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