodiesel's performance is more than adequate, with a 7.2-second 0-62mph time and easy, low-rev response thanks to its sizeable torque output. The steering is accurate and light, and while the GLE isn't able to offer quite the engaging dynamic accuracy of some of its rivals, that's arguably a positive, with serenity, ease of use, refinement and comfort to its benefit. Which is, after all, what matters, and makes it a hugely compelling choice among its competition.
Good looks, excellent refinement and comfort all
hugely appealing. Fine driving - and spacious, too.
Many-layered MBUX functionality somewhat distracting on the
move. Full smartphone integration remains a cost option.