All of the GLE’s engines are up to the task of shifting its hefty bulk – even the entry-level four-cylinder diesel, badged 250 d, has enough shove from low down to offer confident overtaking on faster roads.
The six-cylinder diesel 350 d is even more flexible, delivering the sort of slick, effortless mid-range urgency that most will expect of a top-end SUV. The hybrid 500 e is certainly fast, but the interaction between the electric and petrol engines can sometimes make it tricky to predict when the main surge is going to kick in. It’s hugely potent in middling-to-fast stuff, but it feels hesitant and a little unpredictable in harder use. The bi-turbo 3.0-litre V6 450 AMG is positioned as a sort of junior AMG sports model, but we haven’t driven it yet.
The full-on 63 S AMG is on an entirely different level for performance to all of the other models. In fact, it will beat some bonafide sports cars from standstill to 62mph, which is saying something given its weight. The gearbox does a fair job in this monster V8 SUV, but it can be a bit hesitant to respond, where the newer nine-speed gearbox fitted to the lower-powered models is a bit slicker and quicker to deliver the gear you want, when you want.
In other Mercedes models the 250 diesel is pretty unrefined, but it’s reasonably quiet in the GLE, only becoming raucous when you rev it hard. The V6 diesel is also smooth at the controls and quiet on the move. The Hybrid is virtually silent but for a hum of distant tyre noise when in electric mode, although there’s a noticeable shiver and thrum as the petrol engine kicks in. The 63 S AMG’s engine is smooth, and delightfully raucous at high revs – exactly how its buyers will want it. Road noise is well suppressed, but wind noise can be heard in the cabin above 50mph.
The GLE’s handling isn’t as good as its performance. It’s competent enough to satisfy most buyers, but even the AMG model falls well short of the sharp, incisive-feeling cornering ability you get in a Porsche Cayenne and BMW X5. The steering is predictable but short on feedback.
We’ve only driven the GLE on Airmatic air suspension – standard on AMG Line trim and above – which results in plenty of body lean through corners in the standard models, although the 63 S AMG’s stiffer set-up keeps things better tied down.
At least the air suspension delivers a fairly settled ride, particularly at high speeds, when the GLE makes for a consummate motorway cruiser regardless of engine. The ride is slightly more unsettled at lower speeds in town, but it never becomes uncomfortable.