Mercedes has improved its best-selling SUV, with a subtle but effective styling makeover and what we believe to be the best interior in its class. AMG Line is the only trim available in the UK, and while this makes it an attractive prospect – both in terms of styling and specification – it also means that it’s an expensive car to buy. Seven seats are standard on all but the entry-level model, while all models are fitted with four-wheel drive and a smooth nine-speed automatic transmission. Thanks to a perfectly executed cabin and impressive tech, the GLE sits near the very top of the class, but it won’t be cheap to run.
Mercedes GLE 350 d 4MATIC
Nobody builds more SUVs than Mercedes, and the GLE is the German brand’s most popular model. It’s one of nine SUVs offered by the firm; the GLE sits between the GLC and GLS in the range alongside the GLE Coupe.
Mercedes practically invented the premium SUV segment when it launched the M-Class in 1997 as a direct rival to the Range Rover. This in turn became the GLE-Class when the vehicle was facelifted in 2015. Since then, Mercedes has sold more than two million units of its mid-range SUV.
It’s a hotly contested segment, with the GLE going into battle against heavyweights such as the BMW X5, Volvo XC90 and Audi Q7. Prices start from around £57,000 for the entry-level GLE 300 d, rising to £70,500 for a top-spec GLE 450. Go-faster AMG models will be even more expensive when they arrive.
So it’s not cheap, but the high price is offset by the trim levels, with AMG Line and AMG Line Premium the only specifications offered in the UK. This means the likes of 20-inch alloy wheels, LED front and rear lights, AMG body styling, Nappa leather, two 12.3-inch touchscreen displays, MBUX multimedia system, DAB radio and heated front seats are all fitted as standard.
Mercedes also offers a range of options packs, including the seven-seat equipment line for around £2,000. This comprises a third row of seats, additional USB ports, four-zone climate control and electric second row seats. This pack is standard on all except the 300 d.
Also standard are a nine-speed automatic transmission and 4MATIC four-wheel drive, while Airmatic air suspension is standard on all but the entry-level 300 d four-cylinder diesel.
Three diesel engines are available – one 2.0-litre four-cylinder and two 3.0-litre six-cylinder units – along with a 3.0-litre six-cylinder petrol with mild hybrid technology. All offer more than adequate performance, especially if you opt for the 400 d and 450 petrol, which will sprint from 0-62mph in 5.8 and 5.7 seconds respectively.
While the styling is softer and less aggressive than before, it’s the interior that is the most impressive. Mercedes has blended leather, open-pore wood and aluminium accents to create the best cabin in its class and an interior that could grace a car costing upwards of £100,000.
The two 12.3-inch screens combine to create a single ultra-wide display, with the front and middle row passengers free to bask in S-Class-like levels of space. The space in the third row of seats is less impressive, making this more of a 5+2 SUV rather than an authentic seven-seater. A Land Rover Discovery or Volvo XC90 remain better options in this regard.
But this doesn’t detract from an otherwise impressive overall package. Few cars offer this level of comfort, while the AMG Line trim means that nobody is going to feel short-changed by the GLE. Overall, it’s a big improvement over the old model.
Whichever way you look at it, the Mercedes GLE is a big car – its taller and around 50mm longer than the outgoing model – and it drives as you’d expect a large SUV to drive. But that’s not the end of the story, because the GLE has one or two tricks up its sleeve.
Most impressive is the ride quality, because the GLE is one of the most comfortable and refined cars in its class. That’s especially true if you’ve opted for a six-cylinder model, as these cars are fitted with Airmatic air suspension as standard. That’s not to say the 300 d is especially uncomfortable – the steel springs do a good job of soaking up imperfections – it’s just that the air suspension takes things to another level.
It also means that the GLE remains remarkably flat and poised, whether you’re gliding along a motorway or chucking it into some bends. The steering lacks the feel required to deliver the confidence to really press on, but it’s nicely weighted and well suited to a car of this size.
A nine-speed automatic transmission is fitted as standard, and it does a slick and effortless job of scrolling through the gears. A pair of paddles mounted behind the steering wheel deliver greater control when you’ve ventured off the motorway. The 4MATIC four-wheel drive system is fitted as standard across the range.
As you’d expect, there’s loads of grip on offer, but the GLE has a tendency to understeer if you try to force the issue. The overriding feeling is that this was a car designed to be a luxurious, refined and comfortable SUV, and in this respect it excels.
Engines, 0-60 acceleration and top speed
The entry-level 242bhp 300 d diesel engine is likely to account for the majority of GLE sales in the UK, but it’s actually the weakest unit. While it delivers the best economy on paper, the four-cylinder sounds gruff under load. However a 0-62mph time of 7.2 seconds isn’t too shabby for a SUV weighing 2,170kg in this guise.
