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22 years have passed since Mercedes-Benz first launched the M-Class. It was the brand’s first attempt in the SUV genre. With over 2 million units sold during that period, I’d guess it’s a raging success for the brand. Over the last two or more decades, the M-Class was renamed the GLE. This is to align their SUVs with their sedans - the GLE being the SUV version of the similarly sized E-Class. The new naming convention also helps categories Mercedes’ large selection – there are now 8 GL models in the range, but the GLE is arguably the most important. It’s a volume seller combined with an image upholder.
Let me begin with an important statement: the new GLE is a nice leap forward over its predecessor, which in my opinion, wasn’t an equal to its direct rival, the BMW X5.
Now bolder than before, the new GLE has oodles of presence that reeks of prestige together with street cred. It begins with its diamond grille that frames the large Mercedes star emblem. The bonnet and wheel arches are all fuller – more substantial than before. Tall and wide, the GLE doesn’t go unnoticed. Despite its solid appearance, the new GLE offers ballerina-like aerodynamics that are in fact best in its class, at Cd 0,29!
A highlight of the GLE package is the car’s interior. Beautifully designed, it feels opulent and modern without trying too hard. An eye-catcher design element is the skate-board sized infotainment tablet that dominates the dashboard. Suspended between two air vents, like book-ends, it brings a host of information and functions and the driver and passenger. This screen is both touch-sensitive and adaptable to preferred design layouts. Ambience lighting is adaptable to almost any perceivable colour and colour combination.
Accommodation is another strong point of the GLE. Being tall and wide, head and knee room abound for five. You can specify two additional seats, as an optional extra that present as a third row in the 825-litre boot. If this is your requirement, note: space is limited with better accommodations in the third row in Land Rovers Discovery 5 and Volvo’s XC90.
At the launch period locally, the GLE range is driven by either a 2.0-l turbo diesel 4 cylinder, the 300 d with 180kW/500Nm, or the silky smooth 3.0-l V6 turbo diesel, the 400 d with 243kW/700Nm or a petrol option, the 450 with a 3.0-l 6-cylinder turbocharger and a 48-volt battery combo giving it a mild hybrid functionality. Each of these engines is special in their own way – the 300 d is arguably all you’ll ever need; the 400 d is rapid and refined while the 450 is silky smooth and modern. As an example, each of the options can hit 100km/h in 7.2, 5.8 and 5.7 seconds respectively while all are able to run to a top speed in excess of 225 km/h. Additional AMG models will be added to the mix later.
A thing of beauty is the GLE’s 9G-TRONIC gearbox. Seamless almost inviable – the gearbox and engine pairing are matrimonial bliss. Left in Eco mode, the gearbox splices through each ratio rapidly and allows the car to coast in neutral to save fuel when appropriate. Flip it out of the Comfort mode, the preset mode, into Sport and the gearbox awakens like a New Yorker, a strong coffee in-hand on the way to work. It is alert and ready.
The model I reviewed was fitted with optional air suspension (R29 000) – a must for a superb ride that soaks up road irregularities with ease. The GLE also features a light steering action that is linked to a short turning circle. The effect is an easy-to-manoeuvre vehicle with a sense of sportiness from the direct steering action. Overall, the ride is effortless. In my opinion, perfect for this type of vehicle. If your looking for something more agile, competitors like the Maserati, Range Rover Sport or Porsche Cayenne will give you that.
Mercedes, well done! This is the best SUV in your range and deserves the brand’s badge.
Audi Q7, BMW X5, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Land Rover Discovery, Range Rover Sport, Lexus RX, Maserati Levante, Porsche Cayenne, Volkswagen Touareg and Volvo XC90
GLE 300 d 4Matic R1 216 699
GLE 300 d 4Matic AMG Line R1 289 699
GLE 400 d 4Matic R1 361 194
GLE 400 d AMG Line R1 434 194
GLE 450 4Matic R1 341 291
GLE 450 4Matic AMG Line R1 414 291
The service and warranty
5 year / 100 000 km maintenance plan.
GLE 400 d AMG Line R1 434 194
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