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The Top Gear car review: Mercedes-Benz GLE
For:Handsome exterior, cabin space and build quality, supreme refinement, excellent diesel six-cylinder
Against:Gearbox sometimes caught napping. The infotainment is very complex on first acquaintance
What is it?
This is the new Mercedes-Benz GLE, only the second Mercedes SUV to wear the name but in fact the latest in a line of successful Benz 4x4s that trace their roots back to the M-Class of 1997. Mercedes proudly says it invented the premium SUV class, but conveniently skips the part about BMW’s X5 and Volvo’s XC90 making a better fist of it in the intervening couple of decades.
No longer though – the new GLE is a very complete car. Among the headlines is an 80mm stretch in wheelbase, carving out enough room for seven seats – a first-time feature in the GLE. In fact, the interior as a whole is one of the leaps over the outgoing GLE, resplendent with its massive twin 12.3-inch screens, modern ambience and general air of solidity.
Under the bonnet, the GLE depends on Mercedes’ latest family of engines, which means once you’re beyond the four-cylinder GLE300d, it’s straight sixes, not V6s, that do the work. And good though the four-pot is, it’s the larger 3.0-litre engine you’ll really want. It suits the GLE to a tee, and once you do the maths on the extra equipment brought along with it, becomes more of a no-brainer.
At launch the entry-level GLE300d is joined by a petrol alternative: the GLE450. Both are all-wheel drive and feature nine-speed automatic gearboxes, but the GLE450’s straight six is supplement by a 48-volt electric power bump, branded by Mercedes as EQ Boost. It makes stop-starting the engine a freakishly smooth affair, harvests energy when coasting, and adds a 20bhp helping hand to fill in for turbo lag. Seems novel now, but fairly soon, this will be a universal necessity across the class, to meet the latest emissions targets.
Following soon, there’ll be a GLE350d and GLE400d, featuring straight-six turbodiesels with greater power and torque. A range-topping (but-non-AMG) GLE500 V8 has also been mooted for the UK, but of far more relevance to particularly the fleet sector is a hybrid. Mercedes has plumped for diesel here – we’re expecting a ‘GLE350de’ with four-cylinder turbodiesel power mated to urban EV-driving ability. Very much still a diesel-focused car, the GLE. Until the new AMG GLE 63 arrives, complete with 4.0-litre V8 bi-turbo power and north of 570bhp lands…
Of course, the GLE majors on tech, with a fleet of driver assistance bongs ready to interrupt your favourite podcast if you wander over the white lines, reverse unthinkingly from your parking space or drift towards that lane-hogger dwelling in your blind spot. The ‘Hey Mercedes’ Siri-like voice assistant is always listening, and the optional extras are mainly grouped into conveniently speccable ‘packs’, which Mercedes says enhances resale values because second-hand buyers have an easier time seeking the spec they desire.
That in turn means Mercedes’ finance rates are likely to be healthily competitive – which as the A-Class and C-Class have proved, can pay major dividends in big sales. Mercedes says it still expects the E-Class Estate to outsell the GLE, but that’s not to say the GLE doesn’t have plenty of tricks up its metaphorical sleeves that make it worth a look. Chief among which is some very clever, very expensive optional suspension. Don’t worry, you still get some suspension as standard… but it won’t lean into corners…