New Mercedes GLE 2019 review
The new Mercedes GLE SUV has arrived in the UK, but is the entry-level 300 d version the pick of the range?
There’s much to like about the new Mercedes GLE: the interior is gorgeous, it’s loaded with clever tech, and for the most part, the four-cylinder diesel remains smooth and refined. However, there are one or two areas which Merc could do with addressing. The equivalent BMW X5 is slightly faster and more practical, for example. We’ll have to wait to see how the GLE behaves on the 300 d’s standard steel springs as opposed to the air suspension set-up fitted to this model, too.
The 300 d is the smallest of what is currently a four-strong engine line-up, powered by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel. Above it sit the 350 d and 400 d diesels, plus a GLE 450 petrol – all three using 3.0-litre straight-six turbocharged engines. There are plug-in hybrids on the way, and hot AMG models will follow later; first a mild-hybrid GLE 53 and later the full-fat, V8-powered GLE 63. But in reality, is the 300 d all you need?
From an equipment point of view, the smallest engine doesn’t give away much to the more powerful models, because in the UK it’s AMG Line trim only across the range. Standard kit includes 20-inch alloys, LED headlights, blind spot and traffic sign assist, and the brand’s latest infotainment set-up.
Here, the MBUX system consists of a pair of 12.3-inch displays mounted side-by-side, each with clear, sharp graphics. The digital instrument panel comprises three customisable sections, which shows any mix of driving, media and mapping information.
The main screen is touch-sensitive, although it can still be controlled through conventional buttons, or a slightly fiddly touchpad mounted on the centre console. It’s not quite as intuitive as BMW’s iDrive set-up, but it's less distracting to use than the Audi Q8’s multi display design; the Merc’s high screen location and physical climate controls see to that.
Opt for the £1,495 Tech plus package, and the sat-nav gets the same augmented reality instructions first shown on the A-Class, as well as smartphone integration and gesture control. It also adds a head-up display unit: like the dials, the screen is split into three different sections in order to show as little or as much information as you choose.
With so many rivals in this class offering seven seats, Mercedes has followed suit and squeezed a third row into the GLE. ‘Squeezed’ is the important word here; unless you enjoy sitting cross-legged in perpetuity like some sort of Yoga swot, anyone over the age of five will find it impossible to get comfy. The Audi Q7’s third row is better, and Volvo’s XC90, the Land Rover Discovery and Tesla Model X, are roomier still. Best to wait for the GLS if you really need a Mercedes with seven seats - the firm reckons anyone up to 6ft 4 will fit in that car’s back row.
Still, accept that those seats will remain folded away, and you're left with a spacious five-seat SUV. The middle bench has plenty of leg and headroom, while the electrically adjustable seats can recline into a more relaxed position if needed. The boot is a generous size, too: the 630-litre capacity is more than big enough for most people, albeit a modest 20 litres down on the X5's.
Out on the road, the GLE does a reasonable job of disguising the fact that it’s a five-metre-long, two-metre-wide SUV. It’s fairly manoeuvrable for a car of this size (its turning circle is 80cm tighter than a Land Rover Discovery, for example) but the forward visibility is hampered by a high dashboard line, and isn’t as good as in some rivals.
UK versions of the GLE 300 d come with steel springs, though bizarrely our test car featured an air suspension set-up that’ll be offered exclusively on the more powerful models. That means it’s hard to give a true impression about ride and handling yet, although at least on this encounter it feels stable and predictable. A slow steering response can make it feel a little ponderous at times, though.
The GLE’s shape, by SUV standards, is a very slippery one, and that aero efficiency translates into barely a whisper of wind noise at a cruise. It’s just a shame that its ability to isolate road noise isn’t quite as impressive.
The 2.0-litre diesel in the GLE 300 d will compete most closely with the BMW X5 xDrive 30d, despite offering just four cylinders instead of six. Its 500Nm output means the pair are matched for torque, but the BMW produces more power. Still, the GLE’s performance is more than adequate out on the road. It’s complemented by a gearbox that’s wonderfully smooth for the most part, but it does take its time to choose one of its nine gears when you need to overtake.
Those who want to use their SUV for hauling heavy loads should turn to the GLE 350 d. The six-cylinder model gets an extra 100Nm of torque, available from just 1,200rpm. Thanks to an optional towing pack (not available on 300 d) its towing weight is rated up to 3,500kg – 800kg more than the car we’ve got here. Prices for the GLE 350 d start from £61,955 - a little over six grand more than the GLE 300 d.
Overall list prices are slightly moot, though, as the overwhelming majority of buyers will take out a finance package. Here, the GLE fares fairly well against its closest rival. Place a £6,000 deposit, and over a four-year period and with an annual 10,000-mile limit, the GLE 300 d will cost £763 per month – £26 per month less than the X5 xDrive30d M Sport on identical terms. There’s little to choose between the pair for company car users, as both fall into the 37 per cent Benefit In Kind bracket.