What is it like on the inside?
Board the GLE and you half expect to be asked to switch your phone to airplane mode and if you’d like some popcorn. It’s the widescreen cinema experience, alright. Two giant 12.3-inch screens, mounted flush atop the dashboard with no hooded binnacle above them, beam massive quantities of information at you. Too much, perhaps.
There are so many combinations of dashboard instrument layout and theme to scroll through (via the fiddly touchpad controls on the busy steering wheel spokes) that there’s every chance you’ll set it up once then never dare tweak the displays for fear of losing your favoured displays down a virtual rabbit warren. They are pin-sharp, mind.
What’s it all like to use?
And they ought to get easier to use over time, as Mercedes says the intelligent Comand infotainment will learn your preferences for radio stations, nav destinations, loved ones to call and so on, and suggest them earlier as it appreciates your habits. Don’t buy a GLE if you’re planning on having an affair. You’ll be happier in an X5, most likely.
Navigating the central screen is a trickier process than it used to be, because Mercedes has ditched its high-quality click wheel for a touchpad that’s not as accurate to use eyes-free. You can simply prod the screen, as it’s touch-sensitive, but its sheer size means this is a stretch, and bracing your hand to accurately tap and swipe is a pain.
The flush menu shortcut buttons surrounding the touchpad take some learning too, and if you’ve got the air suspension, the settings all depend on rocker switches that are clustered together. Finding the right one first time is a lottery. They feel dense and high-quality though, which can be said for all the switchgear save the curiously cheap indicator and gear selector stalks (cheap matte plastic) and the chintzy climate controls (shiny cheap plasti-metal). Still, some tinny heater switches are miles less annoying than a finnicky HVAC touchscreen (take note Audi).
What are the non-techy bits like?
The seats, for example, are supremely comfortable. The dash materials are pleasing – even the wood. Really. The armrest storage cubby is generous, as is the glovebox and door bins. Make sure you’ve got your USB-C adaptors handy, as Mercedes is running ahead of popular convention with the GLE and has already made the pivot to downsized socket.
Is it spacious?
Rear seat room is huge, in any direction. You get 70mm more legroom than in the old car – it’s like a long-wheelbase model (which, in effect, it is). In any model with seven seats, the rears fold and adjust electrically – not as painfully slowly as a Land Rover Discovery, but we still prefer the simple manual ease of a Hyundai Santa Fe’s fabulously foolproof seats.
The rearmost seats are fine for children but even for a short trip, you’d not want adults in there. Access is aided by enormous rear doors, and everyone has their own lights and charging sockets. The hybrid and AMG versions won’t get the seven-seat option.
Open the electronic tailgate and you’re greeted with a boot 165 litres bigger than the old GLE’s. As a five-seater, you’re offered 825 litres, with a 72mm stretch in the through-loading length for those trips to the hardware store. Fold all the seats back and it becomes a 2,005-litre cave. With ambient lighting.