We sample the latest generation of a vehicle that originally set the bar.
The likes of Jeep and Land Rover may object, but it was this new vehicle’s ancestor – the original ML Series launched in 1998 – that really set the template for the luxury SUV segment as we now know it.
Today, it’s hard to think of a premium automotive brand that not only has several such model ranges, but they are the top–selling products in their respective line-ups.
You’re looking at the fourth and latest generation of that original ML Series – now, of course, among Merc’s new nomenclature, re-christened the GLE series – and with it comes some rather significant steps forward.
For one thing the new Mercedes-Benz GLE looks a lot sleeker, and all together buffer. Like it’s been to design gym.
The signature angular C-pillar and wraparound rear window remain, but gone are the slab-sided flanks, sharp creases and squared-off silhouette that characterised the previous gen.
“Sensual Purity” is what Mercedes-Benz calls this design language, and it’s not all just about sleek, good looks either – the svelte new GLE now also boasts a best-in-segment drag coefficient of just 0.29 Cd.
Sleeker it may appear, but the GLE has in fact grown in size – it’s 105 mm longer with a wheelbase increased by 80 mm – and the interior space reflects that. Especially for rear passengers who now have nearly 70 mm more legroom.
The luggage capacity is up to 825 litres behind the rear seats, and up to 2 055 litres when the second seat row is folded down. As an optional extra, a special second–seat row with six fully electric adjustment options is also available.
This new GLE comes standard with the latest generation MBUX multimedia system (Mercedes-Benz User Experience) that includes 40 new functions accessible via a crisp, high-res 12,3-inch touchscreen.
Sitting behind the steering wheel is another similar-sized screen displaying all the key driver info, and together the two make up for an impressively panoramic dashboard display.
Under The Skin
This exterior polish is also reflected in some key engineering developments. The new GLE is built on the brand’s Modular High Architecture (MHA), and is some 20% torsionally stiffer and roughly 60 kg lighter than its predecessor.
This particular model is powered by 3.0-litre inline six-cylinder turbo petrol engine that sends 270kW and 500Nm of torque to all four wheels via a nine-speed 9G-Tronic transmission.
Significantly, it is also electrified with 48-volt technology that injects another 250Nm of torque via EQ Boost over short periods.
Known as a “mild hybrid” system, this integrated starter/alternator (ISG) is responsible for hybrid functions such as EQ Boost as well as energy recuperation that allows for some fuel savings too.
The new GLE also debuts the latest generation of Mercedes-Benz driving–assistance systems designed to make driving this Merc both safer and easier.
The Active Distance Assist Distronic system with its route-based speed adaptation allows the GLE to respond to LiveTraffic info – ideally before the driver or the radar and camera sensors detect the hold-up or hazard.
If it detects a traffic jam, the GLE will reduce its speed to around 100 kilometres per hour, unless you specifically instruct it otherwise.
Behind The Wheel
Thanks to that stiffer chassis, well-damped suspension and 4MATIC all-wheel drive system, the new GLE feels impressively planted on the road.
It’s clearly not as dynamic or nimble as its main competitor, the BMW X5, but that’s never been in the ML Series’/GLE’s DNA.
Instead, underneath you is a refined, sophisticated and composed four-wheel–drive SUV that adds another floor to the solid foundations laid down by its celebrated ancestor.