This 350 d should be one of the better GLEs in terms of its dynamic range, given that it has adaptive air suspension instead of steel springs. It also has Mercedes' latest nine-speed auto 'box and a permanent all-wheel-drive system that can split power 50/50 between the axles, or send 100% to each axle as required. Basically, most situations are covered.
Unfortunately, the 350 d rarely manages to feel dynamic, or truly comfortable. The ride quality never really settles at low speed, even with the AMG's suspension in its soft Comfort setting; its large wheels pick up on cracks and rivets too readily.
Staying in Comfort but adding speed brings about the typical long-wave air suspension verticle body movement, but it's well controlled, so remains pleasant enough. Even at speed, though, there's a constant background fidget as expansion joints and potholes pass beneath. Stiffer Sport mode reins in the GLE's body, but allows too much of the road surface through to the cabin.
SUVs aren't sports cars, but there's an increasing number that can raise eyebrows on a twisty road - see the BMW X5, Porsche Cayenne, or Range Rover Sport. The GLE isn't one of this band, unfortunately. Mercedes' standard Direct-Steer speed-sensitive power steering, for instance, feels slow to respond at the front wheels, even in the GLE's stiffer Sport setting.
Grip is good, but you're always aware it's difficult to pick a confident line in fast bends, and there's a fair amount of body lean to contend with. Mid-corner lumps and bumps unsettle things further.
At least the 350's engine is as sweet as ever. There's some light buzz through the controls from low revs, but with a largely snappy gearbox and nine speeds to call upon and a healthy amount of torque ready from 1600rpm, the GLE feels eager to shift its near-2.2 tonne mass. The engine remains pleasantly restrained at a cruise, too, as do wind and road noise.
The good news continues inside starting with the COMAND infotainment system. A bright, clear 8.0in colour screen is set high on the dash, and is controlled via a rotary controller on the centre console. It's not as slick as BMW's iDrive, but it's certainly one of the better systems on the market. The AMG's (man-made) leather-stitched dash top and chrome accents lift the cabin, although some creaking dash trims and switchgear are more disappointing.