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Mercedes-Benz GLE 350d First Drive Review

What is it?

The new Mercedes-Benz GLE. The name might suggest it is a new vehicle, but in reality it is a mid-life update of the ML-Class with the badging as per the company’s new nomenclature. In terms of platform, architecture and product positioning nothing has changed; although it is more than just a name change with the new face and new nine-speed gearbox.

It looks different from the outgoing ML and just like all the new Mercs with the family face. While I am not a big fan of this design philosophy, it works for the GLE as the ML wasn’t such a nice looking car. Almost all the elements are typical to the Mercedes range, like the boomerang-shaped LED DRLs, bold creases on the bonnet, horizontal chrome grille with extra-large Mercedes logo and the thick waist and shoulder lines.

Even the rear section blends in better with the rest of the design, now that the glass behind the C-pillar is segregated from the windshield. The tail lamps get LED light guides, but the rest of it is untouched, including the tail pipes that are part of the rear bumper. Though the overall proportions are similar, the GLE with a new design looks stout and shorter than the ML. 

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How is it on the inside?

Compared to the ML, nothing much has changed inside either, just that the integrated small screen for the music system has been replaced by the tablet-like LCD screen. The COMAND system has been updated and gets the touch pad, apart from the standard interface. The top-spec GLE gets surround camera, navigation, wooden inserts for the dashboard, three shades of ambient lights, six airbags and rest of the electronic safety net.

The cabin is spacious, both the front and the rear occupants have plenty of headroom and knee room, plus the 690-litre boot can gobble up plenty of luggage. The cabin looks dated, it doesn’t get the new layout that we have seen in the S-Class, C-Class and the other new models, nevertheless it still looks like a nice place.

How does it drive?

Mercedes has ditched the seven-speed 7G-Tronic transmission for the new nine-speed 9G-Tronic transmission, in the GLE. This is the only model in the Mercedes India range to use the new transmission. It however uses the same set of engines – the 2.2-litre four-cylinder diesel putting out 204bhp and 500Nm and the bigger 3.0-litre V6 delivering 258bhp and 600Nm. 

We drove the GLE350d with the V6 engine for the first drive. There is clutter in the cabin, muted to a large extent, but still on the higher side for a premium car. The expectations from this segment are pretty high and the GLE on most parts does stand good. The gearbox is decently quick, shifting around 1,600rpm for maximum economy in comfort mode. Of course, the shift points alter with throttle input and a hard foot on the accelerator will take the car to its red line of 4,300rpm. The gear shifts become quicker in the Sport mode, with pedal shifter for more control. The nine ratios on the other hand have taken the stress off the engine. The GLE does 100kmph at around 1,300rpm and even at best of cruising speeds, remains under 2,000rpm. 

Along with the gearbox, the car now gets driving modes that alter engine performance, steering and suspension response, two of which are for snow / slippery conditions and off-road driving. The Comfort mode as expected keeps the ride comfortable, steering light and easy and performance slightly docile. The Sports mode on the other hand offers best of performance, taking the car from standstill to 100kmph in 8 seconds. The off-road setting first increases the ride height to tackle the obstacles, plus slows down throttle response. There is an individual mode as well that allows you to manually adjust engine, steering and suspension settings.

The ride even in the comfort mode is firm, though the GLE manages low speed bumps extremely well.  There is body roll; slightly less in the Sports mode, but still there is no way of getting around physics in an SUV that weighs close to 2.2 tonnes. There is understeer, and one can feel the weight going around the bends. The most noticeable difference in the Sport mode is the steering, it becomes so heavy that it tires you out soon and it isn’t absolutely precise. 

For efficiency conscious folks, the car certainly delivers with the extra ratios. Plus it has the grunt to comfortably cruise on the highways with the V6 diesel engine. As for the overall performance, the GLE will do everything that is expected from a premium SUV, both in the city and on the highway, also it can be a decent off-roader with the ground clearance and the electronics. However, the performance of the GLE doesn’t surprise you in any manner, something that people expect in this segment.

Why should I buy one?

The GLE is a perfect premium family SUV. Large, good looking, intimidating on roads and comfortable, with enough space both in the cabin and in the boot. At Rs 69.90 lakh, it is about Rs 2 lakh more than the ML, plus since it is not a CBU a lot of features cost extra money. 

There is also the GLE 250d, which has a smaller engine but also costs almost Rs 11 lakh less than the 350d.


Where does it fit it?

The GLE 350d costs as much as the five-seater version of the X5, which is a slightly larger car. Then there are also the Volvo XC90 and the Audi Q7 with seven seats, the Volvo base version actually costs less, while the Q7 is just Rs 3 lakh more. The GLE definitely has a charm of its own, but do look at the options before taking the final call.

Pictures: Kapil Angane

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