Three gen­er­a­tions, two decades and two mil­lion MLs/GLEs later, Mercedes's mid-size lux­ury SUV gets a com­plete makeover

Evo India - - CONTENTS - Byram Go­drej

GROWN MEN BE­ING CHASED BY di­nosaurs hit the big screen in 1997 with the first Juras­sic Park movie. A block­buster would end up be­com­ing a fran­chise, but for us car nuts that also marked the de­but of Merc's first lux­ury SUV, the ML-Class, an equally big block­buster for Mercedes that has gone on to spawn three gen­er­a­tions and well over two mil­lion ex­am­ples on the road. Of course it wasn't Merc's first SUV, the G-Wa­gen has been around for far, far longer, but the ML, short for Mul­tipur­pose Lux­ury or Mid­sized lux­ury, was their first mono­coque SUV, a con­struc­tion that le­git­imised the L in ML. It was an SUV made in re­sponse to Amer­ica's in­fat­u­a­tion with size-over-ev­ery­thing, it was made in the USA, it took Mercedes a full gen­er­a­tion to get the Amer­i­cans to learn the Ger­man way of build­ing au­to­mo­biles, and over two decades, has be­come the main­stay of Merc's SUV lineup. And the im­por­tance of SUVs to Merc's line-up is un­der­scored by the fact that 30 per cent of all Mercs sold are SUVs. And the ML is no longer called the ML, the out­go­ing SUV get­ting re­badged to GLE to fit Merc's new nam­ing strat­egy where the E is sup­posed to in­di­cate that it is the E-Class of Merc's SUV lineup. This fourth-gen GLE is 100 per cent new but like the GLE and ML pre­ced­ing it, it car­ries over the tri­an­gu­lar-shaped quar­ter glass at the rear. And un­like the ear­lier GLE, the new one is now a 7-seater with a far larger cabin that of­fers am­ple shoul­der and head­room for all three rows. In­side the E-Class con­nec­tion (well, ac­tu­ally it was first seen on the S-Class) is ev­i­dent with the mas­sive screen stretch­ing from the in­stru­ments all the way to the cen­tre con­sole. The speedo na­celle has a flat top and I didn't miss the hump for the me­ter clus­ter, which is now a screen with 3-D an­i­mated me­ters and in­for­ma­tion dis­play. The large nav­i­ga­tion screen is a con­tin­u­ous run to the me­ter dis­play with the four beau­ti­fully de­signed rect­an­gu­lar sil­ver bezelled air-con

Fourth-gen GLE is 100 per cent new but like the GLE and ML pre­ced­ing it, it car­ries over the tri­an­gu­lar-shaped quar­ter glass at the rear

vents placed neatly be­low, keep­ing in with the new Mercedes' in­te­rior styling theme.

There are enough menu op­tions to keep you oc­cu­pied all day with op­tions to swap info be­tween the driver and cen­tre dis­play con­sole. The MBUX (Mercedes Benz User Ex­pe­ri­ence) is a new bee in this GLE's hive. Say­ing Hello Mercedes is how you ac­ti­vate it quite like Google Home or Ama­zon Alexa. Once you get used to it, it's very con­ve­nient as it pairs with all de­vices across the range. But, you have to get used to it. The steer­ing wheel is from the S-Class and is full of but­tons, touch pads and scroll switches, all of great qual­ity and tac­til­ity. All the alert sounds have been changed to very pleas­ing gongs rather than jar­ring beeps and buzzers. Menu scrolls have a very neat touch of a slightly deeper sound at the bot­tom end of the op­tions and sim­i­larly higher tone at the top end of the op­tions. So you know while driv­ing that you have reached a limit with­out tak­ing your at­ten­tion off the road (and you will hear a lot of it as In­dia-spec GLE's will get the gov­ern­ment's nasty 80kmph and 120kmph buzzers). Heads up dis­play has plenty of info, in­clud­ing nav­i­ga­tion and lane as­sist info.

The bold cen­tre grab rails in­te­grated with the con­sole be­tween the driver and pas­sen­ger seat is well laid out and ev­ery­thing is placed con­ve­niently at hand. The or­gan­i­sa­tion of the drive mode se­lec­tion but­tons are no­tice­ably neat and have a lux cock­pit feel to them. A hand­writ­ing recog­ni­tion touch pad with hap­tic feed­back is a nice touch, placed in the cen­tre of the con­sole, right off the arm rest and makes it easy to try and write while driv­ing. How­ever in the ver­sion that comes to In­dia you will need to learn to write with your left hand for 90 per cent of us are right-handed.

