Sunrise is still an hour away as I slip the new GLE off its moorings and roll slowly into the inky black. With plenty of ‘data’ to collect and loads to discover, I’m looking forward to driving it over familiar roads.
Instrument panel can be reconfigured.
First impressions, literally straight out of the box, come as a bit of a surprise. Merc’s new GLE is clearly longer in beam, built on a longer 2,995mm wheelbase, and is wider too. I notice the extra length as I reverse out of my tight parking spot, and then when I hook a left to exit the gate, I have to give parked cars a wide berth.
Trackpad takes some getting used to.
Once on the move, the new 4,930mm-long GLE just seems to shrink around me. A lot of this has to do with how on the ball Merc’s BS6-ready OM654 diesel is, and how quick and slack-free the steering is.
No Sport, so throttle responses, steering not altered.
As I accelerate over Mumbai’s empty roads, the engine feels light, agile and responds almost instantly to a tap on the throttle. Almost petrol-like in operation at low and medium speeds, it pulls so cleanly, it’s difficult to believe it displaces only 1,950cc. Some of this effervescence is down to the fact that it comes with a 2,500bar fourth-generation common rail system, it has an aluminium block with steel pistons, twin sequential turbos (a large low-pressure turbo and a small high-pressure one), and that the engine also uses a water-to-air intercooler. Putting out a very healthy 245hp and, more importantly, 500Nm of torque, what also impacts the way the 300d drives is the 9-speed gearbox.
Quality of wood, chrome, fit and finish impressive.
As I continue my journey across Mumbai’s 5km-long Sea Link and onto some smaller roads, I marvel at the how precise and effort-free the steering is. It isn’t exactly oily-smooth like the Volvo XC90’s, or quite Audi-like either, but it clearly is more precise and almost as effort-free. It’s so good that all you need to do to move this mass of metal is roll your wrists, and the GLE goes exactly where you point it.
Knurled toggle switches and chrome buttons.
The ride, however, could have been tauter. This becomes evident as I drive over some broken patches of road on the outskirts of Mumbai, where the coil spring setup (no air suspension on this version) feels a bit floaty over lumpy tarmac. Some rough patches are dispatched effortlessly, and comfort in general is good, but sharp-edged bumps and large potholes register as ‘thwacks’ and thumps in the cabin.
Massive legroom and ample thigh support make it feel like the E-class of SUVs.
As I turn onto the road that leads to Nashik and meet up with the rest of the crew, I notice a faint glow in the sky. Now black isn’t the ideal colour when it comes to shooting a car. It’s doesn’t hold light as well as a lighter colour, and keeping the reflections down, unless you are in an open area, is very difficult. Still can’t but help marvel at how the rivulets of light run along the ridges on the bonnet.
Panoramic sunroof makes cabin look even bigger.
Further along the Nashik road, the road opens out and the traffic thins. We find a nice patch to shoot in, but we have to wait – there still isn’t enough light. Time for some strong morning coffee. The Starbucks we pass is closed, but the local Udipi joint gives me coffee so robust, it could wake a rhino. Must admit, the new GLE looks equally ‘buff’, especially in black.
Leather-lined and padded handles work well.
Outside and in
Of course the M-class’ signature raked-forward C-pillar is carried over, and rightly so; it’s the one that started the global trend, and that big Cyclops-eye, three-pointed-star is prominently featured on the grille too. The new GLE also gets muscular shoulders, huge wheel arches and a more planted stance. Like the GLC, the new GLE’s cabin is placed inset, lending more agility to the design, and the headlights with two LED bars indicate that this is the E-class. The bit I like best, however, is the bonnet; I just love those almost reptilian nostrils or bonnet ridges, and the tightly skinned nose looks stunning with the light spilling over it.
BS6 245hp diesel is refined and responsive.
With the light properly up now, we clamber back on board and take the GLE across an off-road trail. There’s plenty of grip and Merc’s SUV scampers up easily, but ground clearance isn’t too good. The air suspension with the lift function would be of great help here.
Twin LED bars in headlights help identify it as a GLE.
I have to move the car around for the camera, and I take this opportunity to get a closer look at the airy and massive cabin. While the new GLE doesn’t seem to have grown too much on the outside, that almost 3m-long wheelbase really does make the cabin feel cathedral like. And what makes it look even more expansive is the white ‘leather’ cabin and the massive panoramic sunroof. And it isn’t just the size. What also has me going ‘oohh’ is that innate sense of class that’s so evident here. Sure, there’s loads of bling, with the two massive digital screens perfectly mounted in the same plane, plenty of chrome scattered all around the cabin, and LED highlights everywhere. Still, everything has been executed so tastefully, it feels like a perfectly tailored Savile Row suit. Not in your face at all, but still so attractive. I also love the four block-like metal vents; finished in luscious chrome, they frost over beautifully when you open a window. And then there are the leather-lined grab handles that sit on either side of the centre console, and the beautifully built ‘chromed-over’ buttons. Even that band of matte wood that runs across the dash and the high-quality steering wheel look great.
