Mercedes-Benz GLE300d road test review

Moving Well | Tim Nicholson | Posted on 03 March 2020

Tim Nicholson takes Mercedes-Benz GLE300d for a first drive.

  • Thumbs up

    The GLE’s in-car and safety technology works brilliantly. The cabin is dramatically improved and it’s a much better drive than before.

  • Thumbs down

    Steering wheel-mounted gear shifter, pricey options and the 2.0-litre turbo-diesel feels underdone for a car of this size.

  • Perfect for

    Going for a country cruise and knowing you’ll be comfortable even after hours of driving.

  • Verdict

    The new GLE is a big family-friendly tech-laden cruiser and the improvements Mercedes has introduced means that there’s no longer as much daylight between it and its key rivals – notably the BMW X5 and Porsche Cayenne.

One of the most successful Mercedes-Benz models in recent decades has undoubtedly been the ML-Class SUV. Launched in late 1998, the ML was Mercedes’ first mass-market SUV – not including the long-running G-Class that is more of a niche offering – and it preceded the BMW X5, Volvo XC90 and Porsche Cayenne in the luxury SUV space. Fast forward to 2015 and Benz changed the name from ML, or M-Class as it was also known, to GLE-Class, reflecting the German car-maker’s updated nomenclature. 

The fourth-generation version of Benz’s large SUV offering lobbed on Australian shores in August 2019, replacing the previous model that had been around in some form since 2012. Initially Benz offered the GLE with the choice of two diesel engines and one petrol unit, but two AMG performance variants – the GLE53 and full-fat GLE63 – are expected in the third quarter of 2020, around the same time as the swoopy BMW X6-rivalling GLE Coupe.

We tested the entry-level GLE300d diesel that kicks off at $105,700 before on-road costs. That figure means it is pricier than rivals like the updated Audi Q7 45 TDI ($101,900), as well as a few other large primo SUVs – such as the Volvo XC90 D5 Momentum ($89,990), Land Rover Discovery 2.0i4 S ($73,221) and Volkswagen Touareg 190TDI ($80,790).

It wouldn’t be a European car without an eye-watering options list. Our test car was fitted with an AMG Sport Package ($9900), fancy paint ($3200), third-row seating ($3900), a towbar package ($1900) and a couple of other goodies that brought the price to $133,100 before on-road costs – a tick under $30,000 more than the base price.

Benz hasn’t skimped on standard equipment, but a quick comparison of the aforementioned Euros shows that it lines up roughly with the Audi and trails the BMW and VW. The latter offers the best value by some margin, but it lacks the prestige of the others.

Mercedes has evolved its design language in the past two years and the GLE is the first SUV in its line-up to benefit from the new look. It’s a handsome car and the new styling direction works exceptionally well with the GLE’s dimensions.

It wouldn’t be a European car without an eye-watering options list.

 

Huge improvements can be found inside the GLE as well. Riding on a new Modular High Architecture platform that it will share with the upcoming GLS upper-large SUV, the GLE’s wheelbase is 80 millimetres longer than the old model which has liberated 69 millimetres of additional legroom in the second row. There is also greater headroom and entry comfort has improved.

Our test vehicle had a third row fitted and when that is stowed into the boot floor, the luggage space is massive. Boot space for the two-row GLE is 630 litres with two seating rows in place, increasing to 2055 litres with the second row stowed. If all seating rows are in place, the cargo space drops to just 130 litres. You can fold the second row down via switches in the boot. The rear suspension can be lowered via a control in the boot area to make it easier to load heavy objects. 

The second-row seats have more than enough bolstering to be comfortable, but they’re also flat enough for child seats. The second row has acres of space for occupants and knee-height air vents. The third row is designed for small children so adults will feel cramped back there.

While it’s not difficult to get in and out of the GLE, it certainly feels like it sits higher off the ground than the old model. Once behind the wheel, it’s clear that Benz has drastically improved the front-seat experience. The leather upholstery throughout feels properly premium and the untreated ash wood inserts look high-end. There’s no shortage of storage options up front for phones, bottles and the like. Benz persists with its steering wheel-mounted gear shifter and while it’s less intrusive than in older models, it’s still an unnecessary brand quirk. It’s still easy to shift into neutral if you accidentally hit the stalk when driving.

The MBUX multimedia interface with two 12.3-inch digital screens is front and centre in the GLE and makes for a super modern and appealing cockpit. The ‘Hey Mercedes’ voice-recognition system will accept directives such as “I’m cold” to change the temperature, or to find a nearby petrol station, but it’s temperamental. We tried saying “I’m hungry” several times, which should bring up a list of nearby restaurants and cafes, but it didn’t work. BMW’s similar system is better, for now.

Mercedes-Benz GLE300d interior
Mercedes-Benz GLE300d interior


Visibility is mostly good in the GLE, with the ride height offering a commanding view of the road ahead, but the chunky C-pillar at the rear of the car creates a blind spot.

On the road, the GLE300d’s 180kW/500Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine is willing enough, but the vehicle’s 2379-kilogram heft holds it back from being particularly responsive. The oil-burning engine and turbo combination makes for significant lag on take-off. Once up and running, however, the Benz picks up pace well, transforming into a competent highway cruiser. 

If you need a bit more grunt, flicking the drive mode control to ‘Dynamic’ injects more zing to the drive experience. Much work has gone into isolating the cabin and protecting occupants from outside noise. It’s difficult to tell there is a diesel engine under the bonnet, which is a credit to the cabin insulation and the smooth powertrain.

The GLE300d has double-wishbone front and multi-link rear suspension and our press vehicle was fitted with the Airmatic package that adds air suspension. The setup helps keep the Benz steady in corners and there’s not a lot of lateral movement on the road, but the ride on the big 20-inch wheels is a little harsh over sharp ruts. 

As part of Benz’s self-steering system, the GLE can change lanes on a freeway by itself with a quick flick of the indicator. Once the sensors determine that it’s safe to move into the next lane, the Benz seamlessly crosses the broken lines and centres itself. The new GLE marks a big improvement over some Mercedes lane-keeping systems that apply the brakes dramatically and bounce from line to line if you get too close to the road marking.

Benz says the GLE300d consumes an average of 6.9 litres of fuel per kilometre, and we recorded 9.3L/100km after a week of mostly suburban and freeway driving.

Mercedes-Benz GLE300d

PRICING

List price: $105,700 before on-road costs.
Price as tested: $133,100 before on-road costs.
Model range: $105,700 to $118,142 before on-road costs.

DRIVETRAIN

2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder diesel, nine-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel drive.
Power: 180kW@4200rpm.
Torque: 500Nm@1600-2400rpm.
Wheels: 275/50 R20.

FUEL

Type / tank capacity / government ADR figure / CO2 emissions
Diesel, 65-litre tank.
Consumption: 9.3L/100km (RACV test); 6.9L/100km (government test).
Emissions: 182g/km CO2.

STANDARD SAFETY

Not yet rated by ANCAP, nine airbags, 360-degree surround camera, Active Brake Assist with cross-traffic function, Active Steering Assist, Active Lane Change Assist, Active Blind Spot Assist and Pre-Safe Plus crash-preparation system.

STANDARD FEATURES

Climate control, ambient lighting with 64 colours, MBUX multimedia interface with two 12.3-inch digital screens and ‘Hey Mercedes’ voice recognition, head-up display, heated front seats, DAB+ digital radio, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto.

WARRANTY/SERVICING

Three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty. Servicing every 12 months/25,000km.