Mercedes-benz GLE

This US-built lux­ury SUV from the Ger­man brand has re­ceived some rad­i­cal up­dates and new tech. We drive the GLE on empty ranch roads out­side San An­to­nio, Texas, to sam­ple the changes be­fore it comes to In­dia

Car India - - CONTENTS - Story: Sarmad Kadiri Pho­tog­ra­phy: Mercedes-Benz

We head to the States to sam­ple the rad­i­cally up­dated GLE

They say ev­ery­thing is big in Texas. Thus, this served as a per­fect back­drop for the Mercedes’ large, lux­u­ri­ous new GLE drive. The SUV has grown in size and, for the first time, gets seven seats, three in­ter­est­ing en­gine op­tions, and comes loaded with in­no­va­tive fea­tures. The im­por­tant news for In­dian buy­ers is that it will be com­ing to In­dia in 2019, when it will com­pete with the Audi Q7, BMW X5, and Volvo XC90.

Now let’s jog your mem­ory a bit. This Mercedes first hit the road back in 1998, wear­ing the ma­jes­tic “ML” badge, and, if you are a Juras­sic Park fan like me, I bet you can still re­call it. But the name “GLE” (hint­ing at it be­ing based on the E-Class plat­form) was only in­tro­duced when the third-gen­er­a­tion model was given a facelift in 2015. What we’re driv­ing now is the fourth-gen­er­a­tion model, which is be­ing pro­duced in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and it’s easy to see the con­nec­tion, for the new GLE car­ries ahead the for­ward-in­clined C-pil­lar which was a sig­na­ture de­sign el­e­ment on the ML.

The new GLE is much larger than be­fore. Think stegosaurus and T-Rex. It has now grown in length by 105 mil­lime­tres and is wider by 12 mm, but you won’t be able to spot the dif­fer­ence by look­ing at it as the clever de­sign and 24-mm lower height beau­ti­fully cam­ou­flage the ac­tual size of this SUV. De­spite be­ing full of equip­ment, it doesn’t weigh more than the out­go­ing model, cour­tesy the ex­tra dose of alu­minium and high­strength steel.

The de­sign team has etched a mod­ern and smooth­flow­ing sil­hou­ette for the GLE from the boxy shape of the ML. The sub­tle body lines and well-rounded edges make it look more ath­letic than beefy. I like the way it looks head-on, es­pe­cially in the ver­sion which has the pin­head-type front grille treat­ment and a sin­gle slat hold­ing a large tris­tar badge. The other op­tion is a twins­lat grille merg­ing with the Mercedes logo in com­bi­na­tion with a more con­ser­va­tive front bumper. The prom­i­nent lines on the bon­net add to the ag­gres­sion and the sleek head­lamps with ar­row-shaped day­time run­ning lights (DRL) com­plete the sporty front de­sign.

The side pro­file, as men­tioned ear­lier, fol­lows the ML de­sign lan­guage. Though the C-pil­lar’s ex­e­cu­tion is a lot bet­ter now, the large rear three­quar­ter win­dow gives it a dis­tinct ap­peal. The wheel choices range be­tween 20 and 22 inches and the larger ones fill up the arches re­ally well. A set of nar­row tail-lamps and a con­toured boot-lid com­plete the com­par­a­tively plain look­ing rear half of the new GLE.

What will wow you, though, is the com­pletely new cabin. It’s a re­fresh­ingly new ap­proach and looks ready for the fu­ture. In­ter­est­ingly, the lay­out isn’t quite bi­ased to­wards the driver; there’s no hood pro­trud­ing over the driver’s in­for­ma­tion dis­play and two pairs of a-c vents are lined up in the cen­tre of the dash. Over­all, it ex­udes and re­tains the Mercedes-Benz de­sign lan­guage, al­beit with a slight mod­ern twist. For ex­am­ple, the gear se­lec­tor is still mounted on the steer­ing con­sole, but the turn in­di­ca­tor stalk is slim­mer

and looks smarter now. Sim­i­larly, the seat ad­just­ment but­tons con­tinue to be on the door-panel but carry a sharper de­sign. The dash­board gets cus­tom­ized am­bi­ent lights, while the cen­tre con­sole gets neatly in­te­grated grab-han­dles. Ev­ery­thing in the cabin feels premium and beau­ti­fully crafted, as ex­pected in this seg­ment.