No air springs on the 300d, but 450 petrol gets them.
Can’t say I much care for the faux vent on the left of the touchscreen though, and the quality levels at the bottom of the dash are strictly average. Then the door bins are so large that smaller bottles fall over, and though it looks cool, the gear stalk feels a bit too flimsy. The car we tested came with only Type-C USB slots, so we couldn’t charge our phones. Still, this clearly is one of Merc’s better configured interiors. Even the trackpad, first introduced by Lexus, the MBUX system and the touchscreen work well, and I even sort of got to grips with the thumb-controlled touch pads on the steering wheel – the left one for the main screen and the one on the right for the instrument panel.
Raked C-pillar a signature that’s carried over.
The GLE 300d also aces it when it comes to seat comfort. This lower-spec variant may not have a 37,000-way adjustable front seat, and the steering adjust is still manual, but the seat’s fundamentals are so good that fatigue, even after a whole day behind the wheel, is minimal. And I just love the fact that the front seats are around a foot thick when viewed from side on and is finished in tough ‘leather’. Rear-seat comfort, as ever, is extremely important; this is a car that will be chauffeur-driven a lot, and climbing up into the back is easy. The door opens wide, it isn’t too much of a step up, and there is loads of legroom. You are sat at a good height and thigh support is more than sufficient, but the backrest in the 300d can’t be reclined. Those who prefer a more relaxed angle can go for either the 400d or the 450 petrol. Higher-spec GLEs get a fantastic six-way-powered rear seat, a first in the segment, which can be reclined by 30 degrees, giving you E-class levels of comfort. Top variants will also get additional kit like gesture control, wireless charging and a 360-degree surround camera.
Large 630-litre boot is wide, deep and easy to access.
Into the great wide open
Shoot done for the morning, it’s time to get behind the wheel again and take off up the fabulous Nashik ghat. The surface isn’t in too good a condition after the rains, and there are occasionally some road works, but what allows me to enjoy the car is that the traffic is thin.
300d gets a powerful 1,950cc diesel.
Far from feeling out of breath on the more open roads, the 300d manages pretty well, the clever 9-speed gearbox always managing to keep the engine in the meat of the powerband. So performance is strong all the way up to and past 160kph, and what’s nice is that, despite the bulk, the new GLE’s slippery shape and low drag coefficient of 0.29 (incidentally the same as that of the W124, the car Merc first sold in India 25 years ago) allows it to cut through the air without making you feel like you are driving a brick. The engine does get a bit noisy when you pull it to the redline, and there is a hint of road noise over poorly surfaced roads, but, that apart, the 300d is refined, silent and very luxury car-like, even when you go quick. We even managed to test the GLE 300d with our Vbox, and true to form, performance didn’t disappoint. 0-100 comes up in just 8sec, almost a second and a half faster than the outgoing 250D, and that’s a lot.
GLE only gets a space-saver spare tyre.
It even manages to entertain around corners. The steering weighs up nicely on entry, there is a fair amount of grip, and as long as you keep body roll (of which there is a fair bit) in check, you can even enjoy yourself. Wish the brakes delivered a bit more confidence though. Initial bite is good when you hit the pedal, but squeeze it a bit harder and the level of retardation don’t increase; this takes some getting used to.
450 is the first-ever Mercedes straight-six petrol on sale in India.
We also briefly got behind the wheel of the range-topping 450 petrol. Merc’s first-ever straight-six petrol in India is creamy smooth and puts out 367hp, with a 22hp electric boost from a mild-hybrid system. Straightline performance, with the engine winding up the rev range, is strong; 0-100kph comes up in a claimed 5.7sec, and it feels at least as quick from behind the wheel. And since the 450 has air suspension, it feels a bit sportier to drive. There’s no Sport mode on the 450 either, so don’t expect agility to take a big jump.
Onwards and upwards
Slated to be launched in January 2020, the new GLE is an SUV that’s taken a big step forward in almost every area. It’s more silent and refined on the move, it’s more responsive and lighter to drive, the engine is stronger, the gearbox is quicker, and then on the inside, space, comfort, quality levels and kit have gone up massively. Higher- spec versions even get that amazing rear seat that can be reclined by 30 degrees. Ride on the 300d, with its steel springs, however, could have been better. The GLE will be a bit expensive, with its price expected to climb to around Rs 75 lakh. Still, if you are looking for a luxury SUV that majors on comfort and refinement, this should be it.
The new GLE: The long and short of it
Mercedes’ new GLE has grown in size over the one currently sold in India. Where the outgoing GLE has a wheelbase of 2,915mm, the new car’s longer 2,995mm wheelbase is a full 80mm longer. This is why Mercedes has given it an internal code that starts with a ‘V’ rather than the tradition ‘W’. Now known as the V167, the new GLE is also closely related to the new GLS which will now be known as the X167 for its even longer 3,135mm wheelbase. As a result, Mercedes-Benz India is quietly confident of the new GLE’s success. Its other long wheelbase car, the E-class (V213) is a runaway success after all.