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 new second-generation Audi Q7 and third-generation BMW X5.
The turbocharged 2.1-litre four-cylinder common rail diesel engine, used by the GLE 250 d 4Matic driven here, is among six different petrol, diesel and hybrid options Mercedes-Benz has brought to the new GLE line-up, although only four of them will be offered in the UK. With 201bhp and 369lb ft of torque, the power outputs of the engine in our test car are unchanged.
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.
Sport trim is the entry level option on the 250 d only, and comes with 19in alloys, parking sensors, reversing camera, adaptive LED headlights, Mercedes’ COMAND online system and 8in display infotainment system, a DAB tuner, climate control and heated front seats.
The 254bhp V6 diesel 350 d and hybrid 500 e models give buyers a choice of AMG Line spec (which is also available on the 250d), and designo Line. The former adds 20in alloy and air suspension, while the flagship trim includes a 360 degree camera, panoramic sunroof, heated, cooled and massaging front seats, heated rear seats and Harman and Kardon surround sound system.
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.
Mercedes GLE 250 d 4Matic
Price £49,280; Engine 4cyls, 2143cc, diesel; Power 201bhp at 3800rpm; Torque 369lb ft at 1600rpm; 0-62mph 8.6sec; Top speed 131mph; Gearbox 9-spd automatic; Kerb weight 2075kg; Economy 49.6mpg (combined); CO2 149g/km, 27%