The GLE is Mercedes’ new big SUV, intended to replace the ML and better compete with rivals such as the BMW X5, Volvo XC90 and Porsche Cayenne. It’s more of an identity change than a completely new model, as beneath the new badge and fresh styling, the GLE is much the same mechanically as the outgoing ML.
Powertrains include the familiar 2.2-litre four cylinder and 3.0-litre V6 diesels, as well as a turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 petrol and electric plug-in hybrid model, and a 5.5-litre bi-turbo petrol AMG sports version. All have four-wheel drive and automatic gearboxes as standard, including a new nine-speed automatic on the diesels.
What’s the 2015 Mercedes GLE like to drive?
The 3.0 V6 350d is the best to drive. It revs smoothly and picks up cleanly from low revs, offering good mid-range response that makes it relaxing yet entertaining. Predictably, the entry-level four-cylinder 250d is fast enough in everyday mooching, but it has to rev into its coarse upper rev ranges if you want more rapid acceleration, so it feels like it’s straining more than some might expect of a near-£50k premium SUV.
The nine-speed automatic in these two diesels does a good job, smoothing out shifts in anything but hard driving, though it can feel lazy, and even jerky, if you ask for a sudden burst of speed. It responds quickly and predictably from a standing start, though, making smooth town driving easy, and you’ll be doing as little as 1500rpm at 70mph in either diesel models, making for really quiet and efficient cruising.
The GLE’s handling lends itself more to motorways than twisty stuff, too. With permanent four-wheel drive splitting power equally between front and rear wheels, it’s a really grippy, stable car that feels quite eager to turn into corners despite its size. However, in twisty stuff the steering can feel a little vague and overly keen to self-centre, whichever of the two standard settings you’ve selected, and the front end washes wide sooner than it would in the sharper feeling Porsche Cayenne and BMW X5.
Both of our test cars came on optional £2995 adaptive air suspension, which gives the GLE fairly loose body control, resulting in noticeable lean through corners even in sport mode, and a fair bit of pitch under braking, too. The flipside is that it also makes for decent ride comfort, cushioning the worst bumps and keeping the GLE feeling composed and comfortable, unless you’re in sport mode when it can feel a bit jarring over sharp-edged potholes and mid-corner bumps. We’ll have to wait until we get the car in the UK to try one on standard suspension.
What’s the 2015 Mercedes GLE like inside?
The dash is dominated by the fixed, high-set colour screen, which features sat-nav as standard and is easy to read at a glance, if a bit confusing to use despite having a rotary dial, shortcut buttons and a touch-sensitive pad as a means of control. All the materials feel appropriately plush, too, and the broad seats are supportive and have plenty of movement via the standard electric adjustment, although some drivers may wish the seat dropped a little lower.
There’s loads of room to seat two six-footers in comfort in the back, and the 60/40 split seats also fold flat (after lifting the seat base up and forwards) to leave a smooth, long load bay right through from the boot. Although you’ll have to lift heavy items a bit higher to load them than you would in some rivals, the Merc’s boot is a good size and shape. There’s no seven-seat option, though.
Should I buy one?
It’s not hard to see why you would, given the top-notch finish and easygoing yet punchy dynamics of the new GLE. However, it can look expensive next to obvious rivals. The 250d is particularly hard to recommend since it costs the same as a faster yet equally efficient BMW X5 xDrive30d, or you could have the excellent seven-seat Volvo XC90 D5 for £3k less.
The GLE 350d has tough competition from the very same BMW X5 xDrive30d, which – even in M Sport trim - costs £3k less, yet offers equivalent performance and much lower emissions, as well as the option of a seven-seat layout, making it the better value buy for private and company car users.
Still, next to other rivals – namely the Porsche Cayenne and Range Rover Sport – the GLE looks well priced, so it’s not as if it's unreasonably priced in this class. If the GLE’s opulent standard spec and laid back dynamics suits you, it’s likely to satisfy in practice, despite falling short of the value and more sporting handling offered by key alternatives.
What Car? says...
Mercedes GLE 250 d 4MATIC Sport
Engine size 2.2-litre diesel
Price from £49,280
Torque 369lb ft
0-62mph 8.6 seconds
Top speed 132mph
Fuel economy 47.9mpg
Mercedes GLE 350 d 4MATIC AMG Line
Engine size 3.0 diesel
Price from £56,280
Torque 457lb ft
0-62mph 7.1 seconds
Top speed 140mph
Fuel economy 42.8mpg