The Mercedes-Benz GLE has racked up more than two million sales worldwide since it first went on sale badged as the M-Class in 1997. To suggest it has been a success is stating the obvious.
However, this new model is entering a vastly different market to the one back then. Today, the premium brand SUV ranks have grown to include multiple offerings from a wide variety of car makers in many different sizes and configurations. To truly stand out and pique the interest of potential customers it takes something truly out of the ordinary.
So what next for the best selling Mercedes-Benz SUV yet? In a bid to match the competition head on, the fourth-generation model driven here has been developed anew from the ground up in an engineering programme that also includes the second-generation GLE Coupe and third-generation GLS, both due for sale in 2019. This is just as well, because the outgoing third-generation GLE was already showing its age next to newer rivals such as the Audi Q7, BMW X5 and Range Rover Sport.
The surprise is just how much technology Mercedes-Benz has thrown at it in an attempt to elevate its appeal. There are features included on the new model that are not yet available on the flagship S-Class, or any other Mercedes-Benz model for that matter. So, in this respect, the seven-seat SUV finds itself in the unusual position of playing a pioneering technical role.
The most noticeable change when you see it up close is the decision to make it even larger again. Like all previous incarnations of the GLE launched since the first-generation model rolled off Mercedes-Benz’s US production line 21 years ago, this new one has grown, putting on a considerable 105mm in length at 4924mm. Crucially, some 80mm of this is concentrated within the wheelbase, which now extends to 2995mm, providing it with a much larger footprint and with it the scope for improved interior packaging.
What changes has Mercedes made to the interior?
Climb up into the cabin through a larger front door aperture and you’re immediately aware the new GLE is a far more luxurious offering than at any time in the past. To suggest it has been totally transformed, as Mercedes does, is probably going a little too far, but to its credit everything you see and touch has been reworked, including the front seats which are a good deal firmer and more body hugging than before. The materials used throughout, not least the optional wood and leather trims, are also of a perceptibly higher quality than in previous incarnations of the luxury SUV, giving it a distinctly more upmarket air before you’ve even thought about pressing the start button and setting off.