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.
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.