Mercedes-Benz GLE Review
The GLE is one of the largest SUVs from Mercedes-Benz, sitting just below the GLS in terms of bulk. SIze means space, with room for up to seven passengers and a choice of very well appointed trim levels. Depending on your priorities, you can order your GLE with maximum luxury, or you can add a sporty element via the trim level and some of the hugely powerful engine choices. Alternatively, if you want to keep fuel costs and carbon emissions down, you can also have one as a plug-in hybrid. Whichever one you go for, you’ll get a tech-filled, very swanky machine that’s a worthy rival for other prestigious SUVs like the Porsche Cayenne, Land Rover Discovery and Audi Q7.
Select's rating score* - 4 / 5
At a Glance
The GLE has existed in one form or another for a long time – it was previously known as the M-Class – and this version has been on sale since 2018. You can order a GLE in two distinct flavours; the regular GLE, which we’ll be focusing on here, or the GLE Coupe, which sacrifices a bit of practicality for a more sporty look and feel, and a more rakish shape.
This more typical SUV majors on luxury and practicality, with most versions boasting seven seats, a range of trim levels that focus variously on swankiness or sportiness, and there’s a choice of petrol, diesel and plug-in hybrid power options. That’s enough to make it very competitive against some very talented rivals, including BMW’s X5, the Audi Q7, Volvo’s XC90 and the Land Rover Discovery.
With rivals like the BMW X5 marketing themselves on a sporty, engaging drive, and Land Rover’s Discovery touting its comfort and off-road ability, the Mercedes-Benz GLE sits somewhere in the middle. The overall range isn’t trying to be especially performance focused, although there’s an exception in the very powerful AMG models. Largely, it’s a comfortable cruiser, a way for driver and passengers to get where they’re going in premium serenity. Thus, the interior is beautifully fitted out in terms of materials and the latest technology to inform and entertain.
Most models have seven seats and a large boot, and all are all-wheel drive and equipped with an automatic gearbox. All available engines have at least a good chunk of power – this is a large car and needs some thrust to make progress – but there are models for those that want to be as efficient as possible, or those that want face-melting acceleration. Or something in between.
Performance & Drive
You can get two different suspension setups across the GLE range. The standard version uses conventional steel springs, while air suspension adorns more expensive models. The air set up is beautifully comfortable and keeps road noise down as well – perfect for longer journeys. Keep in mind though that larger alloy wheels can slightly downgrade the comfort factor, and if you’re looking for the ultimate wafty drive then the Audi Q7 should also be on your shopping list.
Whichever version you go for, you’ll have a car that’s a definite cruiser rather than a machine built for scalpel-like handling. It’s a big, heavy car and doesn’t have the agility of a BMW X5 or Porsche Cayenne. The steering is light, which makes it easier to drive around town, manoeuvre and park.
Those doing longer distances may want to first consider a diesel, as they give better fuel economy. The entry-level model is the 300d, which has a 2.0-litre engine with 245bhp. It’s a great all-rounder that suits the car well, as it rewards unhurried progress and keeps fuel consumption down. If you do want more punch, there is a six-cylinder engine with 268bhp, called the 350d, and a 325bhp model called the 400d. These are both buttery smooth in their delivery and give seemingly effortless acceleration, even with a fully loaded car.
Shorter journeys or those looking more at the performance side of things could be better served with a petrol model. These start relatively high in the range with the GLE 450, which puts out 362bhp. It’s a muscular, powerful engine but you have to rev it quite hard to find the maximum oomph. There’s a strong argument that for a luxurious cruiser like the GLE, a diesel engine actually suits it better.
If maximum fuel economy is your preference, then the 350de is worth a look. This is a plug-in hybrid with comparable performance to the 300d, and unusually it combines an electric motor with a diesel engine; most rivals use petrol. The upshot of this is the potential for brilliantly low fuel consumption, but it'll heavily depend on how you use it. Keep the journeys short, and keep the battery charged by plugging it in to the grid, and you can do up to 66 miles on electric power only, burning no fuel. Drain the battery though, and you’re essentially hauling around empty, heavy electrical equipment, burning fuel (and money) in the process.