The star of the cabin is Mercedes’ swish new MBUX in­fo­tain­ment set-up, con­sist­ing of two 12.3-inch dis­plays side-by-side. One serves as the in­stru­ment clus­ter, while the other is a touch­screen in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem. The driver can com­pletely cus­tom­ize the in­stru­ments us­ing a pair of steer­ing-mounted touch-pads. The clever MBUX sys­tem un­der­stands hand ges­tures and can run a host of er­rands for the driver or the co-pas­sen­ger with­out ei­ther of them hav­ing to press any but­tons. There’s voice com­mand, too, which gets ac­ti­vated when you say ‘Hey Mercedes’ and works pretty much like Google’s smart as­sis­tant or Ap­ple’s Siri. It can an­swer your queries and set up the GLE as per your com­mand. The sys­tem still needs some fine-tun­ing; some­times it re­fuses to re­spond and, at times, even stum­bles to de­ci­pher sim­ple com­mands. So, one ends up us­ing the touch­screen in­stead, where the menus are sim­ple to fol­low and the aug­mented re­al­ity-equipped sat-nav is sim­ply bril­liant.

Since the dash­board is fairly high and the car’s hood-line com­par­a­tively low, it takes a while to get used to the size of the SUV. The small wing mir­rors and chunky C-pil­lar don’t help this cause ei­ther. This is where the large dis­play comes in handy as it trans­mits a live video of the view ahead as soon as the turn sig­nal is flicked on and of­fers 360-de­gree view when needed. You don’t want to bump into a rap­tor hid­den in a blind spot, do you? The nav­i­ga­tion sys­tem also uses the video with hov­er­ing ar­rows that point out the turn that you need to take. On Amer­i­can tar­mac, the nav­i­ga­tion fal­tered a cou­ple of times, prob­a­bly be­cause these were Europe-spec cars im­ported into the US for this par­tic­u­lar test drive. The sys­tem also comes with Ap­ple CarPlay and An­droid Auto as stan­dard but re­quire users to plug in their phones only via tiny C-type USB ports that the new phone mod­els are mi­grat­ing to. Bet­ter in­vest in a new charg­ing cable along with the GLE.

Now some up­dates on the in­te­rior. A big­ger car trans­lates into a more gen­er­ous cabin room. The first two rows are large with am­ple legroom. The op­tional third-row seat is rather cramped, al­though you can free up some space by slid­ing the sec­ond row ahead. The front seats are not just com­fort­able but come with a host of in­ter­est­ing fea­tures. Apart from help­ing you find the per­fect driv­ing po­si­tion, they are equipped with “En­er­giz­ing Seat Ki­net­ics”, a sys­tem which dis­creetly al­ters the seat back­rest

and base cush­ion­ing at reg­u­lar in­ter­vals so that you’re not seated in one po­si­tion for too long.

We’re not sure how many of these fea­tures will ac­tu­ally make their way to In­dia, nor have Mercedes-Benz re­vealed which of the en­gines from the vast of­fer­ing will be brought here. So we kept it sim­ple and sam­pled the most pow­er­ful op­tions avail­able: the petrol GLE 450 and the diesel GLE 400d. You never know when one might need to out­run a T-Rex! The “450” badge on the tail­gate doesn’t in­di­cate the power fig­ures but the po­tent 3.0-litre in-line six makes a de­cent 367 PS be­tween 5,500 and 6,100 rpm and 500 Nm of torque be­tween 1,600 and 4,500 rpm. It uses a 48-volt mild-hy­brid sys­tem which not just helps con­serve fuel but adds an­other 22 PS and 250 Nm of elec­tric boost. The elec­tric mo­tor helps take the strain off the en­gine when ac­cel­er­at­ing. This makes the petrol pretty quick and claims an AMG-ri­valling 0-100 km/h time of just 5.7 sec­onds. The power de­liv­ery is also ex­tremely lin­ear, mak­ing this car a great city cruiser, and high-speed high­way over­take ma­noeu­vres are equally easy to ex­e­cute.

