Play the name game
There little new about Benz’s “new” GLE
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