Auto focus

Merc’s new GLE is packed to the gills with tech and luxury

S Muralidhar | Updated on December 20, 2018 Published on December 20, 2018

The rear of the new GLE

New look In a break from the past, the aircon vents are rectangular

Its best selling SUV’s fourth-gen will feature new tech offering assistance to keep your hands off the screen and the wheel. It will be bigger and plusher too

Seemingly at the two extremes of the car industry, it is ironic that today there is so much action in the world of electrics and yet simultaneously the preference for sports utility vehicles continues to rise across categories. Thankfully, most of today’s SUVs are not like the gas-guzzlers of the past, even though every new generation is bigger than the predecessor. The US continues to be the dominant market for SUVs, where ‘bigger is better’ is still the motto.

Supersize me!

Not surprising then, that Mercedes-Benz organised a test drive of its fourth generation GLE in San Antonio, Texas; an American state where everything is big, from the steaks, to the ranches to their SUVs. Before the GLS arrived, the GLE was the largest SUV in Merc’s portfolio. Of course, till three years ago and well into its third generation, it was still called the M-Class. Merc’s uniform alphabetic nomenclature for its cars and SUVs changed it to GLE. The new fourth-gen GLE will only make it to showrooms next year for the 2020 model year, but the international media test drive a couple of weeks ago was meant to get the message out about how much more is being offered with the new model.

The 2020 GLE has grown in proportions — it is wider and longer, but shorter than its predecessor. But, it is a credit to how intelligent design can mess with your mind and make you wonder if it is actually smaller than or similar in proportion to the predecessor. But the one design element that has been carried forward from the previous generation M-Class and GLE is the D-pillar — as Mercedes engineers call the C-pillar that has moved in from the tailgate edge.

The new GLE’s design gives it a squatter and wider stance. Merc designers haven’t wandered away too much from its historical design language, but have still managed to give it fresh perspective. The sharper creases on the bonnet, the larger grille and logo (with variations depending on trim line) and the more flared wheel arches offer up a new front profile. The headlamps also feature the new inverted ‘L’ signature with its LED DRLs. Large air dams in the front fender are meant to deliver the image of power and will feature larger cooling vents for the AMG variant due out later next year. The new GLE will also get one of the largest selection of rims ranging from 18-inch to 22-inchers. The rear design features the classic wrap-around rear glass. The tail-lamps have become sleeker almond-shaped split units that crest the waistline at the rear. The diffuser at the rear features twin chrome tailpipes. The new GLE is more aerodynamic (Cd 0.29) than its predecessor (Cd 0.32), thanks to an optimised engine compartment design, the addition of underbody panelling and more aero work at the rear, which contribute to reduced turbulence and wind resistance. They have also helped reduce the in-cabin noise levels giving the new GLE one of the quietest cabins.

Cabin

One of the first features that struck me when I stepped into the GLE was how much more luxurious this one feels compared to the predecessor. The materials used are better, though the controls buttons and knobs are all the familiar Merc ones in shape and position. The aircon vents are rectangular ones in a break away from the past. Like the BMW X5, the GLE too will now be offered with the option of a third row of seats; though the India-spec could still be a five-seater. The new GLE cabin benefits from the 8-cm longer wheelbase, and the legroom, especially at the second row, sees a big jump (up nearly 7 cm). The headroom is also more in the new gen GLE, even more in the trim variants that sport the larger panoramic sunroof. Boot space is also up now and varies between 825 litres to 2,055 litres.

Not just focussed on practicality, Merc engineers have stuffed the new GLE with serious levels of equipment, some even better than in the brand’s flagship sedan. First, like in the S-Class, the GLE also gets the large twin screens integrated into one long display on the dashboard. It also gets the latest iteration of the MBUX asssistant. With an additional 40 new functions and even more voice and gesture recognition features, the new assistant offers a wider range of intuitive, automated controls. The design of the centre console and the dashboard, and the quality of materials used really elevates the premium feel of the GLE’s cabin.

Discreet, ambient LED lighting and other optional trim additions make this one of the most luxurious SUVs in this segment.

Performance

But it is not all high-tech only in the cabin, the new GLE’s underpinnings and ride-handling related equipment gets a big boost in performance. Take the E-Active Body Control (E-ABC) for example — a hydro-pneumatic active suspension that operates on a 48-volt electric system, which has been combined with Merc’s Airmatic air suspension. The system takes individual spring and damping force control at each wheel to a whole new level. Stuck in sand, with wheel slippage? Activate the free-driving mode and the new GLE can literally bounce its way out like it was dancing to a rap song. The system also throws up other possibilities like adjusting the ride height at each wheel via the touchscreen to lets say get out of a sticky off-reading situation. In curve mode, the E-ABC also actively helps counter body roll, pitch and squat.

Also new to the fourth gen GLE is a fully variable all-wheel drive version of 4Matic (for GLE models with six-cylinder engines and above). This torque on demand system is enabled by an electronically controlled multiple-disc clutch.

An optional off-road package includes an AWD with off-road ratio and auto locking varying from 0-100 per cent. But all four-cylinder models have a transfer case which directs drive torque to the axles in a fixed 50:50 ratio.

As for the powertrains, the top of the line unit on offer was the 450 4Matic GLE, which features a three-litre, in-line six-cylinder petrol engine that produces about 367 hp of power and 500 Nm of torque. This is paired with a nine-speed automatic and also features a mild-hybrid system that delivers an extra 22 hp and 350 Nm of torque. The two diesels on offer included the 400d — a three-litre, six-cylinder unit that generates 330 hp of power and a sumptuous 700 Nm of torque. The other diesel that I could sample was the 300 d with its two-litre, in-line four-cylinder oil burner and nine-speed tranny; it churns out 245 hp of power and 500 Nm of torque. This engine is also offered in the India-spec C-Class, though in a different state of tune.

Bottom Line

All the powertrains are very refined, especially the diesels, compared to the more raucous oil burners of the past from the three-pointed star. The new powertrains are also eager performers, pulling effortlessly and delivering pretty impressive response times. Simultaneously, the 400d is also said to be capable of meeting the extremely stringent Euro 6d standard that is due to kick in by 2020.

The new GLE is packed to the hilt with new tech and as a package delivers much more than the predecessor. The E-ABC is a great addition, and then there are a lot of other autonomous driving aids, including an unlimited hands-off the wheel mode if the speeds are below 60 kmph and a start and go from complete halt for up to one minute. A whole bunch of cameras and radars work together for these and other safety functions that are on offer.

 

 

It still has a few bugs like in the MBUX voice assist and with some of its E-ABC functions, but the bottom line is that this new GLE brings in tech of the kind that the segment hasn’t seen yet. That will make a big difference.

Published on December 20, 2018
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor