That engine lends what is now quite a large SUV (it’s just under 5m long, and weighs close to 2.2 tonnes) a decent amount of shove. Mercedes claims a 0-62mph time of 7.2sec, which puts it into warm hatch territory in terms of straight line pace. While we’re unable to verify those claims this time around, it certainly didn’t feel like a slouch out on the road.
The only trouble is that it’s not quite as refined as you might hope. There’s a noticeably agrarian edge to its soundtrack under an open throttle, and it begins to feel and sound strained rather early on in the accelerative process. Perhaps the forthcoming GLE 350d, with its two additional cylinders, will better fit the mould of an upmarket SUV in this respect. We’ll have to wait and see.
The nine-speed ‘box can be a touch difficult to get along with at times, too. Step-off is generally smooth provided you don’t have all the delicacy of an elephant, and the manner in which it shuffles between ratios while you’re on the move is slick enough. But it can be overly keen to hold on to gears at times - even when you’re not in Sport mode - meaning you’ll be subjected to that slightly rough-edged diesel soundtrack a bit more often than you might like. It’s prone to being caught out when pulling away from low speeds, too, where there’s a moment’s hesitation, before it shunts its chosen gear in and takes off.
Our GLE didn’t come with the super-sophisticated E-Active air suspension we experienced on that original launch. Instead, Mercedes’ AirMatic set-up replaced the standard coil-spring arrangement that should have featured. Rather disappointingly, it didn’t seem to strike the same balance between handling panache and genteel ride refinement as the GLE 450 we drove Stateside did.
It’s certainly comfortable around town and on the motorway, and it does a reasonable job of rounding off those sharper secondary intrusions caused by potholes, expansion joints and the like. The fairly chunky sidewalls of the 275-section tyres the 20in alloys were wrapped in likely helped out in this regard. Move onto faster, lumpier A-roads, though, and its overly soft set-up leads to some rather pronounced body movement. Uniform undulations are ironed out in a smooth enough fashion, but more irregular surfaces (the sort you’re more likely to find here in Britain) can generate some unwelcome head toss. Switching to Sport mode better ties things down, but seems to take things a touch too far in the other direction, compromising some of the pliancy it exhibits on smoother stretches of Tarmac. A setting somewhere between Comfort and Sport would probably be the Goldilocks zone, I reckon.
It doesn’t really mask its mass through corners as well as I’d hoped it might, either. It’s a shade too roly-poly to really encourage any properly sporty driving, and its overly light, muted steering rack doesn’t leave much of an impression either. Sport mode supposedly brings a bit more weight here, but the difference is minor at best. That said, the inclusion of Mercedes’ 4Matic all-wheel-drive architecture does mean it grips well on a balanced throttle. It will begin to understeer if you begin to get too apeish with your corner speeds, but the manner in which its front end starts edging outwards is delicate and predictable. It’s dynamic manners are best described as safe, rather than anything approaching exciting.