In this updated form, the second generation Mercedes GLE is now a stronger contender in the large part of the luxury SUV segment thanks to smarter looks and more efficient engines. Infotainment and off-road tech has been improved and, as before, key attrributes include cabin space, a huge boot and the option of sophisticated air suspension. Rivals like BMW's X5 and Porsche's Cayenne must continue to take this car very seriously indeed.
Think of all the reasons not to like a large, luxury SUV. Thirst. Poor performance. Huge tax liabilities. Wobbly handling. Yet upper-middle class motorists still love them, patiently sure that one day, the brands involved would bring us something better. Something perhaps, like this - the second generation Mercedes GLE, first launched in 2019, then lightly updated four years on to create the car we're going to look at here. This contender sits at the heart of the large section of the luxury SUV segment, just above the brand's more compact Audi Q5 or BMW X3-sized GLC model. And just below the Range Rover-sized Mercedes GLS. As you might be aware, cars in this GLE's class tend to fall into two categories in their approach to likely buyers. Seven-seat practicality is favoured by SUVs like Land Rover's Discovery, Audi's Q7 and Volvo's XC90 - which is one way to go. As an alternative, contenders like BMW's X5, Porsche's Cayenne and Volkswagen's Touareg give you only five seats but offer more dynamic looks and agile handling. Visually, this Mercedes seems naturally to slot into the X5/Cayenne/Touareg category, but it actually comes with seven seats and hopes to appeal to both areas of this segment. There's also separately-styled GLE Coupe model.
All GLE variants feature 4MATIC 4WD and as part of this update, all the conventionally-engined models use the brand's latest 48V mild hybrid tech. This 'EQ Boost' set-up uses a 48-volt onboard network with a belt-driven starter/alternator and the system adds 22hp to the car's overall output. The conventional powerplant range starts with the base four cylinder 2.0-litre GLE 300 d diesel, which offers 227hp. Which sits below the straight-six-engined GLE 450 d, putting out 362hp. There's also a straight-six petrol model, the GLE 450, which offers 375bhp. There's also a Plug-in Hybrid petrol model, the GLE 400 e, which uses a 2.0-litre four cylinder petrol engine with a 31.2kWh battery pack and claims up to 68 miles of e-range. Petrol-engined Mercedes-AMG performance GLE variants are still offered too: there's the straight-six-engined GLE 53, which offers 429hp and gets to 62mph in just 5.0s. Or if you're totally out of tune with the current zeitgeist, you could stretch to the thumping GLE 63, which has a 603hp V8 and demolishes 62mph in just 3.9s. As before, in all variants, power is transmitted via 9G-TRONIC automatic transmission. Ride comfort and agility are promised by the optional 48V E-ACTIVE BODY CONTROL suspension, which is combined with the optional AIRMATIC air suspension. This is the only system in the market where the spring and damping forces can be individually controlled at each wheel. This means that it not only counteracts body roll, but also pitching and squat. On conventional models, an optional 'Off-Road Engineering' package adds under-body protection, air suspension and 30mm of extra ground clearance. If air suspension and the 'E-Active Body Control' system have been fitted, Mercedes says the GLE can tow up to 3.5-tonnes. And the car can be had with a clever 'Trailer Manoevring assist' system and also a 'trailer route planner' in the nav system to help drivers avoid pinch points for long or tall vehicles.
As before, there's a choice of two body shapes, the standard SUV version and the sleeker-looking GLE Coupe. In both cases, the visual changes with this update are much as you'd expect from a facelift. So the front grille gets extra chrome, the front bumper's re-shaped, the running light signature's been changed on the LED headlamps and the rear LED tail lamps have been restyled too. The GLE Coupe now gets the standard the 'AMG Line' exterior that most previous customers wanted, with its diamond-patterned front grille, deeper bumper and extended wheel arches. Otherwise, things are much as before, which means there's an upright grille and a purposefully-sculpted bonnet with two power domes. This GLE also cuts an athletic figure from the rear, something particularly emphasised by the powerful shoulder muscle line extending from the C-pillar to the rear lights. Inside, the model update changes are equally subtle. If you owned the pre-facelift model, you'll notice the redesigned steering wheel, which has touch controls that allow access to central screen functions. Mercedes has also added extra chrome to the air vents and made available various fresh colour and trim combinations. Otherwise, the cabin's broadly untouched, with twin 12.3-inch TFT screens, one in the instrument binnacle and one in the centre of the dash that works with the 'MBUX' voice-activated multimedia system. There's plenty of space in the second row - plus if you avoid the PHEV version, you get a standard third seating row too. When you're not using it, there's 825-litres of luggage space in conventionally-engined models - or up to 2,055-litres if you can fold down all the seats. The PHEV version compromises again here - down to 490 and 1,915-litres. In conjunction with AIRMATIC air suspension, the vehicle's rear can be lowered by around 40 millimetres using a switch, for easier loading and unloading.