Where the 450 makes its big­gest stride is in the way its new E-Ac­tive springs sus­pen­sion de­vours bumpy roads. Scan­ning the road sur­face ahead, the sys­tem preps the sus­pen­sion to en­sure there’s hardly any body move­ment. The new set-up also gives this SUV car-like drive dy­nam­ics, mak­ing it ef­fort­less to drive, and lends it com­po­sure like a lux­ury sedan. Se­lect­ing “Curve” makes GLE lean into cor­ners and per­fectly sharp­ens the cor­ner­ing line — pretty much like mo­tor­cy­cles. This sys­tem works well on flat tar­mac and with sin­gle steer­ing in­puts. Bumpy sur­faces and quick steer­ing move­ments tend to con­fuse the sys­tem and, in turn, the driver. The op­tional Driv­ing As­sis­tance pack­age also in­cludes one of the best semi-au­tonomous sys­tems on sale. This in­cludes the Ac­tive Lane-Keep­ing sys­tem, Adap­tive Cruise Con­trol, Auto Brak­ing, and the very in­ter­est­ing Free Drive Mode, which makes the body of the SUV bounce to get it out of loose sand. We didn’t get an op­por­tu­nity to see if the GLE could cross a riverbed, but it should be good at that, too. If chas­ing di­nosaurs is your game, then you can even opt for the ad­di­tional of­froad pack and fur­ther en­hance its all-ter­rain prow­ess.

We also tried the 330-PS, 3.0-litre GLE 400d. This diesel of­fers an enor­mous 700 Nm of torque which one can ex­pe­ri­ence from the time one puts one’s foot on the ac­cel­er­a­tor pedal. For

an SUV of this size and stature, a re­fined diesel mo­tor like this seems to be a more ap­pro­pri­ate op­tion. The in-line six de­liv­ers strong per­for­mance, of­fers smooth op­er­a­tion, and is fru­gal enough to of­fer a long driv­ing range be­tween fuel re­fills. Mercedes claim that the GLE 400d is the first SUV that meets the 2020 Euro 6d emis­sion stan­dard glob­ally. In both, a nine-speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion shut­tles power to all four wheels. More­over, it can di­vert zero to cent per cent power to the front or rear wheels, de­pend­ing on the need. The gear­box never gave me an op­por­tu­nity to use the pad­dle-shift, thanks to its quick and seam­less shifts. In com­par­i­son to the 450, the stan­dard air-sus­pen­sion of the 400d doesn’t do the fancy tricks of the E-Ac­tive sus­pen­sion. The diesel feels tuned for com­fort and one can feel a bit of wal­low­ing dur­ing brak­ing hard or while go­ing fast over a crest. For reg­u­lar city driv­ing, it re­mains pli­ant, rea­son­ably com­posed, and gives lit­tle rea­son to com­plain about.

We are sure that the GLE will fur­ther strengthen Mercedes’ SUV port­fo­lio when it comes to In­dia by mid-2019. Apart from the wide range of en­gine op­tions, the spa­cious cabin oozes lux­ury and com­fort, while the E-Ac­tive sus­pen­sion is noth­ing short of magic. Con­sider it for these virtues. But if you want a proper seven-seater Mercedes-Benz, then you’ll have to in­crease your bud­get and go for the GLS.

( Be­low) It’s a sim­ple job to cus­tom­ize the in­stru­ments us­ing the steer­ing-mounted touch-pad

There’s am­ple room in the sec­ond row, but the op­tional third-row is rather cramped

( Above) The nav­i­ga­tion uses live video with hov­er­ing ar­rows to point out the turns

( LeftBelow ) The star of the cabin is the swish new MBUX in­fo­tain­ment set-up, con­sist­ing of two 12.3-in dis­plays side-by-side

( Be­low) The GLE makes its big­gest stride in the way its new E-Ac­tive springs sus­pen­sion de­vours bumpy roads

( Above) Tonnes of gad­gets in­clude Ac­tive Lane-Keep­ing, Adap­tive Cruise Con­trol, Auto Brak­ing, and the very in­ter­est­ing Free Drive Mode

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