How do you improve on something that’s already very good? It’s a question I often ask myself, as we mourn the passing of a certain model that is loved by all who drive it. Just how much more can you do to develop a car to exceed what it can already do?
Mercedes-Benz took that bull by the horns, and have given us a new GLE model, to replace the well-respected outgoing model. With two all-new engines and a styling update, can the GLE move buyers from the ‘old’ model and into the new?
We got sent a 300d model to find out.
Take your pick from two models in the GLE range; the 4-cylinder 300d (tested), or the 6-cylinder 400d. Both are diesel-turbo motors, and both are fitted with a 9-speed automatic. All-wheel drive is standard.
The 2.0-litre diesel in the 300d manages a healthy 180kW of power, and a nice 500Nm of torque. Moving up to the 400d, that means 243kw and 700Nm of torque. The manufacturer claims the 300d should give you 6.9 litres/100km of fuel, while the 400d is rated at 7.7.
Both are fitted with the latest version of Mercedes-Benz’ heads-up display (HUD), 20” alloy wheels, the MBUX infotainment system, the MULTIBEAM LED lighting package, and also the Parking Package with a 360-degree camera.
Also as standard, you can expect to get ambient lighting with 64 colours, open-pore oak wood trim, leather upholstery, 4-way electric lumbar support for the driver, an electric park brake, heated front seats, a nappa leather steering wheel, all windows are auto up/down, THERMATIC climate AC, velour floor mats, automatic high beams, an electric tailgate, keyless entry and start, Mercedes-Benz logos in the puddle lamps, auto wipers, 2×12.3” displays with touchscreen and voice control, and Mercedes me Connect.
Standard safety features include nine airbags, Active Parking Assist, and the Driving Assistance Package incorporating Active Distance Assist DISTRONIC, Active Brake Assist with cross-traffic function, Active Steering Assist, Active Lane Change Assist, Active Blind Spot Assist and PRE-SAFE® PLUS crash preparation system.
The 300d and 400d are identical, except for the engine.
Our test car was fitted with quite a few options, including a tyre pressure monitoring system ($850), the 7-Seat Package ($3,900), the AMG Sports Package ($9,900), the Luxury Seat Package ($3,700), the AIRMATIC Package ($3,400), Obsidian Black Metallic Paint ($2,100), 22” AMG 5-Twin Spoke Alloy Wheels ($2,000). Removed from our test car was a panoramic roof and also wireless phone charging, saving $3,600. The total for our test car was $150,450.
As always, there are so many options and option packages for this car, it would take pages of text to cover them all. A highlight would have to be the E-ACTIVE BODY Control package, more on this later. You get to choose from 2 sets of 20” rims as standard at no cost, then there’s a no-cost 21” rim set, and then on to 2 sets of 22” rims.
Colour-wise, you get white at no charge, but then must pay to have any other colour, most of them at $2,100 and a couple at over $3,000. There’s your normal muted range of greys and silvers that most Mercedes-Benz seem to be, but also added in the mix is a stunning blue called Brilliant Blue Metallic, and an equally stunning Emerald Green Metallic.
You can read more about the GLE300d on Mercedes-Benz New Zealand’s website.
It’s hard not to like a black Mercedes-Benz, no matter what the model. Our test GLE looked great, especially with the optional 22” alloys. These rims not only suited the car, they looked excellent. I had mixed reviews on the look of the GLE over my week with the car – mostly in favour, but a few felt it looked a bit stumpy, even though this is one large SUV.
I must admit, I’m not a fan of designs where (looking from the rear) the cabin squeezes in from the top of the doors up, and looks a lot narrower than the rest of the car. But overall I like it, and the new gen GLE is a good refresh over the previous model.
Opening the door of any new Mercedes-Benz is a treat, and the new GLE is no exception. Open pore oak wood grain on the doors, dash and centre console greet you, and is always a sign of a quality motor car.
