Mercedes GLE takes it to the bends

Business Day - Motor News - - FRONT PAGE -

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.

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