If you want maximum performance, then check out the models from Mercedes’ tuning arm, AMG. These throw massive power at the engine to give acceleration (and noise) that will rival plenty of high-end sports cars. The GLE 53 has a 3.0-litre straight-six engine with 429bhp, while the top-spec GLE 63 S has a massive 603bhp from a 4.0-litre V8. They’re still big, heavy cars, so don’t expect them to defy physics through the bends, but they are set up to be much more nimble than other GLEs. The Cayenne is still a better handling large SUV, though.
Should you want to tow with your GLE, be aware that there are rivals that can haul more. The maximum you can pull with a standard car is 2,700kg, which lags behind the Land Rover Discovery and Audi Q7. However, if you fit the optional Towing Package (available on all models except the 300d), this will add a tow bar and up the towing capacity to 3,500kg.
Leasing costs for the GLE are pretty attractive when compared to other premium large SUV rivals. At the time of writing, you could pick up a GLE for considerably less than a Porsche Cayenne or BMW X5, but an Audi Q7 and Land Rover Discovery start at a lower price still.
If fuel efficiency is your priority, then head straight for the diesel plugin version, which unusually isn’t particularly more expensive than other models. An official fuel economy of 403.6mpg sounds impressive, but remember that this is based on a standardised lab test, and real-world consumption will depend on usage. Run only on battery and you’ll get far better. Rely on the diesel engine, and it’ll be worse.
Of the regular combustion-engined cars, you’ll get the best fuel economy from the 300d diesel, with an official figure of up to 40.4mpg. The 400d is the thirstiest and will drink up to 33.6mpg. The petrol cars will drink even more though – the official figure for the 450 is up to 28mpg, just 26.2mpg for the AMG 53 and a fairly measly 22.8mpg for the AMG 63 S.
Insurance won’t be terribly cheap, as this is a large and expensive car; the cheapest sits in insurance group 44 of 50, and all the AMG models are in the top group.
For those monitoring CO2 emissions and considering a GLE as a company car, the plug-in hybrid is the obvious choice for its low output and consequent low Benefit-in-Kind company car tax bracket. With official emissions from 19g/km and a big electric-only range, the 350de sits in the 7% bracket for 2021/22.
Many lease customers would say that the GLE’s interior is its party piece, and the reason why you’d want one. It’s a beautiful place in which to sit, with a stylish design realised in top quality materials that all feel suitably premium. Were it not for the similarly bulletproof Audi A7 interior, you’d say it’s the best in the field. The seating position is high and commanding, so if you want the full SUV experience rather than a low seat that tries to be more sportscar-like, then you’re in luck. The seats are as supportive as some sports cars though, which means they hug you in place nicely.
Mercedes has one of the best infotainment systems on the market, and in the GLE it’s deployed across two 12.3-inch displays that stretch the width of the cockpit. One replaces traditional analogue dials and gives you all the driving information you could want, configurable in any number of ways depending on what you want to see as you drive. The other sits in the middle of the dash and can be controlled by touch, or via a touchpad between the front seats. Top spec cars get a clever augmented reality feature on the navigation, which superimposes directions over a live video feed of the road ahead.
Annoyingly for what is a premium car, you don’t get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto on every model; only on AMG Line Executive models and up. However, all models get a surprisingly good voice assistant feature. Just say ‘Hey Mercedesi’ and you can control all manner of systems quickly and easily. It’s one of the best such systems we’ve used. All models also get a wireless charging tray for your mobile phone and bright LED headlights, as well as ambient interior lighting that you can switch between 64 different colours.
