What Car? says...
The Mercedes GLE is not the first of the German brand’s models to be born in the USA – it’s the latest in a long line of luxury SUVs that the famous three-pointed star has built in America.
Starting with the M-Class when Tony Blair was still in power, big Mercedes SUVs have been rolling off the production line in Tuscaloosa, Alabama for generations. The name may have been changed to GLE but the recipe remains the same: take a tall, generously proportioned body (for a family and all its clutter), mix in a wide range of petrol and diesel engines, then season it with a generous sprinkling of luxuries.
Some elements have changed, though. You can now have seven seats and there’s a plug-in hybrid option to cut your company car tax bill. If you’re more interested in excitement than economy, you can choose from not one, but two hot AMG versions.
The Mercedes GLE has lots of stylish and practical seven-seat rivals in the luxury SUV class, including the Audi Q7, BMW X5, Land Rover Discovery and Volvo XC90, not to mention the Porsche Cayenne and other sportier alternatives.
So, does the GLE have what it takes to mount a serious challenge to the class leaders? That's what we'll explore over the next few pages, and we'll also tell you which of the multitude of engine and trim options make the most sense.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
We’d stick to the 245bhp, 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel Mercedes GLE 300d. It pulls strongly from around 1500rpm and the standard nine-speed automatic gearbox kicks down promptly when you floor the accelerator pedal, with similar performance to the Audi Q7 45 TDI. The six-cylinder 350d and 400d offer more punch, with the latter delivering particularly strong acceleration smoothly and without fuss.
If you’re looking to go green or save money on company car tax, there’s the 350de plug-in hybrid. It has a less powerful (194bhp) version of the 300d’s 2.0-litre, four-cylinder diesel engine plus an electric motor. The hybrid is officially a little quicker than the 300d and feels quite muscular when pulling away. Its claimed electric-only range is up to 66 miles and low official CO2 emissions put it in a very low company car tax band.
Higher up the price list, the six-cylinder petrol GLE 450 and AMG-badged GLE 53 models accelerate strongly and the GLE 53 sounds delightfully tuneful – the sports exhaust pops and crackles when you let off the accelerator. Neither engine quite matches the effortless low down shove of the 400d diesel, though. At the top of the range is a V8 63, although we’re yet to try it. The GLE’s towing limit is 2700kg unless you select the towing pack, which boosts all but the 300d to 3500kg, matching key rivals.
Suspension and ride comfort
Two suspension setups are available on the Mercedes GLE, but the decision is made for you depending on your engine choice. In short, the entry-level 300d comes with conventional steel springs, while plusher air suspension is fitted to the more potent engines.
We haven’t tried it with steel springs yet, but we’ve been impressed by the cars we’ve driven with air suspension (Airmatic in Mercedes speak). The GLE is more comfortable than a Land Rover Discovery on town roads and is really quite cosseting on a motorway. However, the slightly wallowy nature means you’ll notice your head swaying around on uneven country roads. We’d recommend standard 20in alloy wheels; cars with the bigger optional 22in alloys are much less comfortable.
The GLE 53 gets slightly stiffer air suspension. It doesn’t deal with potholes and expansion joints quite so deftly but is more comfortable on country roads thanks to its superior body control. Vertical movements are well controlled and there’s no float when you drive over a sudden crest. For the most comfortable ride in the luxury SUV class, we’d recommend the Audi Q7.
The Mercedes GLE’s steering is very light around town, making tight manoeuvres easy, but it feels a little vague at higher speeds, which makes it tricky to place the car's nose accurately on demanding country roads.
While it doesn't sway around as dramatically as the top-heavy Land Rover Discovery, it’s not as composed or confidence-inspiring through bends as the Audi Q7 or BMW X5.
That said, the AMG-fettled GLE 53 is much more agile, with greater grip and sharper steering. It feels stable, balanced and reassuring. The Porsche Cayenne handles even more sweetly, but the 53 isn’t far behind when it comes to pure entertainment.
Noise and vibration
There’s some wind noise at higher speeds in the Mercedes GLE interior, but generally it’s really peaceful – you'll never need to raise your voice to chat with passengers. Even the GLE 53, which has wider tyres, drums up hardly any road noise. In this class, only the Audi Q7 and more expensive BMW X7 are quieter.