For the GLE SUV, pricing kicks off from around £78,000 with base 'AMG Line' trim; add around £5,000 more for plusher 'AMG Line Premium'-spec. Top 'AMG Line Premium Plus'-spec starts from around £88,000. The GLE Coupe only comes in 'AMG Line Premium Plus'-spec and starts from around £92,500, meaning that this sleeker body shape will set you back over £4,000 more than the equivalent SUV version. As you'd hope given this kind of spend, equipment levels are generous. Even base 'AMG Line' trim gets you 'KEYLESS GO' keyless entry, MULTIBEAM LED Headlamps with Adaptive Highbeam Assist Plus, an AMG Bodystyling kit and a 'Parking Package' with 360 camera. there's also AIRMATIC Air suspension with Adapative Damping, 20-inch AMG 5-twin-spoke light alloy wheels and 'Aluminium-look' illuminated running boards with rubber studs. Inside, even with 'AMG Line' trim, you can expect to find the brand's pair of 'Widescreen cockpit' screens for infotainment and instrument dials, the centre display featuring MBUX Navigation with Augmented Reality, plus you get a 'Live Traffic' system and a premium Burmester Surround Sound audio set-up. There's also 'THERMATIC' Climate Control, along with ambient lighting, electric front seats with memory setting, electrically adjustable rear seats, a wireless Charging mat, a Dashcam and a third boot-mounted seating row. For off road driving, there's also a 'transparent bonnet' function that allows you to see the rocky terrain more clearly on the centre display by showing a virtual view of the trail ahead. 'AMG Line Premium'-spec adds larger 21-inch wheels, a panoramic sunroof, climatised front seats, the 'Air Balance' package that adds scents to the interior, temperature-controlled cup holders and the brand's 'Energizing Package', which gives you selectable sounds and colour themes in the cabin. 'AMG Line Premium Plus'-spec adds 22-inch wheels, soft-close doors, Multicontour front seats that react to corners, surround lighting and extra camera safety features.
Mercedes quotes a figure of up to 34.6mpg (combined cycle) with emissions of 179g/km for the GLE 300 d diesel, with the GLE 450 d six cylinder diesel variant managing up to 30.9mpg and up to 199g/km. The GLE 450 petrol variant manages up to 24.7 mpg on the combined cycle and emits up to 216g/km of CO2. The alternative 400 e plug-in diesel variant offers a 68 mile WLTP-rated all-electric driving range. What else? Well, we'll tell you that the comprehensive three year warranty is built upon by Mercedes' Mobilo scheme which delivers breakdown cover for up to thirty years, as long as you continue to have your car serviced at a Mercedes main dealer. And it's worth knowing that your maintenance outlay can be kept a little in check by going for the optional Service Care package that takes care of routine maintenance, spreading the cost of regular servicing, guaranteeing the price of parts and labour for up to four services and covering the cost of all recommended service items such as brake fluid, spark plugs, air filters, fuel filters and screen wash. There's also an ASSYST dashboard service indicator that monitors engine use and tells you exactly when a garage visit is due. It's also worth mentioning that the 'Mercedes me' remote online services package that comes as part of the infotainment system includes remote self-diagnostic capability, enabling your GLE to monitor wear and tear items and alert your local dealer to let you know if something needs seeing to.
So, how to sum up this GLE? First, here's what it won't do: stride across the Gobi desert quite like any Land Rover product. Or power round Brands Hatch quite like a more sporting BMW X5. But for us, that's not a problem: this car, after all, intentionally sets out to offer more of a middle ground between these two extremes and it's a place in which the improved version of this second generation GLE seems far more comfortable than its predecessors. It's true that there are sportier, more dynamic models of this kind you could buy. But we're struggling to think of many that offer a better all-round package. Quick, capable, practical and luxurious, this is at last the car Mercedes always should have had in this segment.