The GLE is a big car and consequently there’s lots of space inside. In most versions you’ll get three rows of seats to accommodate seven, although the rearmost seats are sacrificed in the plug-in hybrid because of the need to house the battery. If you do get a seven-seat version, keep in mind that the third row is best reserved for kids, but adults in the front two rows will have bags of head and leg room, even if your car has a panoramic sunroof fitted.
The boot has plenty of room too, more than BMW’s X5 if you fold the third row of seats flat. However, if you’re after maximum luggage space then you’ll get more in a Land Rover Discovery and an Audi Q7. Once again, you’ll lose boot space in the plug-in hybrid model of GLE, but it’s still a good size. And of course, with the third row of seats in place you’ll have considerably less room. Around the cabin you’ll get big door pockets, heated or cooled cup holders and a massive space under the front centre armrest.
The GLE was tested by independent safety organisation Euro NCAP in 2019 and scored the maximum five-star rating. All the basic modern safety kit is included as standard, including automatic emergency braking, a system to keep an eye on your blind spot and tech to stop you veering out of your lane. Other systems are optional, including a more advanced blind spot system that will physically stop you swerving into another car, and some semi-autonomous features that will take control of steering, braking and acceleration on the motorway. You still have to hold the wheel though.
Isofix child seat mounting points are included on the outer second row seats, but not on the third row, which is a shame. All models have front, side, curtain and driver’s knee airbags.
All the GLE models are based around the AMG Line trim level. This can be a bit confusing, and shouldn’t be mixed up with the actual AMG performance cars; AMG Line just means the cars have a sporty look inspired by the more potent models.
On the regular cars, standard AMG Line trim comes with 20-inch alloy wheels, tinted rear windows and LED headlights, as well as automatic parking and a reversing camera, oak wood trim inside and black leather upholstery on the seats. Upgrade to AMG Line Executive and the wheels grow to 21 inches in diameter, and you’ll get the smartphone connectivity from Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
AMG Line Premium cars come with 21 or 22-inch wheels depending on the engine choice, and bright Multibeam LED headlights that let you keep high beam on even when there are oncoming cars. It tracks other vehicles and adjusts individual LEDs to keep them in shadow. Very nifty and very useful on dark roads.
Meanwhile, AMG Line Premium Plus adds a panoramic sound system, keyless entry and engine start, all the self-driving technology by way of the Driving Assistance package, and a Burmester sound system. The AMG performance cars come in Premium and Premium Plus trims.
Options include a range of packages, including the aforementioned Driving Assistance pack, the Off-road package that includes some underbody protection from rough terrain. You can also choose from a wide array of paint colours, alloy wheel designs and upholstery finishes.
There are several large luxury SUVs vying for your attention and all have plenty to recommend about them. If you’re looking for something especially sporty, then the Porsche Cayenne is the benchmark, with outstanding handling characteristics and plenty of big power options. The BMW X5 is no slouch either.
For off-roading, the Land Rover Discovery is tough to beat, while for comfort, space and interior quality, the Audi Q7 will give anything a run for its money. However, the diesel plug-in hybrid GLE has a powertrain that none of the rivals can offer, so if fuel-saving is your game then it’s a clear winner.
The Mercedes GLE is a classic all-rounder. It’s not the best to drive, and it’s perhaps not the most comfortable, but it is very good or excellent and pretty much everything. It’s also one of the large premium SUVs that best gives a feeling of genuine luxury, with smooth looks and a great interior. Depending on the spec you go for it can play the relaxed cruiser or the powerful monster, and if you go for the plug-in hybrid you can keep fuel and/or company car tax bills to a bare minimum. This is a well-contested part of the market, but don’t get anything else until you’ve given the GLE some serious consideration.
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*Score based on Select’s unique meta score analysis, taking into account the UK’s top five leading independent car website reviews of the Mercedes-Benz GLE
**Correct as of 25/03/2021. Based on 9 months initial payment, 5,000 miles over a 48 month lease. Initial payment equivalent to 9 monthly payments or £5384.09 Ts and Cs apply. Credit is subject to status.