The GLE shares much of its styling with the GLE Coupe, which means it’s a fairly aggressive-looking thing compared with some of its more stately rivals. There’s a huge grille and badge up front, with large air intakes beneath, massive door mirrors, roof rails, LED lights front and rear, and twin tailpipes integrated into the rear bumper (four on the flagship 63 AMG version). Wheel sizes range from 19 inches on the entry-level Sport trim, with the range-topping 63 AMG getting 21-inch wheels, along with red brake callipers. You can make the GLE look even more rugged with a pair of running boards fitted down the sides, which also make it easier to step in and out of the tall cabin.
First impressions are very good. Depending on trim level, you get man-made or real leather on the dashboard, centre console, doors and seats. The cow hide in particular feels glorious. Your trim level also dictates whether you get wood inserts or ones made from brushed aluminium, piano-black lacquer or carbon fibre. The supportive driver’s seat and steering wheel adjust electrically on all versions, so it’s easy to get settled behind the wheel. You can alter the lumbar support via buttons on the chairs or the central touchscreen. The dashboard is dominated by an 8.0-inch screen that’s operated by a dial between the front seats. The screen itself looks a little like a dash-mounted iPad, but the system works well, if not quite as well as BMW’s iDrive. Although the windscreen pillars are a little thick, the view out of the car is decent – and certainly better than in the GLE Coupe. There are still quite a lot of buttons littering the dash though, so newer rivals such as the Volvo XC90 and Audi Q7 both feel more modern inside, and just as luxurious.
There’s plenty of room for five occupants to stretch out in comfort, as well as lots of storage cubbies throughout the cabin. The boot is huge, too, with a long, flat load space from the boot lip to the back of the front seats when the rear seatbacks are folded flat. The rear suspension intrudes into the load space, but even so the GLE’s boot capacity beats that of the XC90 and X5 with the seats up or down. Both those SUVs do come either with seven standard seats, or the option to add an extra two, whereas the GLE is five-seat only. The one exception to this is the GLE 500e hybrid, which loses 200-300 litres of volume because of the batteries installed beneath the boot floor. You can’t specify an extra pair of seats on the GLE as you can in some rivals, but considering the minuscule legroom they tend to offer we don’t think you’ll mind. Those who tow caravans and horseboxes should be pleased with the 350d’s 3500kg braked trailer limit.
Ride and handling
We recommend the Airmatic air suspension with adaptive damping
Entry-level Sport trim (on the GLE 250d) comes with coil-sprung suspension. It does a fine job out of town, ensuring a reasonably smooth ride at speed, although you’ll notice a fair amount of body roll in corners and roundabouts. However, the ride is unsettled in town, with ruts and drain covers thumping their way into the cabin. As a result, we’d recommend the Airmatic air suspension with adaptive damping that comes with AMG Line trim and above. The dampers allow you to choose between comfort, sport and sport+ modes (which also change engine, gearbox and steering settings), but even with the firmest option selected, most bumps and ruts are dealt with pretty well. Body control is decent, especially in the AMG 63, which gets more clever mechanical trickery to keep it on an even keel, although the standard version is nowhere near as agile as a Porsche Cayenne or Range Rover Sport. As with most modern SUVs, the GLE will seldom be taken off road, but it’s nice to know that it has the hardware to get you out of a pickle. The optional Off Road package gives the Merc convincing mud-plugging ability, as long as you fit off-road tyres – another optional extra.
The 350d has a bigger, V6 diesel, and builds speed quickly and smoothly
The entry-level 250d uses a 2.1-litre four-cylinder diesel engine; and, although it’s pretty unrefined in other models, it’s more pleasant in the GLE. With its nine-speed automatic gearbox, the car is nice and relaxed at motorway speeds, but away from the highway, the engine needs to be worked hard to make decent progress, and it makes a fair old din when you do so. The 350d has a bigger, V6 diesel engine, and it builds speed quickly and smoothly from a standstill via the same nine-speed auto. In-gear acceleration could be better, so you need to plan overtaking manoeuvres on A-roads, but the cabin is remarkably hushed at motorway speeds. Also very refined is the GLE 500e plug-in hybrid, which can run on electric power for up to 18 miles; and, when you accelerate hard, the 3.0-litre V6 petrol engine kicks in seamlessly. The ultimate in performance (0-62mph in a scintillating 4.2 seconds) comes from the AMG 63 S, along with an exhaust soundtrack that majors on pops and crackles, and a delicious roar from the 5.5-litre V8 engine. It’s a cracking engine, and the performance is as exhilarating as the soundtrack.
Company car drivers will be drawn by the hybrid’s 78g/km of CO2 emissions
The 500e plug-in hybrid is likely to appeal most to company car drivers, who will be drawn by its 78g/km of CO2 emissions, but private buyers should beware of its high list price and unknown resale values. Mind you, the same applies to plug-in hybrid versions of the Volvo XC90 and Porsche Cayenne, both of which cost about the same to buy. As you might imagine, the AMG GLE 63 S emits nearly four times as much CO2, and will cost you a pretty penny at the petrol pumps (it averages 23.9mpg officially), as well as being very expensive to buy. Instead, the basic 250d looks likely to prove most popular with buyers: its CO2 emissions of 156g/km are pretty reasonable when compared to the BMW X5’s, and it averages a decent 47.9mpg, but those figures are slightly worse than the V6 Audi Q7.
Most of the GLE’s oily bits have been inherited from the M-Class (the car the GLE replaced). Unfortunately, Warranty Direct and JD Power don’t have enough data to produce rankings for that model, but other large Mercedes that use the same engines tend to be average performers when it comes to reliability. Merc’s three-year warranty is a little ordinary these days, but at least there’s no mileage limit. BMW and Land Rover provide exactly the same warranties.
You’ll have to make do with a puncture repair kit instead of a spare wheel
There’s an extensive list of standard safety equipment on the GLE, including seven airbags (with one for the driver’s knees), and the bonnet automatically rises if it senses a collision with a pedestrian. Every model also comes with a tyre pressure-monitoring system, although you’ll have to make do with a puncture repair kit instead of a spare wheel. All GLEs also feature electronic stability control with Curve Dynamic Assist, Attention Assist (to alert you if the car thinks you need to take a break), Crosswind Assist and Collision Prevention Assist Plus as standard. Options include Histrionic Plus radar-guided cruise control with Steering Assist, and Stop&Go Pilot with junction assist, Pre-Safe Brake with pedestrian detection and brake assist plus, which adds extra force in an emergency stop to slow you down faster.
The GLE is very much a luxury SUV, so you’d expect it to come loaded with goodies as standard. It does. Entry-level Sport trim gives you LED headlights, rain-sensing wipers, tinted glass, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, Comand infotainment (which includes sat-nav, Bluetooth, two USB ports, a DAB digital radio with eight speakers and internet access), a powered tailgate, mood lighting and several other fripperies. The designo Line and AMG trims bring extra styling kit, plus luxuries such as massaging and cooled front seats, heated rear seats, an upgraded sound system and bigger wheels. Still, as with any big premium vehicle, you can easily spend several thousand pounds on optional extras.
You’ll love the GLE if you need pace, space, plenty of safety gear and like to give other road users the impression that you go green-laning in Wales at the weekend – should you actually want to risk scratching the paint and alloy wheels, of course. Other SUVs are better all-rounders though, and it’s not the cheapest option available either.