The Mercedes-Benz GLE now has seven-seats for the first time ever – does that make it the ultimate luxury family SUV for Singapore?
Note: This test drive took place before Singapore’s circuit breaker measures came into effect on April 7, 2020
The Mercedes-Benz GLE is finally coming into prominence, because of the number seven.
‘I want a large, luxury, German sport utility vehicle (SUV), with room for seven souls aboard.’
It used to be there were only two answers to that demand – the BMW X5 and Audi Q7. That’s no longer the case, and it’s not just because of the SUV boom either.
Ignoring the existince of the same-sized Lexus RX 350 L and the one-size-up BMW X7 and Mercedes-Benz GLS as well, the Mercedes-Benz GLE now enters the fray since it now has seven thrones aboard for the first time.
The GLE started life as the M-Class, which was always called the ML in practice (eg. ML 350) because of the strong German luxury connotations of that letter. To make matters worse, Mercedes switched to its modern nomenclature, it became the GLE (G = SUV, L = nothing in particular, it’s a link letter, and E=large segment).
Now in its fourth-generation, the GLE/ML actually debuted in Singapore in July last year, but we finally were able to get behind the wheel of it just before COVID turned all the live wires dead, so to speak.
In contrast to the usual plethora of Mercedes choices, if you’ve decided you want a GLE, it’s an easy decision to make: There’s only one model on offer here and with one trim variant.
That’s the GLE 450, which is powered by a 3.0-litre inline six-cylinder engine. Like the current CLS 450 big four-door coupe, it’s the new-gen engine with a 48V mild hybrid system – dubbed ‘EQ Boost’ – which adds a 22hp/250Nm boost and allows for longer engine shutoff, and energy recuperation.
Abroad, there are more choices: the Mercedes- AMG GLE 63 with 603hp, the GLE 580 with a 490hp 4.0-litre V8, and a GLE 350 with 255hp from a 2.0-litre inline four. The AMG 63 might make it here eventually, but the GLE 580 and GLE 350 aren’t made in right-hand drive, and so will not come to Singapore.
Like the BMW X5, there is no 2.0-litre model, so Audi’s Q7 2.0 has the lower-cost rung (S$310k with COE) to itself for now.
We mentioned one trim variant only, and that’s the AMG Line model, immediately recognisable by the diamond-pin grille and the aggressive body kit with the grimacing front end. While we feel a rugged rather than a sporty look would suit the GLE better, AMG Line is, like BMW’s M Sport, the most popular default variant for Mercedes cars.
It does lend the large car a dose of aggressive road presence that inflates the GLE, and one thing we do like is that it still retains a design signature after all these years: The slanted C-pillar, which was already visible on the first ML in Jurassic Park: Lost World back in 1997.
Typical of new, big Mercedes models, the thing that slaps your eyes when you ascend into the cabin is the very-widescreen glass cockpit with dual 12.3-inch displays.
Powering the slick hardware is the now familiar MBUX setup control via touchpad, touchscreen, and voice. It’s a bit fiddly, but it does work well enough, though this being a large car it can be a bit of a reach to the screen. As a result though, the interior is extremely spacious, and headroom is particularly good.
The new aim of the GLE is to be a big family-mobile too, and for families numbering five it’s excellent: the second row (above) will fit three adults, has electrically-adjustable thrones that can be moved fore and aft, with a variable seat-back angle.
There are B-pillar air con vents, more vents at the centre console, two USB-C ports, and dual-zone AC controls.
While the GLE is also a seven-seater for the first time, that doesn’t make it a magical replacement for a large MPV. Like its German rivals, the rearmost seats (above) would be good only for Oscar Pistorius, and are best left for smaller members of the family, or short jaunts. There’s no AC vents there either, though each seat does get a USB port of its own.
As a corollary to the powered second row of seats, you can flip them down with a button from the boot, and entry to the third row is a button-press-and-wait affair.
