It looks the part and is fitted with a torque-rich six-cylinder turbodiesel. Could this be a winning recipe for the Mercedes-Benz GLE?
Mercedes-Benz’s imposing new GLE has an unquestionable presence. We first noted it when we tested the GLE in entry-level 300d guise early in 2020. From its sheer size to those wide-set body-coloured wheelarch extensions, it all contributes to a vehicle which turns many heads, even when painted as this GLE400d test car is in demure white. Fitted here with optional 21-inch multi-spoke wheels (R24 800) filling those bulbous wheelarches, together with the AMG Line exterior package (R48 000), in this spec the GLE demands your attention.
So, it looks expensive, but in our previous road test we remarked on some issues with the ride quality and cabin fixtures, and mentioned the GLE300d isn’t the model to opt for should you require impervious performance to match the upmarket design. How will the GLE400d fare in comparison? Let’s start with the ride. This test unit is equipped with the standard passively damped suspension setup on steel springs, eschewing the Airmatic option (R29 000) of the trick E-Active Body Control setup which scans the road ahead to prime the suspension and costs an astronomical R114 000. Based on overseas reports, the latter option transforms the GLE driving experience but we can’t imagine paying that amount of money for a suspension tweak. Instead, on the passive system, the GLE offers an absorbent ride on smooth tar. The driver is never in any doubt they’re piloting a heavy, luxurious SUV as it floats, bobs and heaves going through corners or when braking or accelerating. This is quite the opposite approach of most modern SUVs which have a much firmer suspension setup.
However, if that was its dynamic mien, that would have been acceptable; family SUVs are supposed to ride softly, yes? Unfortunately, the GLE couples this old-school approach with quite a lot of crashing across scarred tar. Blame must partly go to the optional low-profile tyres – we’d hesitate to suggest speccing wheels larger than the standard 19-inch items – but we have our suspicions that the suspension systems is simply not set up well for our varied road surfaces. Road tests by publications in the UK have expressed similar frus-trations when driving GLEs across their patched road network and there’s no doubt an X5 and Range Rover Sport find a far happier medium between ride comfort and dynamic ability.
Thankfully, the new 3,0-litre inline-six turbodiesel engine is a sublime counterpoint. It’s brawny, smooth, sounds good and turns below 1 700 r/min in top gear at the national limit. It really is as good as turbodiesels get and finds a willing partner in the silky nine-speed torque-converter automatic transmission.
We’ve commented previously on the GLE’s excellent use of space – this truly is a cabin fit for a large family, especially when the small third row of seats is added to the order form (R16 000) – and variety of storage compartments that are generously sized. The seats are fantastically comfortable, too. We’re also big fans of the infotainment system and instrumentation connected via two screens behind a transparent panel. The system is simple to use via touch, speech or the trackpad on the transmission tunnel.
However, this is our second GLE that has had some quality issues. With only around 10 000 km on the clock, this test unit exhibited a number of squeaks and rattles throughout the cabin, exacerbated by the crashy suspension. Some trim elements surrounding the steering column fit poorly, too.
Lastly – as this has become a perennial criticism of locally offered Benzes – but standard spec simply isn’t as generous as you’d expect given the price, or when compared with rivals. It’s extra-ordinary that Benz charges R3 800 for a luggage-compartment cover.
The GLE (and the M-Class before it) has never quite matched up to its best rivals in the luxury-SUV class and the gap between the Benz and the BMW X5 and Range Rover Sport feels even bigger in this latest iteration. Certainly, this is the engine to have in the range and there’s much to say about the spacious cabin and general running refinement at a cruise. However, we simply cannot overlook the flawed ride quality and build-integrity issues on this test vehicle, especially in light of the GLE400d’s price tag compared with its more accomplished and better-equipped rivals. It just managed to score 3,5 stars, which isn’t something to be proud of.
ROAD TEST SCORE
See Full Mercedes-Benz GLE price and specs here