Er­gonomics are sim­ply fab­u­lous

Com­fort is at its very best, enough to make you fall asleep but don't worry if you do be­cause it has au­tonomous drive that not only mon­i­tors the road and does your job for you — pretty well if I might add — but also wakes you up when it needs your help. In ad­di­tion, all the driv­ing aids are avail­able like lane de­par­ture warn­ing, in­tel­li­gent cruise con­trol that will fol­low the car ahead at a safe dis­tance and it speeds up and slows down as re­quired and more. None of which will re­ally work in the chaos of our In­dian roads.

I think this GLE also has the qui­etest cabin in its class and sets a new bench­mark. It makes the per­fectly bal­anced Burmester sound sys­tem even more en­joy­able. The in­duc­tion-charg­ing pad in the front cen­tre con­sole is placed just in front of the rather large cof­fee cup hold­ers, USA spec! Aug­mented re­al­ity plays a neat role in the nav­i­ga­tion sys­tem, show­ing you ex­actly where to turn with the street name and run­ning ar­rows point­ing to the turn side, as you ap­proach. The gear and in­di­ca­tor stalks are a lit­tle more del­i­cate

If you get stuck in the sand or snow the E-ABC will bounce the body for 45 se­conds

and less in­dus­trial look­ing com­pared to its pre­de­ces­sors. Cooled seats will be a bless­ing in the In­dia-bound ver­sion and of­fer great all-round sup­port and bolstering. Front seats ad­just more ways than your body will and the rear also has height and rake ad­just. Good news for the third row guys; there is space for your legs and your knees, and your toes are not around your neck. The 80-litre tank and good mileage pro­vided am­ple range; there's enough and more lug­gage space and the GLE will be great for a fam­ily road trip. It gob­bled 200 miles (360km) on the test route with­out us even notic­ing the jour­ney.

E-Ac­tive Body Con­trol

This is a high­light on the GLE, a pro­duc­tion first, and is a com­plex al­go­rithm in­volv­ing pow­er­ful soft­ware and fast re­act­ing hard­ware. Cou­pled with the 48-volt KERS-type of sys­tem the E- ABC reads the road ahead us­ing cam­eras placed in the rear view mir­ror cowl in the cen­tre of the wind­screen. It forms an im­age and uses the al­go­rithm to stiffen or raise the ve­hi­cle for the up­com­ing bump, curve, or ditch. The steer­ing wheel an­gle is also read at this time giv­ing the E-ABC enough data to pre­pare. Once all the data is in, the four high-volt­age mo­tors pump hy­draulic fluid into the newly de­vel­oped dampers and ei­ther tighten, slacken, raise or lower each in­di­vid­ual wheel as re­quired within one mil­lisec­ond. Yes, that's right. A thou­sandth of a sec­ond. As fast as you could pos­si­bly imag­ine. It takes 300 mil­lisec­onds to blink fast. So imag­ine the speed and ac­cu­racy of the sys­tem. In case you get stuck in the sand or snow the E Ac­tive Body Con­trol has a pro­gram that will bounce the body for 45 se­conds or un­til you are freed, which­ever is sooner. You can also lower or raise each wheel as re­quired through the E-ABC menu on this GLE. Un­for­tu­nately E-ABC is not an op­tion for In­dia at this point, but a good pos­si­bil­ity in the fu­ture. My ex­pe­ri­ence with it was great on well-sur­faced curves es­pe­cially the very tight ones. But if the car sees a rough sur­face and you go in too fast into a tight cor­ner, it gets a bit con­fused and throws the body around for no ap­par­ent rea­son.