Nice to do less arm work, but the third row itself is still muscle-powered only, and is a bit of a reach into the huge boot. It’s rated at a very big 825-litres with the third-row folded, and 2,055-litres with the second and third rows flat.
WATCH MORE: Our video walkthrough demonstrates the space inside the second and third rows, how the automatic seats operate, and what the cockpit looks like. We also show you how Mercedes’ in-car wellneess, Energising Comfort, works, and if makes a difference.
From the driver’s seat, the GLE feels refreshingly old school, like an SUV from back when SUVs really did expect to go offroad (more than a decade and a half ago, at least) and very different from the Q7 and X5. With a not-so-uptight suspension setup that has some roll calculated in, the handling isn’t pin-sharp, but gentle and progressive.
The trade-off is that it does well to ease away the small road imperfections that are everywhere in Singapore, even if it can’t quite mask the big bumps because of the standard 20-inch wheels. We expect the actual car to ride even better, as our test unit had fixed-rate suspension rather than the adaptive air setup which is standard on customer units.
READ MORE: The GLE will be the car everyone wants, but few can afford, but the in-coming GLB will have room for seven people and be priced much more affordably. Read our review here, or watch the video review below!
That partly explains the old-school SUV feeling, though this also seems to be part of the GLE’s DNA itself, which makes sense when you consider Mercedes is still the only German carmaker to build a dedicated 4×4, the G-Wagen. If a G-Wagen is a 10 on the off-road-feeling scale, then the GLE would be a four, while the X5 and Q7 around two – you’d never drive them off-road ever.
Unlike its German rivals, you can spec the GLE to become more adept at actually going off the beaten path – there’s the Off Road Engineering Package (S$9,100) and E-Active Body Control (S$31,000).
The first adds a low-range gearbox, DSR, and a more advanced off-road driving mode (Off-Road+), while the latter is the newest adaptive air suspension that controls the damping and spring at each wheel individually, a novel feat made possible by the 48V power system. It promises tremendously good ride and handling, and it can even bounce the car up and down to help dislodge it when stuck offroad, all of which explains the eye-watering price tag.
But like most Singaporeans you probably don’t give a fig about the dirt, yet the GLE still makes a strong case for itself in normal life.
The inline six engine is smooth, powerful and has a subdued purr that sounds great, and the car is very quiet and refined on all sorts types of roads, its high-riding nature amplifies that very Mercedes feeling of being on top of things all the time.
The drawbacks are that the car is still a huge beast, at just over five-metres long, and visibility isn’t super on the inside, though the sharp 360-degree camera helps mitigate some of the burden. There’s also no getting around the fact that the GLE is a luxurious all-wheel drive, seven-seat SUV, and thus a guzzler, and even with the addition of mild hybrid tech, you’ll likely never see south of 10.0L/100km.
Then there’s the price – at S$367,888 with COE, it’s more expensive than the BMW X5 in competing xDrive40i M Sport trim (S$350,888 with COE), and much more than the Audi Q7 2.0 (S$306,800 with COE). That’s mitigated by the fact that this is normal for a Mercedes, and those who really want one will simply stump the difference for the privilege.
The addition of a third row doesn’t make it a super-seven-inside people mobile just yet, possibly it’s a case of ‘because everyone else is doing it’, but at least the GLE will no longer lose out when making the case for family flexibility on the surface, at least.
Mercedes-Benz GLE 450 AMG Line
|Engine||2,999cc, inline 6, turbocharged|
|Power||367hp at 5500-6100rpm|
|Torque||500Nm at 1600-4500rpm|
|Battery||Lithium Ion, kWh not stated|
|System Power / Torque||Not stated|
|Fuel Efficiency||9.1 L/100km|
|VES Band / CO2||C2 / 207g/km|
|Agent||Cycle & Carriage|
|Price||S$367,888 with COE|
Verdict: The classic comfy Mercedes big SUV experience is expensive, but now has more family appeal and gains the flexibility of seven-seats