Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
The GLE offers a choice of two six-cylinder diesel engines, badged 350d and 400d. Both of these are brilliant in other Mercedes models, so it was predictable that the 400d would impress when we tried it in the GLE. It offers smooth and strong acceleration, and is much quicker than the 300d. We have yet to try the GLE 350d, though, and it is in fact the four-cylinder 300d that’s our pick of the range. This 245bhp, 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel pulls strongly from around 1500rpm, while the standard nine-speed automatic gearbox kicks down promptly when you floor the accelerator. It isn’t as fast as the 400d, but it managed a very respectable 0-60mph time of 7.7sec in our tests so it offers very similar performance to the Audi Q7 45 TDI.
For those looking to go green or save money on company car tax, there’s the 350de plug-in hybrid. It uses a less powerful (194bhp) version of the 2.0-litre, four-cylinder diesel engine that wears the 300d badge, but in concert with an electric motor. The latter serves to make the 350de feel quite muscular when pulling away, and it’s officially a little quicker than the 300d. It also provides a claimed electric-only range of up to 66 miles (and battery power is more than enough to keep up with urban traffic), as well as low official CO2 emissions for a very low company car tax band, more about which later.
The six-cylinder petrol GLE 450 and AMG-badged GLE 53 sit further up the price list, both being 'mild hybrids' that use electrical assistance to give them a bit of extra pull at low revs. Both models accelerate strongly and the GLE 53 sounds delightfully tuneful; its sports exhaust pops and crackles when you let off the accelerator. However, neither engines quite match the effortless pace of the grunty 400d diesel – you have to rev the six-cylinder petrols quite hard for them to feel really quick. In fact, if you’re after supercar baiting performance, you’re better holding out for the GLE 63, with its monstrous 4.0-litre V8.
If you plan to tow heavy loads the GLE’s towing limit of 2700kg is significantly lower than those of the Audi Q7 and Land Rover Discovery. The optional Towing Package increases it to make the GLE a match for those rivals, but isn't available on the entry-level 300d.
Suspension and ride comfort
Two suspension setups are available on the 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 expensive models.
We're yet to try the steel springs, but the cars we’ve driven that have air suspension (Airmatic in Mercedes speak) have impressed. The GLE is certainly more comfortable than a Discovery on typical town roads, for example, and is really quite cosseting on the motorway. However, the car's slightly wallowy nature means you’ll notice your head swaying around quite a bit along uneven country roads. We’d certainly recommend sticking with the standard 20in alloy wheels; cars with the bigger optional 22in alloys are significantly less comfortable.
The GLE 53 gets a slightly stiffer air suspension setup, and doesn’t deal with potholes and expansion joints quite so deftly. However, it’s actually more comfortable on country roads than the less focused models in the line-up, thanks to its superior body control. Vertical movements are well controlled and there’s no float when you drive over a sudden crest. That said, if you’re looking for the most comfortable ride in the luxury SUV class, we’d recommend the Audi Q7.
Around town, the GLE’s steering is very light, making tight manoeuvres easy, but it feels a little vague at higher speeds and this makes it tricky to accurately place the car's nose on demanding country roads. While the GLE doesn't sway around as dramatically as the top-heavy Discovery, it’s simply not as composed and confidence-inspiring through bends as the Q7 or X5.
That said, the AMG-fettled GLE 53 is much more agile, with greater grip and sharper steering. It feels stable, balanced and reassuring. Okay, the Porsche Cayenne handles even more sweetly, but the 53 isn’t far behind when it comes to pure entertainment.
Noise and vibration
Other than the presence of a bit of wind noise at higher speeds, the GLE's interior is really peaceful – you'll never need to raise your voice to chat with passengers. Even the GLE 53, with its wider tyres, drums up hardly any road noise. In this class, only the 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 it's still a lot smoother and quieter than the equivalent (SD4) engine in the rival Discovery. The six-cylinder 350d and 400d engines, meanwhile, offer a more relaxing soundtrack than the four-cylinder 300d (thanks to their extra power, they don’t need to be worked so hard) and provide a subtly muscular exhaust note under hard acceleration.
All GLEs have a nine-speed automatic gearbox as standard that is both more responsive and smoother than the equivalent gearbox in an Audi Q7 – for example, there’s no hesitation when pulling away from a stop and it’s pleasantly snappy in Sport Plus mode, especially if you use the gear change paddles behind the steering wheel. The way the 350de blends its diesel and electric power is virtually seamless when accelerating, but owing to the regenerative braking system (which recovers energy created during braking and uses it to top the battery up), the brakes don’t have a lot of feel to them and can take a little getting used to.
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