This new GLE is BIG

Well, in Texas where we drove it, ev­ery­thing is a bit BIG­GER so it didn't feel so. But be­lieve me in In­dia, when it stands be­sides the com­pact cars you will feel the size. The front of the car has the new fam­ily re­sem­blance with an im­pos­ing grill with the large three-pointed star amidst. The star how­ever is not just all show, it houses all the radar and mon­i­tor­ing gad­getry. Hid­den be­hind this im­pos­ing fa­cade is an in­tel­li­gent mod­u­lar aero-im­prov­ing mech­a­nism that al­ters the amount of air that is al­lowed to en­ter the en­gine bay, strik­ing a bal­ance be­tween cool­ing the en­gine and push­ing air be­low and around the body to lower cabin noise and im­prove aero­dy­nam­ics. Mercedes have paid as much at­ten­tion to the aero on this model as they would to a su­per­car! A com­bi­na­tion of flared arches and stag­gered wheel sizes on some mod­els, make it look very sporty. Un­der­stated rear tail lamps have small, in­te­grated fins to push the air around the car, fur­ther re­duc­ing drag and noise. Neat, and a pleas­ant change to the

in-your-face rear light ar­range­ment in more modern cars. Very func­tional small spoiler adds to the sporty stance. LED head­lights up front pro­vide day­light-like vi­sion with a sooth­ing tem­per­a­ture and tint.

Com­plete un­der­body shrouds aid the aero and also the sound damp­en­ing. Avail­able in alu­minium on the off road pack op­tion, and com­pos­ite on the street ver­sion, it of­fers the same per­for­mance al­low­ing the air cir­cum­vent­ing the un­der­belly to whoosh past qui­etly. Ex­haust tips placed al­most com­pletely be­hind the rear wheels mak­ing sure the air pass­ing un­der the body isn't ob­structed and the tur­bocharg­ers don't cre­ate any vor­tex and sound around the cracks in the tail­gate. Self­clos­ing doors and auto tail­gate are stan­dard at this point.

All the new GLE mod­els are all-wheel drive. The seam­less 8-speed auto box has pad­dles while torque vec­tor­ing is also stan­dard and works re­ally well, pro­vid­ing a re­as­sur­ing and pos­i­tive feel round cor­ners. The car feels sub­stan­tially dif­fer­ent in all drive modes. Sport+ was my per­sonal favourite, tight­en­ing up the sus­pen­sion and al­low­ing you to ex­pe­ri­ence ev­ery bump in the road with the ex­haust growl­ing away when you push your right foot down, squeez­ing the juice out of the 6-cylin­der petrol (it's Amer­ica!). Oh… the pops and bangs when you get off the gas bring out the child in you! One step lower is the Sport mode with just a lit­tle less ag­gres­sion but a great drive feel. Com­fort mode is ex­actly what it sug­gests and most of the bumps are ironed out nicely. The throt­tle re­sponse is sig­nif­i­cantly re­duced and makes for a re­laxed drive. How­ever the eco mode, my least favourite I have to say wasn't that bad to be hon­est, the car still felt quite lively and did re­spond quite well to all driver in­puts. I guess you can't make a 6-cylin­der 3-litre tur­bopetrol feel like a lump, what­ever you do.

More op­tions here than a Chi­nese take­away joint.

But not all of them will be avail­able to us in In­dia. We get two diesels, the 300d that re­places the cur­rent 250 and a 400d that re­places the cur­rent 350d. The 300d has around 30 more horses while the 400d is a real hauler. Gut wrench­ing torque as ex­pected with lit­tle or no lag what­so­ever. As for the petrols, the 450 is so silent and silky smooth that the win­dows make more noise than the en­gine. It is a friendly sports car on stilts in the Sport+ mode, es­pe­cially with the louder ex­haust, stiffer more direct drive, and will pam­per your midlife cri­sis per­fectly. Wheels range from 19 to 21 inches with four de­sign op­tions to choose from. Wood fin­ishes and leather too will be a part of the op­tion lists to make you feel spe­cial. There are three sus­pen­sion op­tions; con­ven­tional McPher­son struts with steel springs, Air Matic and Air Matic with E-ABC. How­ever, like I have men­tioned, E-ABC is not an op­tion for In­dia right now.

So is the new GLE worth the wait? A de­fin­i­tive yes. What did I like about the new GLE? Ev­ery­thing. What didn't I like about the new GLE? Still think­ing of an an­swer. What would I like to see in the cars set out for In­dia? E-ABC that will work won­ders on our roads. Does it sur­pass the com­pe­ti­tion in its seg­ment? Yes, and maybe the higher seg­ment too for some. ⌧

Right: Cock­pit gets all of Mercs new tech in­clud­ing a Siri-like voice as­sis­tant, not to for­get huge screens for ev­ery­thing. Be­low: All GLEs get all-wheel drive with off-road driv­ing modes

Top: Third row is us­able by nor­mal sized adults. Above: Cabin qual­ity and fit­tings will re­mind you of the S-Class

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