December 20, 2019 – Published in Design & Decor Winter 2019 issue
Words Malcolm J. Naudi
Suspension may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of a Mercedes-Benz. Still, when you are shopping around for an SUV (sports utility vehicle), even if you never intend to take it off road, getting to know your shock absorbers, coil springs, dampers and related technology would be instructive.
The Mercedes-Benz GLE comes with E-Active Body Control suspension, combined with the Airmatic air suspension system as an option. This is the only system on the market that individually controls spring and damping forces at each wheel. It reminds me of a certain French carmaker that utilised gas-filled suspension for many years before it got swallowed up by another multinational and went back to conventional suspensions.
Together with Road Surface Scan and the curve inclination function Curve, E-Active Body Control makes an exceptional level of comfort possible in the GLE. And Rocking mode can help to extricate the GLE from difficult off-road situations (not necessarily found on Maltese roads, of course).
Although this is not the largest of SUVs in the Mercedes-Benz range (the GLS is), I was impressed by the sheer presence of the GLE. This is a vehicle you climb up into (so if you have back problems, it is ideal), with a design message of sheer luxury both inside and out, communicated through its proportions with a long wheelbase, short overhangs and large, flush fitted wheels.
To put this immediately into numbers, the GLE is just under 5 metres long (4,924 mm), is 1,947 mm wide and 1,772 mm high on a generous 2,995 mm wheelbase (80 mm longer than in the previous model). Yet the turning circle is a mere 12 m, so as we say in Maltese. this vehicle really turns well (vera tikkwartja). It is also the most aerodynamic SUV on the market, with Cd (drag coefficient) figures starting at 0.29 – a significant improvement over the preceding model (Cd = 0.32).
I liked the good visibility you get from that high seating position, the feeling of confident poise you get as the engine works its way swiftly through the gears and the sheer sense of space in the cabin.
This is also optionally a seven-seater, so you can imagine the boot space not just with the seats up but also with the middle row of seats down. Even in five-seater configuration there is an option to have a fully adjustable second seat row enabling you to make six fully electric adjustments, a first in the SUV market.
The weather was a bit touch and go in the fourth week of October just before we turned the clocks back to winter time, so I made the most of the Mercedes-Benz GLE 300 d 4MATIC with full AMG Line. My test route took me through the central part of the island up to Dingli (via a detour because of roadworks in Rabat) and then down the newly widened roads leading to Burmarrad, the Coast Road and some more driving in the centre of the island before I returned the vehicle to Kind’s (reluctantly), as promised.
This model is powered by a 2.0-litre (1,950 cc) in-line four-cylinder, 16-valve diesel with common-rail high-pressure injection. Again, the figure to look out for is the rated torque (pulling power) rather than top-end power – a massive 500 Nm at 1,600-2,400 rpm. Yes, you get a rated output of 245 bhp (180 kW) at 4,200 rpm, taking you to a maximum speed of 225 km/h, but where are you going to realise that potential legally, except on certain stretches of the Autobahn in Germany?
The permanent four-wheel drive and nine-speed automatic gearbox make for an exhilarating, smooth drive. The large 275/50 R20 tyres on the AMG Line go a long way to distance you from the road surface, along with the optional suspension system I started this article with.
Magic Vision Control, another option, automates the washer/wiper process to suit prevailing conditions. Different washer programmes are stored in the control unit of the wiper motor. Since the washer fluid is metered directly at the wiper arm, there is no film of water to obscure the driver’s vision.
Having driven a succession of Mercs this year, you get accustomed to the interior design language but the optional interior ambient lighting trim in the model on test takes it to another level. The starting price of the GLE diesel automatic is just under €80,000 with standard equipment including Active Brake Assist, a tyre pressure monitoring system, the mirror package, and driver and front passenger airbags. The infotainment system boasts larger screens and MBUX Interior Assist, including voice control, can detect hand and arm movements to assist with control functions.
The optional equipment and finish, including the AMG Line interior and exterior, Selenite grey metallic paint, a panoramic sliding sunroof, dark-tinted privacy glass in the rear, aluminium-look running boards, the Keyless-Go package, the (self-) Parking package, including the 360° camera, Active Lane Keeping Assist, the smartphone integration package with wireless charging and connection, additional USB ports and underbody protection take the final price up a further €15,000.
The GLE is quiet and smooth-running – to the point of not knowing whether the engine is on from the outside when idling. Its quiet, vibration-free running is best-in-class. From Pre-Safe® to the seat belts, from the bodyshell structure to the airbags, the new driver assistance systems in the GLE provide comprehensive protection that starts well before the unexpected occurs and continues to act afterwards to ensure the active safety of driver and passengers.
I was present when in 1997 Mercedes-Benz expanded its product offering into the premium SUV segment with the launch of the M-Class. Since then, more than 2 million customers have chosen an SUV. The new GLE is set to continue that success story.
Visit the Auto Sales showroom in Lija to book a test drive, or book online by visiting: www.autosales.com.mt