In 1997, Mercedes-Benz almost revolutionised the SUV market with the introduction of its ML. Finally, an alternative premium SUV to counter the more expensive Range Rover. It was the start of many things and not least the pendulum swinging. And swing it did, because over the next two decades the SUV segment expanded and the boomed with the introduction of numerous new vehicles and product offerings from even the most unexpected of manufacturers.
And the ML? The SUV that, technically, started it all? Well, it grew and it became even more premium. It also underwent a name change a few years ago when Mercedes-Benz renamed its entire SUV range. Now known as the GLE, the SUV has no intention of letting up and was an all-new model launched in August 2019.
Perhaps unexpectedly, Mercedes-Benz gave the SUV a baptism of fire, if you will, to showcase the advancements It’s made on the vehicle. Covering a range of surfaces, the GLE had its work cut out to show its worth.
Bigger, bolder, more spacious
The new Mercedes-Benz GLE strikes an imposing stance when first viewing it. Available in two styles – standard and AMG Line – the GLE can be both subtle and loud. On both exterior kits, users can specify from a range of wheel and tyre options, but the AMG Line has a diamond grille and a diagonal bar running across it. Huge air-intakes sit at the bottom ends of the front bumper; highlighting the SUV’s intent without fail.
In terms of its size, the GLE has a kerb weight of 2 220kg, a length of 4 924mm, a width of 1 947mm (excluding side mirrors), and a height of 1 772mm. A big vehicle it is, but from behind the steering wheel, one does not get the impression that you are in command of something big; something huge.
Inside, the GLE is more spacious than before and does it, for the first time, offer seating for seven passengers. Though the third row of seats is optionally available, it does not detract from the loading space when not in use. Mercedes-Benz claims a load volume of 825L when the boot cover is removed, but it increases to 2 055L when the second row of seats is folded flat, too.
Interior and technology
Boasting a heavily revised interior, the 2019 Mercedes-Benz GLE sees a cleaner interior with a minimalistic approach to its layout. The infotainment system takes an overtly digital approach, headed by Mercedes-Benz’s MBUX – Mercedes-Benz User Experience. MBUX learns and recognises user commands and eases the driving experience. Recognising the various South African accents, MBUX can execute command prompts ranging from opening the sunroof to adding a destination to the navigation.
Furthermore, the interior is decked in leather and other soft-touch materials. In front of the driver is two 12.3-inch/31.2cm screens that relay everything and more you need to know about your drive and your vehicle. The steering wheel, the latest iteration from the Mercedes-Benz parts bin, is easy to use and do the controls offer quick navigations through the various menus.
As much as the GLE provides a solid list of standard features, just as much does it have an extensive list of optional extras. On the standard front, the SUV boasts with nine airbags, park distance control with a camera, cruise control, hill descent control, heated exterior mirrors, a sunroof, satellite navigation, and an electric tailgate.
Options include, amongst a raft of features, adaptive cruise control, electric adjustment for the steering wheel, air suspension, heated and ventilated front seats, and head-up display.
Mercedes-Benz still lists both the Coupé and standard models on its price list, but it’s the latter that sees the range trimmed down to just three derivatives; available in both standard and AMG Line. The GLE 300d 4MATIC is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-litre diesel engine that develops 180kW and 500Nm. The GLE 400d 4MATIC is fitted with a turbocharged 2.9-litre six-cylinder diesel engine, good for 243kW and 700Nm.
The sole petrol model, the GLE 450, has a 3.0-litre six-cylinder engine that’s mated with a small electric motor. Total system output is rated at 286kW and 500Nm.
All models are fitted with a nine-speed automatic gearbox and all-wheel drive.
As alluded to earlier, the new GLE was thrusted into a baptism of fire at the AMG Advanced Driving Academy at the Zwartkops Raceway. The ADA team laid out an off-road course specifically for the GLE that well and truly tested the SUV’s metal. The 400d and 300d models were used for application on the course; particularly because of their impressive torque-rich engines.
On the course, the GLE impressed with off-road prowess not expected from it. Through sand, scaling inclines, and conquering dongas, the GLEs were tested thoroughly. Aiding off-road capabilities is a gradient angle of 35-degrees (of which we explored 32!), a transfer case in the GLE 450 and 400d to channel torque between the front and rear axles, and an optional off-road driving mode.
The GLE can also wade through water up to 500mm deep.
On the launch route, all engine choices were sampled but was it the GLE 400d that impressed most. Though some turbo lag is evident, the SUV had no letting up once fired up. The GLE 300d had a nice gruff sound to it but was also the more fuel-efficient of the lot. Departing Sandton to Zwartkops and spending two a few hours in the off-road course, the GLE 300d’s on-board computer showed it still had more than 800km left on its range.
The GLE 450 is a swift mover, quickly dispatching the road ahead thanks to almost instantaneous reactions to throttle inputs.
Whichever way you look at it, Mercedes-Benz improved the GLE tenfold. The SUV is a more rounded product, seeing to the needs of its prospective clients. Will you be taking this SUV off-road? I highly doubt it, but at least you have the peace of mind that a stretch of gravel or a flooding road will not halt proceedings.
From a practical point of view, it has all the tools to see to the needs of a family and with its sizeable boot, it can do more than its part to haul luggage around.