The Mercedes-Benz GLE is a facelifted version of what has, up until now, been known as the ML, and forms the mid-range SUV offering from the Stuttgart-based manufacturer, with the gigantic GLS topping the range.
The naming convention change may seem strange, but it pulls the whole Mercedes SUV line-up into one easy to remember range - starting with the crossover-inspired GLA, the venerable G-Class and topped off by the GLS. For now we are focussing on the GLE, which is the first Mercedes-Benz SUV to be offered in two distinctive bodystyles - the SUV and Coupé - in other words it is direct competition for the BMW X5 and X6. The 250 d forms the entry point to the new luxury-class GLE line-up in the UK at £50,570 and is completed by the mental 5.5-litre V8 AMG powerhouse.
The US-built GLE has been given a number of mid-life upgrades aimed at seeing it retain its competitiveness in what, in recent years, has become a particularly tough market segment.
Included is a lightly restyled exterior, with re-profiled bumpers, a revised grille, redesigned headlamps, newly shaped exterior mirror housings, more expressively styled tail lamps and altered tail pipes among other detailed design tweaks.
Inside, there is a new dashboard with revised instruments, more contemporary controls, a new multi-function steering wheel, a free standing infotainment monitor and upgraded trims with high quality materials – all of which helps to lift its perceived quality on to a level at least equal to its key SUV rivals, the Audi Q7 and BMW X5. As for trims there are four to choose from with the entry-level Sport models limited to only the 201bhp 2.1-litre diesel unit. It also comes with 19in alloy wheels, parking sensors, reversing camera, adaptive LED headlights, heated front seats, climate control and Mercedes' Comand infotainment system complete with DAB radio and Bluetooth connectivity.
The mid-range AMG Line models is available with either diesel engine or as a hybrid, and adds 20in AMG alloys, adaptive air suspension, an AMG-styled bodykit, a sports braking system and ambient interior lighting, while the designo trim adds ventilated and massaging front seats, 360-degree camera, panoramic sunroof, electrically adjustable front seats and steering column, heated rear seats, climatised cupholders and a Harman & Kardon Logic 7 surround sound system.
There are also two AMG models - GLE 43 and GLE 63 S. The former is available with the designo trim, but the standard SUV comes with numerous black exterior details, including alloy wheels, and AMG-tweaked all-wheel drive system, suspension and exhaust system. While the range-topping GLE 63 S gets an aggressive bodykit, high performance braking system, active body roll control, and an electric interior sunblind.
The turbocharged 2.1-litre four-cylinder common rail diesel engine, used by the GLE 250 d 4Matic driven here, is the entry-level diesel engine, with the 255bhp 3.0-litre 350 d completing the diesel line-up. There is also the hybrid GLE 500 e, which is powered by a 310bhp 3.0-litre V6 and a 114bhp electric motor, which produces 84g/km of CO2 emissions. The AMG models begin with the tuning-division breathed on GLE 43, which uses the same 3,0-litre V6 as the hybrid but churns out 362bhp, while the GLE 63 S is fitted with AMG's mammoth 5.5-litre V8 producing 580bhp and the only engine mated to a seven-speed automatic.
More significant is the adoption of a new nine-speed automatic gearbox as standard. The so-called 9G-Tronic unit replaces the older seven-speed 7G-Tronic gearbox. As is now commonplace across the Mercedes-Benz line-up, the new gearbox uses a column mounted Direct Shift stalk to free up space in the centre console for a pair of cup holders.
Only 4Matic all-wheel-drive is available in the UK. It nominally apportions drive 50:50 front-to-rear, but can constantly vary the ratio depending on prevailing grip levels, to a maximum of 100% at either end. This works in combination with an optional Off-Road Engineering package, that adds a mechanical locking differential and a two-stage transfer case with low range gearing.
Although it weighs the same as its predecessor, at 2075kg, the GLE is claimed to offer improved standing start acceleration and economy.
Predictably, given that it weighs over two tonnes and boasts a relatively modest amount of power, the GLE 250 d 4Matic is far from the fastest five-seat SUV, a fact that is clearly reflected in Mercedes-Benz’s official standing start acceleration claim.
However, there is a decent amount of torque concentrated low in the rev range, and a new nine-speed automatic gearbox sending the drive to each wheel, so it manages to deliver decent performance through the gears. This is particularly evident at motorway speeds, where the flexible nature of its engine, long gearing and excellent longitudinal stability endow it with genuinely relaxed cruising properties, and the potential for outstanding economy.
The four-cylinder diesel engine, which uses AdBlue urea injection to reduce NOx emissions, needs to be worked hard to shift the facelifted SUV’s bulk on occasion. However, it is reasonably well isolated from the cabin, providing the GLE 250 d 4Matic with impressive refinement.
There is little evidence of any gruffness at lower revs, and only mild levels of vibration at the business end of the scale. You detect it is a diesel, but it is not as vocal as some.
On more challenging roads, it proves quite responsive, if not quite as agile as some four-wheel drive luxury SUV rivals. There is some feel to the electro-mechanical steering as you turn off centre, and body movements are well controlled by a heavily damped double wishbone (front) and multi-link (rear) suspension.
The most affordable GLE model comes as standard with 19-inch wheels. In combination with Mercedes-Benz’s 4Matic four-wheel drive system, they provide decent levels of grip, allowing you to carry decent speed into fast corners without any premature understeer.
As on the early ML 250 CDI 4Matic, a steel spring suspension is standard, coupled with adaptive dampers that offer the driver the choice between comfort and sport modes.
Our test car, however, was fitted with the optional AirMatic air springs, bringing variable damping control and automatic self-levelling. So equipped, there is a firm feel to the suspension, but, thanks to a decent amount of wheel travel, the GLE 250 d 4Matic manages to absorb most bumps effectively.
If your purchase priorities are built around practicality, economy and ease of driving more than style, performance and handling engagement, the GLE 250 d 4Matic could be just the ticket.
It won't tempt enthusiastic drivers, but the classy five-seater continues to deliver impressive everyday usability at a price that makes it more financially accessible that many of its stablemates.