The six-cylinder diesels are smoother and more refined, with the 268bhp 350 d covering 0-62mph in 6.9 seconds and the 362bhp 400 d in 5.8 seconds. This is just a fraction slower than the six-cylinder petrol, which will accelerate from 0-62mph in 5.7 seconds.
It’s the 3.0-litre six-cylinder mild-hybrid petrol engine that’s the most impressive, offering a level of refinement that feels in tune with the GLE’s general comfort and ambience. It uses Mercedes’ new 48-volt EQ Boost mild-hybrid technology to deliver better economy and improved response at lower revs.
Predictably, the 300 d will offer the lowest running costs, but the GLE won’t be a cheap car to run. Prices start from around £55,500, increasing to a not inconsiderable £64,500 for the 400 d, although the cost is offset by the standard kit, up to a point.
Compared with its predecessor, there are some incremental fuel economy improvements, with Mercedes improving the car’s aerodynamic properties in order to improve efficiency. These changes extend to revised door mirrors, redesigned rear lights, changes to the underside and aerodynamic wheels.
The result is a 300 d that will return between 33.6mpg and 39.2mpg, depending on the choice of wheels and optional extras. The 350 d drops to between 29.1mpg and 36.2mpg, while the 400 d could return 29.4mpg to 35.3mpg.
Thanks to mild hybrid technology, the six-cylinder GLE 450 petrol isn’t quite the inefficient monster you’d expect, although it’s by far the thirstiest in the range. Figures of between 26.2mpg and 32.5mpg might be achievable with a light foot, but we still expect this to be a niche seller in the UK.
With CO2 emissions ranging from 162-169g/km for the 300 d, to 191-214g/km for the 450 petrol, VED will take a chunk out of your household budget, especially when you factor in the £310 supplement for cars costing more than £40,000.
The first year rate for the diesel models is £830, with the petrol costing an eye-watering £1,240. All GLE models will then cost £450 a year for the next five years before dropping to the standard £140 rate for cars with a list price of less than £40,000.
The Mercedes GLE is not a cheap car to insure, with even the entry-level 300 d slotting into group 44. Things get more costly as you progress through the range, with Premium and Premium Plus models moving up a group, with the 450 d sitting in groups 47 and 48.
Premium SUVs usually have strong residual values, but the GLE is decidedly average when compared to some models. Buyers can expect to lose around 50-53 per cent of the GLE’s list price in three years, but the more expensive G-Class has residuals in the 60 per cent region, while the slightly older Range Rover Sport is also slightly ahead of the new Mercedes.
The GLE has been redesigned inside and out, with the exterior of the latest version looking softer and less aggressive than before. Only one trim level is available in the UK, and as it’s the AMG Line, you can be sure that the cosmetics have been taken care of.
A set of 20-inch five-spoke alloy wheels are fitted as standard, but you can upgrade to 22-inch wheels for around £1,300. AMG body styling comprises a pair of side skirts and redesigned front and rear bumpers, while aluminium-look illuminated running boards complete the makeover.
According to Mercedes, the standard-fit LED headlights produce the maximum light intensity permitted by law, with LED lights also fitted to the rear. Black and white are the only no-cost colours, with the GLE also available in a choice of seven metallic paints (at around £700) and two special paints (slightly more at around £900).
But it’s on the inside where the GLE truly excels. In our opinion, the cabin is good enough to pass for a car costing upwards of £100,000, with a level of quality that’s unrivalled in this segment. It feels more premium than the BMW X5 and is easier to live with than the Audi Q7. The best in class? We think so.
The finishes are first rate, with the GLE combining anthracite open-pore oak wood trim with Nappa leather and aluminium accents to create a classy cabin that’s easy on the eye and quality to the touch.
Ambient lighting in 64 colours, four-way lumbar support, heated front seats and a multifunction steering wheel complete the effect. And because all except the entry-level 300 d are seven-seaters in the UK, four-zone climate control comes as standard, as do additional USB ports for all three rows, meaning family feuds and cries of “are we nearly there yet?” could be consigned to history.
You’re unlikely to need to add any options, but the Premium equipment line (about £2,000) adds memory seats, parking assist with a 360º camera, multibeam LED headlights with adaptive high-beam and wireless phone charging.
For around £4,300, the Premium Plus line adds a Burmester surround sound system, keyless entry and go, an ‘Air-balance’ car fragrancing system, ‘Energising’ wellness package, and a panoramic sunroof, which doesn’t rob passengers of headroom.
The latest MBUX infotainment system is standard across the range and is one of the most intuitive systems on the market. It’s controlled using a multi-gesture touchpad or via voice recognition, simply by saying the words “Hey Mercedes”. If you’ve experienced Alexa or Siri, you’ll find it a doddle to use.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
The dashboard has been influenced by the Mercedes S-Class, but it has a look of its own thanks to a set of beautifully-finished rectangular air vents. These sit below an impressive 12.3-inch touchscreen display, while the driver faces another 12.3-inch cockpit display – both of which are fitted as standard.
