We had the opportunity to have a go in the latest crop of Mercedes Benz sport utility vehicles, meaning the models that have been updated are brand new for the 2015 model year in Europe.
First things first – you’ll see in the accompanying photos just three of the Mercedes SUVs – the compact GLC and midsized GLE and GLE Coupe. That’s because the trio has been the star attraction this year, leaving in a shadow cone the “older” GLA and very large GL Class and G Class. We’re also going to make an accolade for everyone to be clear. You’re seeing here a naming mix-up that might have your eyes spin trying to identify which is which. It’s easier – the GL and G Class models will change their designation accordingly once they undergo a model revision or change to an entirely new generation. As for the others, Mercedes is trying to be a little more clear – the GLA is related to the A Class hatchback, the all-new GLC (formerly known as the GLK) is related to the C Class sedan, the GLE (formerly known as the ML Class) is related to the midsized E Class and the GLE Coupe is a brand new addition to the SUV roster, designed to compete with the BMW X6 SAV.
That said, we had the opportunity – for a couple of days – to embark on a caravan trip that has mixed asphalt, highway driving, steep bends and even mild off-roading. That said, we made a pretty good impression of the capabilities of the three models that are new or refreshed for the year. Later on we’ll also reserve further, in depth judgment, on each specific model through our usual review process. Starting with the generics, we can see how Mercedes is trying to have its SUV lineup at the forefront of the fight against BMW and Audi in the global war designed to recapture the top selling position that was once undisputedly theirs. With global fuel prices still plunging or hovering at least within acceptable limits, we see no end to the worldwide love for SUVs and thus we can understand how every niche is being filled with new and sometimes interesting models.
Mercedes has made long strides to have almost all of its SUVs instantly recognizable under the brand’s all-new design language that has eschewed the traditional serious stance in favor of a dynamic and nimble aspect. From the GLA all the way to the massive GLE and GLE Coupe the front is the one that sets the trend: we have the elongated front lights and massive radiator grille with a huge logo. Here, my old argument still stands – I really don’t care how big the logo on the grille is, I would rather trade it for the traditional badge atop the engine cover that has fallen victim to the European safety legislation. Nevertheless, brand awareness is now top notch and Mercedes has said farewell to the disjointed lineup that once fractured its client base.
The all new GLC was unfortunately the model we spent the least amount of time with – but we promise a further in-depth look in a separate review – and looked like a „teenager” when compared to the more hulking GLE and GLE Coupe. The GLC is not only changing its name but also its affiliation – from the rugged, adventurous generation that didn’t please some of the clients too much (while others were „mesmerized”) – to the flamboyant design it now employs. It’s also looking decidedly ready to please not only a male client base, but would also fall well with ladies thanks to the use of sloping, flowing lines.
Next up is the GLE, where we’re treated here to a mid-life update that has mostly affected the front and back of the SUV when talking about the exterior design changes. The side profile remains almost the same as with the ML Class so fans won’t have any issue recognizing the two. While the back revisions are not very extensive – we get new lights with a different lighting structure – the front has been seriously revised to fall in line with the new design language. Also, the GLE can be had in two different “directions”, the standard front fascia calls for a family oriented SUV capable of tackling some rough terrains. On the other hand the customers can also get the AMG visual package that makes the SUV a little more menacing – in a Hulk kind of way.
Our short contact with the refreshed GLE also showed how the interior has evolved – the central dashboard is not essentially new but having a different design for the top where the infotainment system display resides make a huge mark. With lots of active safety technology on board – as traditional for a Mercedes – the only thing you can do when in a GLE is to approve the use of the self-leveling suspension technology. There’s a small “command center” that handles different scenarios – from taking the suspension as low as possible in the sport scenario to as high as it gets in the off-road script. It’s rather impressive to see the travel area of the suspension and the GLE will remain a very capable off-roader for the foreseeable future. That’s great, because the on-road characteristics are still not on par with its main rival – the BMW X5. The GLE has gained a new 9-speed automatic transmission and has a sport program that modifies a host of parameters but it still wobbles and displays its full mass when hitting the pedal to the metal in the bends. The GLE will deliver civilized driving dynamics when used on highways and winding roads, but its panache remains the sovereignty of comfort. Even when tackling the rougher terrains – such as forest roads – and using the off-road setting that lifts the SUV to Cloud No.9 you will be surprised how vibration and noise free the cabin remains. And as a bonus – while the diesel V6 powerplant never becomes intrusive, under heavy acceleration a sporty sound makes its presence felt – just a tad, but still there.
Moving on to the star attraction of the GLE line, the GLE Coupe, we have to say that opinions remain biased when comparing it to the BMW X6 – some will find the Mercedes rival a little too inspired from the lines of the model that initiated the niche and others will see improvements all around. We can say the GLE Coupe is like a very distant cousin to the GLE – the front fascia is common and much of the interior but from there onwards they’re worlds apart. That’s a good thing as the two have different clients in mind – the GLE Coupe wants to attract those who live an active life and enjoy standing out from the crowd while the GLE is a great family all-rounder.
We could also observe how the two models were treating the driving tasks a little different – the Dynamic Select system for sure had its own secret tweaks for both because the cars otherwise had the same diesel engine and 9 speed automatic transmission. Under the same driving conditions we could also see how the GLE Coupe was more incisive when tackling speedy mountain roads – though we also noticed how the gearbox is rather slow to react to kick-down scenarios, tacking away some of the fun because you will need to time a bit your maneuvers to be sure all power is at your disposal, exactly when you need it. The GLE looks even more sovereign than its GLE brother at highway speeds, but that might only be the feeling induced by the driving position, which is a tad sportier here.