Arrive in style in the new Mercedes-Benz GLE

What a winner!

Wynter Murdoch
  • Mercedes-Benz GLE 400d wins top SA motoring accolade

  • Attractive styling, stirring performance, innovative technology

  • Engine is first in an SUV to meet Euro 6d standards

  • Imposingly assertive, comfortably cossetting

  • Top-quality, smooth and quiet ride

  • Impressive performance on- and off-roa


A popular seller around the world with more than two-million units sold since 1997 when it debuted as the M-Class, the fourth-generation model proves enticingly attractive, capable and versatile. Imposingly assertive but comfortably cossetting, the large but lively SUV proves highly competent both on- and off-road.   


Styling-wise, the nose is dominated by dual, diamond-patterned radiator grilles that are flanked by multi-beam LED headlights and underscored by a chrome-plated splash-guard. The bonnet features two sleek power domes that stretch back towards the windscreen.


Viewed from the side, a wide C-pillar typical of all generations of GLEs helps to retain the sense of strength and stability for which the model is famous while, at ground level, large alloy wheels fill flared arches that feature prominent liners. Chrome surrounds on windows take their cues from the brand’s premium saloon variants. 


At the rear, the GLE accentuates its athleticism thanks to a powerful shoulder line that extends from the C-pillar to the rear lights. The tail is broad to emphasise width and, like the nose, is rounded off with a chrome-plated under-guard.


Despite its size, the GLE’s aerodynamics have been fine-tuned to offer the best coefficient of drag figure in the segment – 0,29. That’s significant because good airflow over and around the vehicle contributes to low fuel consumption – in this case a claimed 7,5 litres per 100km,  good for a high-riding SUV that’s powered by a six-cylinder engine and which tips the scales at 2 265kg.


In 400d guise, the GLE offers stirring performance thanks to its newly-developed, 2,9-litre, turbocharged, in-line diesel engine. With outputs of 243kW and 700Nm, the unit is refined and offers quick responses – in many ways emulative of powerful, petrol-fuelled plants. Mercedes-Benz spokesmen claim a zero to 100km/h time of 5,7 seconds for the model.


The engine is said to be the first in a SUV that meets Euro 6d standards, its clean-burning properties heightened by an exhaust system that incorporates an additional underfloor catalyst.

Transmission is through the brand’s nine-speed G-tronic automatic gearbox to all wheels, with steering wheel-mounted shift paddles allowing the driver to change gears manually if desired.


On the road, the GLE proves to be quiet and smooth, with gear changes often barely perceptible. In standard trim, suspension at the front comprises double wishbones, the upper sections of which are mounted high to benefit spring travel when driving off-road. Rear suspension is of a four-link design.


Control arms and steering knuckles – mostly crafted from aluminium – have been weight-optimised for low rolling noise. A new design for the front axle ensures separate introduction of longitudinal and lateral forces, which is said to benefit vehicle dynamics as well as comfort.


Air suspension – which includes Mercedes-Benz’s Adaptive Damping System Plus (ADS+) along with an updated version of the brand’s E-Active Body Control technology – are optional. Even without them, though, the GLE’s ride quality remains elegantly impressive; a contributing factor to comfort being a wheelbase that’s been extended by 80mm compared with the predecessor’s.


On this point, in addition to helping to smooth the ride, the longer wheelbase has created significantly more space in the cabin, especially for passengers in the rear. Legroom in the second seat row has increased by 69mm, with headroom up by 35mm. And, because the A-pillar at the front of the car is more upright than before, spaciousness and ease of access and egress for driver and front passenger have been significantly improved.


Luggage capacity measures 825 litres with the rear seats in place, with up to 2 055 litres on offer when the rear row is folded. A 72mm increase in through-loading width allows bulky items to be stowed more easily. And, for customers with large families, Mercedes-Benz offers the option of two extra seats in a third row.


As you would expect of a Car of the Year category winner, the GLE’s interior is sumptuously stylish, offering a large number of options in terms of trim type and equipment. Whichever you choose, you’ll find that an inherent air of sophistication remains in the overall feel of the cabin – plush carpeting, soft touch surfaces, detailed craftsmanship, lavishly supportive seats and two large, high-tech display screens that run about half the length of the dashboard to accommodate the MBUX multimedia system and the vehicle’s instrument cluster.


Information presented on each of the screens is of high resolution, with bright graphics and an intuitive control structure that makes the systems easy to navigate through touch, voice or steering wheel-mounted buttons. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard features, as is a navigation system. Rear seat passengers have access to two charging ports and a sizable central armrest with storage space and cup-holders.


Though the GLE lacks a low-range transfer case, it proves adept in negotiating light rough terrain, capable of dealing with a variety of challenging impediments thanks to its high ground clearance, four-wheel drive system and torque proportioning electronics. And it handles well on gravel, too.


Safety systems are top drawer, with many driver assistance systems representing latest advances in intelligent drive technology – a step up in refinement compared with the preceding model’s similar features.


In his summation of the vehicle’s performance in the Car of the Year competition, Rubin van Niekerk, Chairman of the South African Guild of Motoring Journalists – organisers of the event – said: “The judges were particularly impressed with the GLE’s interior comfort, modern luxury design, innovative technology, exceptional SUV ability and innovative safety features.”


That’s high praise, indeed from a jury consisting of almost 30 of the country’s top motoring journalists!