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First drive: Mercedes GLE 350d

The Mercedes-Benz GLE 350d 4Matic. Quite a mouthful. Nomenclature nerds will go into a tizzy about how the 350d label is more BMW-like. But a Mercedes-Benz GLE 350 CDI 4Matic would have required a re-design of the tail to make all the letters fit in. Anyhow, the new GLE 350d isn’t a new Merc SUV filling in a gap left between the M-Class and the GL.

In fact, the GLE is the M-Class. Confused? You see, Mercedes’ alphabet soup with SUVs was entirely different from its alphabet soup with its sedans, estates and coupes. So the M will now be the GLE, with the E signifying it to be the E-Class among Merc SUVs.

What’s that? No, the GLE does not have seven seats. And no, the GLE is not an all-new car. It’s the M-Class with a cosmetic refresh, a few new and very useful features. The only mechanical difference is an all-new nine-speed automatic gearbox. While everyone’s against more cubes, more cylinders, and more horses; more gears get all the greens very happy.

So, does this gearbox make a significant difference? In most situations, the GLE never gets to that ninth gear. Unless you manually prod the steering-mounted paddles. How does ninth feel? Actually, nothing special. It can do about 140kph with the engine murmuring just above 1500rpm. Which should do fuel efficiency wonders. Something we couldn’t test with the short time that the GLE was with us.

What we did get a lot of time with are the goodies inside the GLE. This SUV now lets you alter steering, suspension and gearing between Sport and Comfort modes. An incredibly useful feature inside the GLE are the front, rear and aerial cameras. The best bit? They are all part of standard equipment. In fact, the only extra on our test car was a panoramic sunroof. For expensive European machinery that charge you extra for goodies, the fact that GLE has everything standard is commendable.

Assembled at Merc’s Chakan plant, the GLE is not very different to drive compared the older M-Class. Now, with Sport mode, the steering gets some added heft, which helps. Apart from that, the GLE is as dynamically sound as before. It never unduly pitches or rolls about. Ride is comfortable and wind noise is in check. The GLE cannot defy physics like Porsches do. If you hold it by the scruff of its neck, the GLE will let you know it’s a tall, heavy car.

But if you don’t drive it like a Porsche, the GLE is extremely nimble. And this is a machine that can tackle rocks, sand and snow. It isn’t a car that you would grow to love or form a bond with. But you will appreciate its clinical competence. For an ex-showroom price of Rs 70 lakh, the GLE is the most balanced, well-rounded and complete SUV around.

Specs: 2987cc, V6 turbodiesel, 254bhp, 620Nm, 9A, AWD, 2150kgs, 0-100kph: 7.62secs, Top speed: 225kph; Price: Rs 69.9 lakh (ex-showroom)

Verdict: Capable, comfortable, dynamically sound with the ability to do the dirty stuff and plenty of standard equipment

Score: 8/10

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