Our car had the optional Luxury Seat Package, which didn’t look that much different to the standard ones, but still looked excellent. At last Mercedes-Benz is moving to integrate its central displays, and this has been done very nicely in the new GLE. Not quite 100% integrated, but looking a lot less like an afterthought now.
There’s some new grab handles on the centre console, quite big and chunky ones too. At first I thought these were a bit of a ‘just to be different’ thing, but I did end up using them quite a bit. They look great too, and have a band of LED strip lighting around them, which adds some bling at night time.
There’s a noticeable amount of stitching in this car; it’s everywhere. The main takeaway from this is that the stitching is perfect, everywhere. The whole cabin oozes quality materials and workmanship.
Rear legroom is extremely generous, and the boot is good at 630 litres, unless you have the third row up. Then it’s acceptable for a seven seater, but as always, that third row really hacks into your cargo space.
The 2019 GLE 300d and 400d both come with all-new diesel engines. I will admit, when I picked up the 300d I was a bit disappointed – the 243kW, 700Nm six-cylinder 400d sounds like an amazing engine. But not one to complain, I jumped into the 300d and hit the road. The new 2-litre, turbo four-cylinder diesel 300d is impressive. You can tell it’s a diesel, but at times – even around town – it has you wondering if it really is an oil-burner. Even at a cold idle on the outside of the car, it impresses all over again. This is an incredibly quiet diesel engine, and can put to shame a few petrol engines for lack of noise.
Cruising on the motorway at a steady throttle, the engine is almost imperceptible, and as smooth as you could want. It’s not quite on par with a BMW X5 30d (the base model) and its 3-litre straight six diesel, but it’s still a great engine for a four-cylinder. With 500Nm of torque, passing or climbing hills is drama free, and as usual the 9-speed 9G-TRONIC trans is faultless.
Right gear at the right time, and silky smooth changes up or down. With a 0-100 time of 7.2 seconds, this 2.0-litre diesel is no slouch. There’s no need to worry about brakes in the GLE; repeated panic stops from 100km/h sees no drama at all, just solid and straight stops every time. They are extremely progressive too, so you can modulate them perfectly.
Along with that incredibly quiet engine, on the motorway and open road, tyre noise and wind noise are kept to very low levels, bordering on silence at times. One time at the traffic lights, I put the window down to check if it was double-glazed (it’s not) – it really is that quiet inside.
My week with the 300d included a day trip from Wellington to Taupo and back, and it was the perfect car to do it in. Stress free, quiet, torquey. Couldn’t ask for more than that. On that trip, I made extensive use of the (optional) massaging seats. You get a range of choices of massage type to pick from with these seats; Hot Relax Back, Hot Relax Shoulder, Activating Massage, Classic Massage, Wave Massage, Mobilizing Massage, Active Workout Backrest, and lastly, Active Workout Cushion. We’ve had test cars before with massaging seats, but these are the first ones I’ve tried where the base of the cushion also massages your legs and, well, your butt.
These did make a difference to my long drive (and not only the massaging butt bit) and I did appreciate them. I arrived in Taupo (after leaving at 5am) feeling pretty good, and no aches at all. Sure, the quality of the seats helped here – they are supremely comfortable – but I am convinced the massaging side of things made it a better trip too.
With the Luxury Seat Package on our test car came heated and cooled front seats; and you can adjust the heat/chill for the left seat too, from the driver’s seat. I could see this being handy for some people with elderly passengers who would struggle with the controls themselves. The second row of seats are fully electric too, with the same style controls on the rear doors. These includes electric headrests as well. From the boot, you can electrically raise and lower the second row, however the third row (optional) are manually controlled. You can also raise or lower the rear suspension from the boot, for easier loading/unloading.
Along with the seats, some other GLE features made the trip that much easier. The GLE 300d has steering assist, so it was a matter of guiding it along, but letting the car do most of the steering. I don’t think the GLE’s steering assist was as accurate as that in a BMW or Audi, but it still made the drive simpler.
