More than most of its breed, which is to say the full-on full-sized full-fat Sports Utility Vehicle, the Mercedes-Benz GLE proves an important point. Without the invention of the reversing camera and without a powerful modern turbo-diesel these cars wouldn’t exist. The invention of the reversing camera, innocuous useful little device as it is, is probably responsible for foreshortening the existence of human life on earth by a decade or two, simply by making these polluting three-tonne behemoths actually possible to live with. Without the camera they would not be manoeuvrable. Now, such is its technological accomplishment, this SUV will even, in most circumstances, obediently park itself.
Just to amplify the point… The Mercedes, more than most, sits high on the road – well over 6ft – and the bonnet line is so long and prow-like that actually seeing what is happening to people on the ground is a bit difficult. And that’s looking through windscreen. Heaven knows what’s going on way back at the rear, 16 feet away. Hence the bleeping parking aids and the cameras. Otherwise the risk to that lovely lustrous bodywork and, more to the point, the extremely high cost of repairing it, would be prohibitive.
As for the diesel engine, that’s essential to the keep the fuel bills under control, as well as providing the extra flexible power that you’d need in the unlikely event it was ever taken off-road and the sophisticated four-wheel-drive system made to do some proper work. That is the only way to make the GLE remotely economical to run. You can, instead, fit a big petrol engine to it (the options of a traditional straight-six with mild-hybrid boost, or a mighty V8 are available) but you might not be able to afford to run it.
All that said, it is a fine piece of engineering. It’s the second-generation GLE, but it follows in a direct line for the original ML-Class SUV of 1997, which was not a fine piece of engineering, and this latest GLE is also built on the same assembly lines at the Mercedes-Benz facility in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
This reminds me irresistibly of some old Groucho Marx lines from Animal Crackers (1930): “One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas, I don’t know. Then we tried to remove the tusks. The tusks. That’s not so easy to say. Tusks. You try it some time. As I say, we tried to remove the tusks. But they were embedded so firmly we couldn’t budge them. Of course, in Alabama the Tuscaloosa, but that is entirely ir-elephant to what I was talking about”.
Ir-elephant to this review too, I suppose, but I hope you enjoyed the interlude as much as I did. You’re welcome.
Anyway, like I say, a formidable bit of kit, the GLE. My press car was equipped with a four-cylinder two-litre diesel motor that provided adequate (though not exhilarating) performance, but the six-cylinder diesels provide a bit of an edge in refinement. Any GLE will furnish all the heft required for any motorway trek or serious offroading it might be asked to undertake, the engines well-matched to a nine-speed automatic gearbox and a full suite of stability controls and driver aids. The clever air suspension is height-adjustable (a nice party trick) and will lean into bends, as well as providing a highly-cushioned ride for the (up to) seven occupants.
It is the interior, though, which really does impress. Splatted across almost the whole expanse of the dash are two adjoining 12-inch touch screens, one for the sat nav, infotainment, climate control; and the other for the speedometer, rev counter or whatever other bespoke layout you’d care to specify. There’s a head’s up display too, where the essentials are sort of projected onto the windscreen. All the controls are also accessible via a little mini mouse-mat-like pad in the centre console, and the more vital stuff, such as volume and cruise control form the steering wheel. The automatic gear lever is a simple slim stalk, and electric seat adjustments can be made via the usual panel in the doors. It is a pleasure to be there, which is not something you might have said confidently about a Mercedes a few years ago. The marque has caught up with Audi on cabin ambience, appears the equal of Lexus on technology, but is still just that little bit less “contemporary”, or distinctive, shall we say, than the Land Rover Discovery, Jaguar F-Pace (also cheaper) or Volvo XC90.
At around £60,000 this entry-level GLE is an excellent introduction to the range, and no-one who buys it will be disappointed, especially if they have an unusually large family and they really do need to take the whole tribe into the most inhospitable of terrains. Then again one of the old primitive ML-Class models will do much the same, and they can be picked up for a grand or two. A surprising number seem to have low-ish mileages and, you’d suspect, have really been in the mud. You could then have plenty of change to find yourself a nice Mercedes-Benz E-Class estate, which would be an easier, nicer drive, and you could actually see where you were going. Just a thought.
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