Play the name game

There lit­tle new about Benz’s “new” GLE

Herald Sun - Motoring - - First Drive - JOHN CAREY

A MODEL up­grade usu­ally en­tails tak­ing a fa­mil­iar badge off some­thing old and stick­ing it on some­thing new.

But to make the “new” GLE, Mercedes-Benz has done the op­po­site. Ba­si­cally, the Ger­man brand has prised the badges off its big M-Class SUV, and stuck on dif­fer­ent ones.

This new name is part of Stuttgart’s plan to make its model des­ig­na­tion sys­tem more log­i­cal as its line-up grows more com­plex. With GLE, the first two letters are Mercedes-Benz code for SUV, while the fi­nal one makes clear the close re­la­tion­ship — tech­nol­ogy and size-wise — to the E-Class sedan.

Aside from the name, there’s lit­tle new about the “new” GLE, which will ar­rive in Aus­tralia in Septem­ber. The head­line item is the in­tro­duc­tion of a nine- speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion for main­stream mod­els, re­plac­ing the seven-speed of the M-Class. The range­top­ping $189,900 Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S, with its 5.5-litre twin-turbo V8, sticks with the same AMG-tough­ened seven­speed auto as be­fore.

The en­gine line-up re­mains the same as in M-Class. There is a pair of turbo diesels: a 150kW 2.1-litre four for the $86,900 250d and a 190kW 3.0-litre V6 for the $104,900 350d. Above these are a pair of twin-turbo petrol en­gines; 245kW 3.0-litre V6 for the 400 and a 320kW 4.7-litre V8 for the 500. In the four GLE mod­els equipped with it, the nine-speeder yields in­cre­men­tal im­prove­ments in fuel ef­fi­ciency and per­for­mance.

Prices of the made-in-the-USA GLE line-up are a lit­tle higher than the M-Class that

was man­u­fac­tured in the same place. The rises range from $3000 to $7000, depend­ing on model, but each GLE in the range comes more richly equipped than ever.

On the road, the new auto trans­mis­sion works very nicely. We tried it in GLE 350d form, which re­places the ML 350 BlueTec. This model has the grunty V6 turbo diesel en­gine that’s a favourite of Aus­tralian buy­ers. With so many gears, the driver mostly has no idea which one is be­ing used at any time. And in nor­mal driv­ing, gear changes are of­ten so smooth they’re not felt. This driv­e­train is a well-pol­ished piece of en­gi­neer­ing.

The GLE 350d’s five-seat in­te­rior is a pleas­ant place to be, classy and well made. Safe, too. Like all GLEs, the 350d comes stan­dard with nine airbags and a host of hi-tech safety and driver-as­sis­tance sys­tems. Some of the aids are things any driver would want to have, but there are some that can be an­noy­ing. Ac­tive Lane Keep­ing As­sist can drive you nuts with its con­stant nudg­ing of the steer­ing, for ex­am­ple. Un­til you fig­ure out how to turn it off…

While the GLE 350d isn’t es­pe­cially en­ter­tain­ing to drive on the road, like any other high­rid­ing ve­hi­cle that weighs 2.2tonnes, it can be a sur­pris­ingly ca­pa­ble off-roader. Equipped with Mercedes’ op­tional Airmatic air sus­pen­sion and Off-Road En­gi­neer­ing pack­age, the GLE 350d gains a lot of ground clear­ance and a low crawler gear for steep tracks. These come into play when its Dy­namic Se­lect con­troller is turned to the Of­froad+ set­ting added to the usual menu when these op­tions are cho­sen.

But off-road abil­ity isn’t what most buy­ers of a large SUV from a pre­mium brand are search­ing for. Of­ten they’re look­ing for some­thing that can carry a lot of kids when re­quired. But the GLE doesn’t of­fer a third row of seats. Even as an op­tion, like its arch-ri­val, the BMW X5, does. And there are a cou­ple of truly new com­peti­tors close to ar­riv­ing in Aus­tralia which will have seven-seat in­te­ri­ors as stan­dard; the Volvo XC90 in Au­gust and the Audi Q7 in Septem­ber.

Right now, the BMW X5 is the dar­ling of the XXL SUVbuy­ing set in Aus­tralia, out­selling the cur­rent M-Class by ex­actly two to one so far through 2015. New badges aren’t go­ing to change this sit­u­a­tion. A truly new GLE, one that might do the trick, is still a few years away.

A pleas­ant place to be: Mercedes-Benz’s GLE is classy, well-made and loaded with hi-tech driver as­sis­tance sys­tems

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