I mentioned just how good those 22” rims look, but I was worried about ride quality. Having 22” rims means you will have very low profile tyres, and that can mean a hard ride. It isn’t. The 300GLE rides very well, and on par with the Audi Q8 we tested with the same size rims. It’s an impressive feat, although I was a little disappointed that our test GLE wasn’t optioned with the $13,000 E-ACTIVE CONTROL suspension package.
New for the latest generation of the Mercedes-Benz GLE SUV is the option to add E-ACTIVE BODY CONTROL, which brings together several key technologies to improve the driving experience. Road-surface scan enables on-board cameras to identify imperfections in the road surface ahead and pre-adjust suspension settings, while curve-tilting function can lean the vehicle into bends, improving road-holding and passenger comfort.
We first saw this at the S Class launch, and it blew me away, going over speed bumps like they didn’t exist. Then John had this suspension on the 560 S Class Coupe and was impressed as well. It simply obliterates any sort of a bump, and has the added advantage of curve tilting, so it goes around corners just that much better. It is a $13K option – but if it was me, I’d be sacrificing other things to get that suspension, if I had to.
But that’s not to say the standard suspension is too soft, or doesn’t handle; the GLE300d does very well on any road, even the twisty ones. Taking it over the Desert Road with its 20km/h corners was too easy, even with the high stance of the car. Helping things along here are the huge 325/35 rear tyres. They not only look enormous to cars behind you, they give you a heap of grip, wet or dry. The fronts aren’t so small either, at 285/40. This means grip isn’t an issue, and you can fair chuck this hulking Merc around on a bendy road.
Naturally all GLE models have adaptive cruise control, and the GPS-tracking side of things has filtered down from the S Class to this model. This means that as you approach a corner and are using adaptive cruise control, the car will slow down to ensure a safe speed as you drive around it. Like the A Class with the same feature, it does seem to slow down a little too much for my liking, but it’s still a huge improvement overall over other adaptive cruise control systems.
The adaptive cruise will also take you down to a complete stop, and has the nice trick of starting you off again if the traffic in front moves away. I’ve been waiting for this feature to arrive for a while now, and it’s just another one of those techy things that makes driving in heavy traffic a breeze.
My return trip from Taupo was in darkness, and the adaptive LED headlights came into play. They are freaking amazing. We’ve had lots of test cars with adaptive LED headlights, and the GLE’s are right up there with the best. Okay, probably not quite as good as BMW’s laser headlights we saw in the X5 M50d, but excellent all the same. Even starting the car at night is a bit of a thrill, as the headlights do all sorts of moving left and right, up then down before they are all set. It’s a great party trick for your passengers.
When we tested the BMW X5 M50d, I was in awe of the new HUD; maps are shown across the screen in a massive 12” or so width, in full colour, with names of streets. Other HUD info is great too, and I thought it would take a long time for other manufacturers to catch up with BMW on the HUD front. How wrong I was. The GLE has an upgraded HUD too, and it’s superb. The HUD is divided into three segments, and you can customise what you want in each segment. For each segment, you can choose from a fuel economy gauge, current speed limit, current speed, a G Meter, navigation, media, and more.
At the bottom of the HUD is your current cellphone signal strength, cellphone battery level, brake auto hold off/on, your adaptive cruise speed, and the track or station you are listening to. The GLE HUD will also warn you of traffic to your left or right on the motorway, and if you get too close to an object (say in a tight car park), an image of the car will pop up on the HUD and show you exactly where you are in danger in bright orange. Admittedly, BMW’s SatNav on their latest HUD is far better, but in other respects the HUD on the GLE is better again.
On the Daily Drive, things are pretty well sorted with that excellent engine and plenty of torque. Visibility is above average, with the chunky C pillars blocking some of the rear-side view, but the extra windows in front of the D pillars help here. There’s also Lane Change Assist to help you on the motorway if you have adaptive cruise control on; simply hit the indicator for which side you want to change lane into, and the GLE will wait for a gap and then move over for you.
