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Mercedes beat its rivals to the premium SUV segment. Does it still have a lead?

An early arrival to the premium SUV scene has worked out rather well for the car that was latterly redubbed the Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class.

In its first-generation form, the Mercedes M-Class – as it was formerly known – was shown to the public as far back as 1996, when the BMW X5 was still only a designer’s sketch and before either the Audi Q7 or Range Rover Sport had even been thought of. Over three and a bit model cycles, and after a mid-life nomenclature change intended to better identify the car as Mercedes’ middle-sized luxury 4x4, the GLE has become one of the brand’s best-selling SUVs, rivalling and even out-selling the smaller and more affordable GLC at times over the past decade.

The way the GLE’s design conceals its D-pillar – with a bold diagonal C-pillar and wraparound rear window – is a styling cue that’s been a feature of every GLE and M-Class Merc since the 1996 original. Still stands out.

This week we’re seeking to find out exactly where first-to-the-party status has left this car, which is now on sale in fourth-generation form – and particularly so now Mercedes has added the kind of variety and choice to the GLE’s showroom range that only the marque’s biggest-selling models tend to enjoy.

After a motor show debut two years ago, the W167-generation GLE went into production in Alabama at the very end of 2018, but its derivative range has hardly stopped swelling since. Buyers can now choose between a traditional SUV and the Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe. There are both petrol-electric and diesel-electric plug-in hybrid powertrains on offer, with availability particular to market territory. And for UK buyers there are three conventional diesel engine options in the car besides, as well as a 48V mild-hybrid petrol model.

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And that’s before you’ve even made it far enough down the price list to take in the Affalterbach-tuned Mercedes-AMG performance versions – which brings us to this week’s test subject. The lesser – and cheaper – of two Mercedes-AMG GLE derivatives, the new Mercedes GLE 53 4Matic+ is a performance SUV in a particularly modern mould. Read on to discover if it has both the makings and the execution to be the high point in a complicated model range.

The GLE line-up at a glance

As is the case with practically all of Mercedes’ models, the GLE is available with an exceptionally broad spread of powertrains. In the UK, the four-cylinder diesel 300d represents the entry-level offering, although there are six-cylinder diesels, a diesel plug-in hybrid and a couple of six-cylinder petrols to choose from, too.

The outlandish AMG GLE 63 S model crowns the range, of course. Its 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8 makes a substantial 603bhp, but you’ll pay an equally substantial price to put one on your driveway.

Price £80,485 Power 429bhp Torque 384lb ft 0-60mph 5.4sec 30-70mph in fourth 8.2sec Fuel economy 24.0mpg CO2 emissions 248g/km 70-0mph 46.5m

 

Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 First drives