Mercedes GLE takes it to the bends
While the rewards are great, pioneering a new genre is fraught with risk. One could get philosophical about the trials and triumphs associated with being the first to explore uncharted terrain.
Mercedes-Benz, credited as the inventor of the automobile as we know it, knows a thing or two about scooping its rivals. And the company has benefited from foresight in exploiting market segments before they burgeon. Case in point? The realm of the upper-medium sport utility vehicle (SUV).
Allow us to frame and place that niche before reporting on the latest GLE-Class (W167), launched globally in San Antonio, Texas, last week.
The GLA-Class could be described as compact. The GLCClass is decidedly medium sized. And the GLS-Class sits at the top of the hierarchy as the largest SUV to sport the threepointed star.
Ignore the anomalous Geländewagen for a second that capable and covetable boxon-wheels occupies a special, albeit vaguely defined, spot in the brand organogram.
Though, if you want to get technical, you could assert the 1979 off-roader was the first SUV from Mercedes-Benz.
But it was the M-Class of 1997 that truly popularised the category. It was redubbed GLEClass in 2016 as part of a revised naming convention across the Mercedes-Benz line-up. The landscape was much simpler 21 years ago when the genesis to the GLE-Class saw daylight.
Chief rivals Audi and BMW had yet to make their contributions. The Q7 would only arrive a decade later, while the X5 sauntered into proceedings a year before the new millennium ticked over.
The fourth-generation Benz SUV hopes to reassert its status as the instigator of a segment that is now de rigueur in the premium sphere.
Regarding aesthetic qualities, as a sales mainstay of Merc’s SUV range, there was little doubt the evolution from previous to current would be a conservative one. Save for the rear, which seems to mimic elements from certain eastern brands, the latest GLE-Class offers strong nods to the cues of its forebears.
Mercedes-Benz appears to be struggling lately with peculiar, derivative rears.
Inside is where the starkest revelations between old and new are seen. The bulky and button-intensive fascia of the W166 was beginning to look its age compared with the cleaner, digital-focused set-ups of some alternatives. In the new W167, bountiful technology and ease of use converge to a point where consumers a tad less inclined to future-forward innovations may feel at home.
Following the A-Class, this is the second offering to use the MBUX interface. Most notable is its comprising of an artificially intelligent on-board character à la Siri or Alexa. Among the arsenal of talents is a catalogue of scathing ripostes. Like when we asked her what she thought of the rival products. “The same thing as you, otherwise you would not be sitting here,” she said almost curtly.
An interior assistant function enables driver and passenger to control certain features with the motion of a hand. This is nothing new, though the dexterity of its responses is proof of progress.
One can program selected commands. Point your hands at the screen in a manner not unlike the Vulcan salute and it will call up the navigation screen with your home destination already set. If the passenger tries the same, the in-seat massage facility does its thing.
How the concept of luxury has changed.
The first-generation W163
External changes to the new Mercedes GLE are fairly evolutionary.
E-active body control ‘bounces’ the vehicle up and out of the mire if you find yourself stuck. Left: The cabin follows Merc’s hi-tech theme.