Well into its second generation, the Mercedes-Benz GLE SUV has been treated to a mid-life update in 2023 to keep it feeling fresh amidst a barrage of appealing rivals. Not that Merc has had to change much. The GLE Mk2 has always been an accomplished operator since its launch in 2019, so changes to the looks, cabin and range are relatively minor.
It does now have the distinction of having an entirely hybrid range, however, with either EQ Boost mild-hybrid tech or full-on plug-in hardware now touching every version of Merc GLE.
Rivals include the BMW X5, Volvo XC90 and ageing Audi Q7, while cars like the Lexus RX and Land Rover Discovery also feature on customer choice lists. Pre-facelift, the GLE was on our list of best hybrid SUVs, but is that still the case?
Keep reading our Mercedes GLE review to find out.
What’s changed on the 2023 facelift?
On the face of it the updates are subtle. A newly formed front bumper, LED light signature and flashes of chrome have been added, while the rear light design has also been tweaked. Inside, there’s yet more chrome on the air vents, while the latest version of Merc’s steering wheel design (with touch and swipe controls mounted on blade-like spokes) also makes its debut in the GLE.
However, the biggest changes are hidden under the bonnet. All of the GLE’s engine options now come with some form of hybrid option. In the EQ Boost mild-hybrid stable there’s the 300 d and 450 d diesel versions, while the petrol offerings consist of the 450 (also mild-hybrid) and 400 e. The latter using plug-in hybrid tech to deliver up to 65 miles all-electric range in addition to the 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol motor. Sadly, the 350 de diesel plug-in hybrid is no longer available post-facelift.
How does the 2023 Mercedes GLE drive?
Praise be, air suspension now comes as standard across the range meaning a smooth, cosseting ride comfort on all versions. You can occasionally feel sharper bumps and ruts transmitted into the cabin, but the overall sumptuous ride combined with silky refinement means the GLE is a lovely car to cruise around in.
We spent most of our time behind the wheel of the GLE 450, a six-cylinder 3.0-litre delivering 376bhp (a slight increase on pre-facelift models) and 369lb ft of torque. Transferred to the road via a nine-speed automatic and 4Matic all-wheel drive (both standard on all GLEs), the 450 is good for 0-62mph in 5.6 seconds with top speed limited to 155mph.
Needless to say, it doesn’t feel breathtakingly quick (a 2.3-tonne kerb weight blunts performance) and – whisper it – the low-down grunt of a big diesel does suit the GLE better, but it’s a respectable engine if you want petrol power with no plug-in hybrid element. We’ve not had a chance to drive said 400 e PHEV version yet, but its 479lb ft of torque suggests no lack of pace even if the 0-62mph time is 0.5 seconds slower than the 450.
Driver assistance tech is plentiful, with all GLE’s coming with Blind Spot Assist, autonomous emergency braking, traffic sign assist and the Parking Package (featuring 360-degree cameras and automatic parking). However, it’s a shame that most of the car’s potentially life-saving driving aid technology is only available as an option in the Driving Assistance Package Plus (standard only on AMG Line Premium Plus).
Distronic adaptive cruise control, Active Blind Spot Assist (where the car can automatically brake if it detects an imminent collision with a vehicle in the driver’s blind spot), Active Lane-change Assist (where the car automatically changes lanes when the indicator is activated), Active Steering Assist and Route-based speed adjustment (automatically adjusts the car’s speed for upcoming junctions or roundabouts) are all part of the same option pack.
What’s the cabin like?
If you’re into your tech then there really are few better cars in this sector to spend time in. Mercedes-Benz’s MBUX infotainment system has been updated for the facelifted GLE and boasts crisp, attractive graphics that look bang up to date as you scroll through the car’s myriad menus using either a large touchpad controller or the touchscreen.
The steering wheel controls have also been updated and while they are an improvement, the wheel itself is broad and chunky meaning smaller hands may struggle to find a comfortable position. We also find ourselves bemoaning the lack of a physical rotary dial to control the infotainment system, yet this is becoming rarer by the day and is hardly limited to Mercedes.
What’s more impressive, is the optional Interior Assist technology. We were shown a demonstration where the driver could program the sat-nav with just a simple gesture, whereas the passenger – using the same gesture – can switch their massaging seat on. A neat feature.
Other new features on the facelifted GLE include over-the-air updates and the ability for the car to connect with a user’s smart home. For example, occupants of the GLE can ask the Hey Mercedes voice recognition system whether lights have been left on in their house or whether anyone is home. Neat.
Can I fit my family in?
Opt for a seven-seat GLE (all but the plug-in hybrid and AMG 63 S come with seven seats) and the level of flexibility on offer should prove useful for large families. The rearmost seats are – predictably – tight, but there’s enough room back there for kids – or adults on short journeys.
Meanwhile, the rest of the cabin is as spacious as you could hope for, with plenty of storage for various valuable items to get lost in. The second and third row seats fold down electrically to give a humungous boot (up to 2055 litres), yet the ergonomics of such a process could be improved owing to fiddly controls and sluggish electric motors.
For those hankering after a big, comfortable luxury SUV that’s packed with tech has room for five (and even seven at a pinch), the GLE is right up there. Rivals will do certain things better (XC90 is more practical, the X5 sharper to drive), but as an all-round with a focus on impressive technology and refinement, the GLE takes some beating. The plug-in hybrid is the version to go for if you can charge it up regularly, but for everyone else the 400 d is a brilliant alternative.Model tested is Mercedes-Benz GLE 450