There were few things I could pick holes in with the GLE. Changing tracks or stations using the steering wheel control is fiddly and doesn’t work most of the time, and you have to have the iDrive system in Media before this will work anyway. You can change tracks using the touchpad, and I used this most of the time, but it was a bit hit and miss too. In saying that – and I’ve said this before – the volume thumbwheel on the steering wheel (there’s one on the centre console too) is the best I’ve ever used, meaning a single control for volume up/down and mute.
Speaking of the centre console, I’ve mentioned the new grab handles on it, which are surprisingly usable, but I found it a little weird that Mercedes-Benz choose to put the suspension height adjusting control right there behind the touchpad’s wrist rest. I really can’t see drivers wanting to change the car’s height that often that it needs to be in such a prominent place, and also it’s a good two inches wide, so it takes up a lot of centre console real estate. It wasn’t anything that would worry me, but it did seem a strange location.
One more thing that didn’t impress me was the all black interior. With the deletion of the sunroof in our test car and a black headliner, seats and door panels, the GLE is pretty dark inside. A panoramic sunroof would have made all the difference here.
That’s pretty much my list of ‘don’t likes’ for the GLE 300d; it does almost everything extremely well.
Mercedes-Benz suggests the 300d should return 6.4 litres per 100km of diesel. Even with my trip to Taupo, I didn’t get near that, ending up with a figure of 8.2L/100km in over 1000km of driving. Still, for the performance of this heavy SUV, I was happy with that number.
|Brand/Model||Engine||Power/TorquekW/Nm||Number of seats||Cargo capacity, litres||Towing capacity, unbraked/braked||Fuel L/100km||Base Price – High to Low|
|Lexus LX450D||4.5-litre, twin-turbo, V8 diesel||200/650||5||701||750/3500||9.5||$160,100|
|Porsche Cayenne||3.0-litre, V6 turbo petrol||250/450||5||770||na/3500||9.2||$138,900|
|BMW X5 30d||3.0-litre, 6-cylinder, twin-scroll turbo-diesel||195/620||5/7 opt.||645||750/2700||7.0||$135,200|
|Mercedes-Benz GLE 300d||2.0-litre, 4-cylinder diesel-turbo||180/500||5/7 opt.||630||750/3500||6.4||$128,200|
|Audi Q7 TDi||3.0-litre, 6-cylinder, turbo-diesel||160/500||7||705||750/3500||5.8||$117,400|
The Pros and Cons
|Quality interior materials|
Engine smoothness, quietness, performance
Seat comfort (optional upgrade)
Adaptive cruise operation
|Dark interior in our test model|
This was another test car I didn’t want to give back. It fitted what I do on a daily basis perfectly, and is also the perfect car for those occasional trips I take to Taupo, or Auckland.
When awarding a 5-chevron rating to any car, it has to be something special – not just something that does everything well. The GLE 300d is that; it not only drives beautifully, it feels like it’s something special every time you get behind the wheel.
The previous GLE range was excellent; the new 2019 GLE 300d is brilliant.
2019 Mercedes-Benz GLE 300d
|Vehicle Type||5 door, large all-wheel drive SUV|
|Price as Tested||$150,450|
|Engine||4-cylinder diesel turbo|
|Spare Wheel||Space saver|
|Kerb Weight, Kg||2261|
|Length x Width x Height, mm||N/A|
|Cargo Capacity, litres||630 seats up|
2055 seats down
|Fuel Economy, L/100km||Advertised Spec – combined – 6.4|
Real World Test – combined – 8.2
Low Usage: 0-6 / Medium Usage 6-12 / High Usage 12+
|Fuel tank capacity, litres||80|
|Towing CapacityKg, unbraked/braked||750/3500|
|Turning circle, metres||12.02|
Small: 6-10m / Medium 10-12m / Large 12m+
|Warranty||3 years, unlimited kilometres, scheduled servicing included|
|ANCAP Safety Ratings||5 Star|