The six-cylinder petrol engines in the GLE 450 and 53 are particularly hushed. The 300d diesel is noticeably noisier but still close to the Audi Q7 45 TDI for quietness. The six-cylinder 350d and 400d engines offer a more relaxing soundtrack than the four-cylinder 300d, providing a subtly muscular exhaust note under hard acceleration.
All GLEs have a nine-speed automatic gearbox as standard, and it’s more responsive and smoother than the equivalent gearbox in an Audi Q7. There’s no hesitation when pulling away and it’s pleasantly snappy in Sport Plus mode, especially if you use the gear-change paddles behind the steering wheel. The 350de blends diesel and electric power virtually seamlessly when accelerating, but because of the regenerative braking system (which recovers energy to top up the battery), the brakes can take a bit of getting used to.
The interior layout, fit and finish
Driving position and dashboard
The driver gets electric adjustment for backrest angle and seat height in the Mercedes GLE, as well as adjustable lumbar support. Moving the seat back and forth is the only adjustment you'll need to perform manually. The standard seats are not quite as supportive through corners as an Audi Q7’s, but SUV fans will like their height.
If you add the optional AMG Line Premium package you get, among other things, a seat position memory feature and an electrically adjustable steering wheel. Both come as standard on the AMG 53, which also has extra side bolstering, making the seats more supportive in corners.
The GLE has a 12.3in digital instrument cluster as standard. It has crystal-clear graphics and can display a vast array of driving information but is a little trickier to customise than Audi’s Virtual Cockpit system. While the touch-sensitive controls on the steering wheel can be a bit fiddly, the relatively few buttons on the dashboard are simple to use and within easy reach of the driving seat, as is the central control touchpad (see infotainment section).
Visibility, parking sensors and cameras
The Mercedes GLE’s lofty seating position gives you a good view of the road ahead. The windscreen pillars can partially obscure your view at junctions but don't present a serious problem.
The GLE’s slightly angular and narrow rear end means the view out of the back is not as clear as in some SUVs. However, a rear-view camera and front and rear parking sensors are standard, and a 360deg bird's eye view camera is available as part of the AMG Line Premium package.
As a bonus, every GLE comes with powerful LED headlights as standard.
Sat nav and infotainment
Every GLE comes with Mercedes’ top infotainment system, which features two 12.3in displays joined together to look like one widescreen across the dashboard. It has plenty of features, including a DAB radio, Bluetooth and sat-nav. The Siri-style ‘Hey Mercedes’ voice command function can recognise natural speech more effectively than the systems of many rivals.
You can control the system either by swiping and pressing a touchpad between the front seats, using the tiny touchpad on the steering wheel or simply pressing the screen. When you’re driving, it’s easier to use the touchpads (the main one has haptic feedback so you don’t need to take your eyes off the road). The rotary controller of the BMW X5’s iDrive infotainment system is even more intuitive.
Most of the Mercedes GLE’s interior materials look and feel suitably expensive, and there’s plenty of soft-touch plastic on the dashboard.
If you give the dashboard a bit of a prod – particularly around the climate control panel – it doesn't give quite the impression of solidity you get in its Audi and BMW rivals. Still, it’s certainly not a million miles away, and the difference probably wouldn’t bother you on a daily basis.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
No one will feel cramped in the front of a Mercedes GLE – it’s a fairly wide car so there’s no chance you’ll be clashing elbows with the person sitting next to you.
Even if you add the optional panoramic glass roof (part of the AMG Line Premium Plus package) there's plenty of head room. In addition, there are lots of useful cubbyholes dotted about the place, along with good-sized door pockets.
The second row of seats in the Mercedes GLE is surprisingly spacious. There's more leg room than in the Land Rover Discovery or Audi Q7, for example, so tall adults can really stretch out and relax. There are just two Isofix mounts, though – rivals, including the Q7, have up to six.
You get seven seats as standard in the GLE 400d and above (apart from the five-seat GLE 63). You can upgrade the 300d and 350d from five to seven seats if you go for the Premium pack or higher. Space in the third row isn't very generous, though. Taller adults will feel more cramped than in an Audi Q7 (let alone a Land Rover Discovery or BMW X7), and access isn't great.
The plug-in hybrid 350de doesn't offer a seven-seat option because of the space taken up by the electrical system.