Thanks to the use of a glossy display panel, it’s as though the two screens are merged together to create one ultra-wide display, giving the GLE a proper wow factor.
The latest GLE feels noticeably more spacious than its predecessor, helped in no small part by a longer wheelbase, which has increased by 80mm. The outgoing model was the first to offer a seven-seat option, but this latest model has a third row of seats as standard on all but the entry-level 300 d model.
The GLE measures 4,924mm in length, 1,947mm wide and 1,772mm tall. This makes it longer and taller than the BMW X5, but narrower than its German counterpart. The Audi Q7 is longer and wider than the Mercedes GLE, but not as tall. Crucially, the GLE’s 2,995mm wheelbase is 80mm longer than before, which results in a larger cabin.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
You’re unlikely to feel uncomfortable and cramped in the GLE, as there’s plenty of space in the first two rows of seats. Front seat passengers can stretch out in limo-like comfort, while there are similar levels of legroom in the second row.
In fact, thanks to the generous headroom and width of the cabin, adults can comfortably sit three abreast in the back, with only a marginally smaller amount of leg- and knee-room for the middle seat passenger.
It’s only when you clamber into the third row that things start to go awry. The electric folding middle seat takes an age to move forward, resulting in a long wait for anyone needing to travel in the very back. Once there, the space is suitable for children and early teens – anyone taller won’t thank you for spending a prolonged period in the back.
In fairness, this is no different to many of the 5+2-seat large SUVs on the market, although the Volvo XC90 and Land Rover Discovery are more suited to full-time seven-seat SUV duties.
It’s also worth noting that the seven-seat equipment line is an option on the GLE 300 d that costs around £2,000, which makes the other models look like better value. The package includes additional USB ports for the front, middle and rear seats, four-zone climate control and electrically folding rear seats. All of this is standard on the other models.
The additional space is certainly noticeable in the boot, with a generous 630 litres of luggage capacity. Slide the middle seats forward and this extends to 825 litres – up 125 litres on its predecessor. With the middle seats folded away, this extends to a van-like 2,055 litres – nearly 200 litres more than in the Volvo XC90.
Mercedes hasn’t quoted a figure for boot space with the third row of seats in their upright position, but this isn’t a car for travelling with seven people and their luggage.
The boot lip is relatively high off the ground, but standard for this segment, and you’re greeted with a flat load area and a wide opening. Thanks to the Airmatic package – which is standard on all but the 300 d model – the rear of the vehicle can be lowered by 40mm to allow for easier loading and unloading.
In standard form, the Mercedes GLE has a maximum braked towing capacity of 2,700kg. However, in all but the entry-level 300 d, this can be extended to 3,500kg by adding the £1,150 towing package.
The pack comprises trailer manoeuvring assist, which controls the steering angle of the GLE at speeds of up to 5km/h, with dynamic guidelines displayed on the infotainment screen. An electronically folding tow bar includes a 13-pin socket and electronic stability control. All GLE models feature trailer stability assist, regardless of whether or not the towing package has been added.
The GLE achieved a full five-star rating from Euro NCAP in 2019, with strong ratings of 91 and 90 per cent for adult and child protection respectively. The 78 per cent scores for the vulnerable road users and safety assist are also respectable.
We have every reason to believe that the GLE will follow suit, even though the test has been made tougher in recent years. That’s because it’s packed with the latest safety equipment, including blind spot assist, active bonnet, active braking assist, multiple airbags, lane-keeping assist and Isofix points on the two outer seats in the second row.
A Driving Assistance package is available for around £1,700, comprising autonomous emergency braking, active steering assist, evasive steering assist, traffic sign assist and route-based speed adjustment. It also features Pre-Safe Plus, which initiates preventative measures when a rear-end collision is detected.
Mercedes finished a respectable third on the list of the most reliable car manufacturers in our 2018 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey. Although the previous GLE didn’t feature on the list of the best cars to own, the C-Class finished 27th and the A-Class 56th out of 75 vehicles, which suggests there’s room for improvement.
When some volume car manufacturers offer five- and seven-year warranties, the GLE’s three-year cover feels a bit miserly, but at least there’s no mileage restriction. In comparison, Audi restricts its three-year warranty to 60,000 miles, although BMW’s cover is the same as Mercedes. Extended warranties are also available.
Mercedes maintenance isn’t cheap, but you can lower the cost by using a ServiceCare package. For around £35 a month, you can have two services in two years, three services in three years or four in four years. The service intervals are yearly or every 15,500 miles, whichever comes soonest.