It can lean into a corner; it can rock to crawl out of tricky terrain and it spoils you rotten in luxuryJeep and Land Rover, in their own part of the globe, carried out a gigantic task of making automobiles that could handle any terrain. They made things on wheels go beyond the tarmac, things that could scale up mountains, wade through rivers and cross deserts. Soon after the inception of these rugged vehicles that we call SUVs today caught the fancy of civilians \– either adventure junkies or lads who wanted to make a statement. But these vehicles remained to utilitarian, no-frills four-wheel drives for a bit.
And then came Mercedes to the game and took an humble SUV, specced it up, threw out a few ugly bits, rethought the idea and packaged it into a neat, lovable thing that would feel at home even in urban setting and not only in the wilderness. Thus was born the M-Class. In automotive speak, Mercedes took an utilitarian fabric like denim, worked it around and suddenly made it fashionable. Many decades later, the M-Class has changed the way it looks, the way it drives and has got itself a new identity, the GLE. With a massive revolution in the nomenclature of Merc SUVs, the M-Class turned into the GLE in the middle of its life cycle. But over the years, what has remained constant is this car\’s ideology \– it\’s meant to transport you in comfort. Although, the GLE (or the M-Class) has never boasted much about its off-road capability or claimed to compete against the Jeeps or the Land Rovers of the world, it\’s continued to walk its own path.
In this generation, though, there are a few things in the GLE that may make you think that it aiming for something it never managed over the years. It\’s apparent Merc is aiming big this time around. There are things that talk about off-roady things.In an industry first, Mercedes has installed four electric motors at the four wheels that power the air suspension. There\’s wide functionality with this sort of setup, which allows the GLE to do things no other SUV has ever managed to do. You can individually control the ride height of all the wheels (of course, at crawl speeds). So, for instance, have a big boulder under your left wheels, you can raise only the left wheels to ensure it doesn\’t scrape the underside. This setup also has an up side when you are tackling sand. Remember the days when you had to get off the vehicle, physically push and pull an SUV to make it rock, just so that the tyres find some traction and doesn\’t leave you beached? Well, all that is history now. At the press of a button, the GLE will power up the electric motors to help you rock the car and crawl out of soft sand. Ingenious, right?
These additional motors that power the air suspension also pay dividends on the road. Apart from the regular Eco, Normal and Sport mode, there\’s also a Curve mode on the GLE\’s system. What it essentially does it compresses the suspension on the inner wheels while going around a curve to negate the feel of body roll, keeping the cabin as flat as possible. The GLE quite literally leans into bends, like a motorbike. The completely independent suspension also helps you tackle potholes. With a sophisticated system onboard, the GLE\’s front camera scans the road up ahead for irregularities and preps up the suspension to deal with it, in a quest to offer the flattest ride possible. Earlier, the system did exist on an S-Class, but it used a radar to scan the road and only two motors, unlike these four, had its limitations on how quick and to what extend the system would be able to prep the suspension.As you\’d expect Mercedes has done some extensive work on the GLE\’s chassis, brought in a lot of tech and blended it in with a wide array of materials to find that fine balance between nice ride and sharp handling. So, have they managed to hit the sweet spot? The answer is a big yes. The ride is supple with the full-independent air suspension and it manages to keep the potholes away from hitting your back hard. The body roll, for the sort of vehicle the GLE is, can be rated quite low. In terms of handling, there\’s absolutely nothing wrong with it, but at the same time, it can\’t be called as the benchmark in the SUV space. The steering is fairly direct and 4MATIC manages to find ample traction even while negotiating a curve at high speeds. Overall, the use of tech has worked in the GLE\’s favour and has bettered itself by a big margin over the current generation. It doesn\’t feel like a big, heavy chunk of steel trying hard to make its way around fast, sweeping bends and expressways. It\’s got the agility you need from a modern SUV.
Apart from just the chassis, the Merc engineers have also spent good time in making competent drivetrains. On the diesel front, you get the 2-litre four-cylinder unit that we\’ve seen in the CLS. In this spec, you get 240bhp and 500Nm of spin from it. It\’s the spec that\’s going to see maximum number of takers in India. But for those who want more zest, there\’s also a 400d that has a 3-litre six-cylinder mill that makes 325bhp and 700Nm of spin. Yup, that\’s a lot.For the petrol lovers, Merc isn\’t planning to give many options \– there\’ll be a new in-line six-cylinder motor that\’s good for 362bhp and 500Nm. It\’s also the quickest of the lot, with a claimed 0-100kph time of 5.7 seconds. Mercedes India is still evaluating options for the diesel mill, and there\’s no definitive word on which engine comes mated to the GLE at first.
I spent the most time with the petrol \– 450 \– and I\’m happy to report that it\’s one refined piece of kit and there\’s enough and more go all across the rev band. It progressively gets juicy as you pile up revs and there are no surprised in this package \– it\’s smooth and vibration free all the way. What this six-cylinder unit also gets is the EQ Boost system that fills in 250Nm of torque with the help of a 48V electric motor at around 2000rpm. As an outcome, you get a fairly flat torque curve.The engine is mated to a nine-speed gearbox that\’s both fairly quick and smart and goes about doing its job of splitting the right amount of torque to the axles. As a package, the GLE does a fine job of offering nice driving dynamics.
Visually, the GLE is a bit of a hit or miss. The designers have taken the liberty to make the headlamps smaller, which may not work for everybody. And personally for me, I wouldn\’t call the GLE much of a looker. On the inside, though, there\’s fine use of materials, patterns and colour shades and you got to be soft in the head to dislike what Mercedes has done with the cabin. There\’s a huge screen at the centre that makes the job of navigating through sat-nav, infotainment and other things look like a child\’s play. The cabin is roomy, with well-bolstered and comfortable seats and plenty of creature comforts to shut even the cribbiest lads up. For the first time, Mercedes also offers a third row option. But in my opinion, it isn\’t the best place to be and best kept for kids.
The new GLE will come to India in mid 2019. There\’s no word on the prices just yet, but expect it to retail at around `75 lakh (ex-showroom). The GLE doesn\’t reinvent the game in anyway, but even in this generation it betters what it started out doing in every single way and gives you no reason complain with the sort of comfort and luxury it has on offer.
Engine\: 2999cc, 6cyl, petrolPower\: 362bhp at 5500-6100rpmTorque\: 500Nm at 1600-4500rpmTransmission\: 9A, AWDTop speed\: 250kph0-100kph\: 5.7 secondsPrice\: Rs 75 lakh (estimated, ex-showroom)Pros\: Ride, tech, cabinCons\: Exterior designBottomline\: Far more refined and agile than the outgoing generation. Design may not appeal to all.8/10