Seat folding and flexibility
Split-folding second-row seats with a 40/20/40 configuration are standard on the Mercedes GLE, regardless of whether you choose a five or seven-seat version. However, while the third-row seats in some rivals, including the Audi Q7, can be raised and lowered electrically, the job requires bicep power in the GLE.
Another handy feature on all seven-seat models is electric adjustment for the middle row. The seats can be moved forwards and backwards, and the backrest angle can also be adjusted – a nice luxury for back-seat passengers.
The front passenger seat is electrically adjustable across the range, and the optional AMG Line Premium trim package adds a seat position memory feature.
In five-seat versions of the Mercedes GLE (or with the rear-most seats folded away in seven-seat versions), boot space is reasonable rather than exceptional. In our tests, it could swallow eight carry-on suitcases below the parcel shelf. That’s more than in the BMW X5, but the Land Rover Discovery managed nine cases and the Audi Q7 took 10.
The load bay is usefully square and the wheel arches don’t encroach on it too much. There’s room to squeeze in a useful amount of luggage, even with the third row of seats in use. You can fold down all but the front two seats, giving the GLE the carrying capacity of a small van.
If you are looking for maximum load-lugging capacity, note that the plug-in hybrid 350de’s boot is 490 litres, compared to 630 in other versions, because of the higher boot floor to accommodate the battery pack The load area is still conveniently shaped, though.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
Costs, insurance groups, MPG and CO2
The least powerful model, the 300d, is the most economical Mercedes GLE – it beats most rivals, both officially and in our real-world tests. Despite emitting less CO2 than many of their peers, all conventionally powered versions of the GLE are in the top band for benefit-in-kind (BIK) tax, making them a pricey choice for company car users.
That’s where the plug-in hybrid 350de steps in, with its official 19g/km CO2 emissions and 66 miles of electric-only range, which is better than the BMW X5 Xdrive45e. Both cars are in the same BIK company car tax bracket, but the GLE’s cheaper list price means lower monthly payments. You’ll have to run almost exclusively on electricity to get near the official 403.6mpg economy figure.
When it comes to PCP finance, the rival Land Rover Discovery and Audi Q7 are available with cheaper monthly payments, partly because the GLE depreciates more quickly than the Q7, X5 and Discovery.
Equipment, options and extras
Within the range, there’s a bit of a price jump from 300d to 350d, and a smaller one from 350d to 400d. The performance difference between the last two is significant, though. If you’re considering the 350d, it’s hard to ignore the appeal of the 400d’s extra power, especially as both emit the same amount of CO2 with similar fuel economy.
If you want more luxuries, most of them are bundled into packs with hefty price tags. Consider the AMG Line Premium Package if you want more gadgets and the option of seven seats (the AMG Line Premium Plus Package is too pricey to recommend). Buyers planning to take their GLE off road can opt for a package that adds underbody protection, although it’s not available on the 300d.
Every Mercedes GLE comes with a three-year, unlimited mileage warranty, which is pretty much par for the course in this class. There's also roadside assistance for three years, so you won't be stranded at the side of the road if you break down.
Mercedes’ reliability record isn’t great, though – it finished 26th out of 31 manufacturers in the 2020 What Car? Reliability Survey. However, the GLE finished in a strong third position in the Luxury SUV class, behind the Q7 and Porsche Macan but ahead of the BMW X5, Range Rover Sport and Volvo XC90.
Safety and security
The Mercedes GLE comes with an impressive list of standard safety equipment, including blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping assistance, automatic emergency braking and a pop-up bonnet to protect pedestrians in a collision.
It won a maximum five-star safety rating from expert body Euro NCAP. If you look at its test results in detail, there were a few weaknesses noted. In the lateral impact pole test, the GLE received a marginal for chest protection, while in a rear-end shunt, protection from whiplash (specifically for children) could have been better. The Audi Q7 and BMW X5 beat it in those two areas but fell down in others. Ultimately, these are all safe cars.
As for security, an alarm and immobiliser are fitted to help ward off thieves.
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|RRP price range||£77,985 - £143,660|
|Number of trims (see all)||3|
|Number of engines (see all)||6|
|Available fuel types (which is best for you?)||hybrid, diesel, petrol|
|MPG range across all versions||23.5 - 39.8|
|Available doors options||5|
|Warranty||3 years / No mileage cap|
|Company car tax at 20% (min/max)||£5,691 / £10,434|
|Company car tax at 40% (min/max)||£11,381 / £20,868|