Fancy a dance in a mobile holiday on wheels? This luxe SUV standard-setter can help
Road test: 2019 Mercedes-Benz GLE
Many manufacturers might argue otherwise, but when, 20 years ago, Mercedes-Benz launched its M-Class, it claims to have set a new trend by founding the ever-growing segment of luxurious SUVs.
About two million vehicles later – in the process, the M-Class became the GLE in 2015 – Mercedes wants to support its self-appointed reputation as a trendsetter with several innovations that you won’t find on any other SUV, big or small.
To demonstrate the first technical highlight, Merc makes the fourth generation of its best-selling SUV dance when on the move. OK, so the GLE wouldn’t get any credit for its comparatively clumsy moves at any nightclub in the world, but it might come in handy when you get stuck in the middle of the desert. Its chassis has already been part of the S-Class since 1999, but the new version of the active suspension system achieves results that an ordinary air suspension simply couldn’t. In conjunction with a camera that constantly scans the road, the suspension can be individually controlled at each wheel, which counteracts body roll and pitching. Potholes just seem to vanish from the street beneath me during the international launch in San Antonio. It feels more like I’m driving on a fleecy carpet than bumpy Texan country roads.
The GLE 450 4Matic is my personal preference, with its 367hp engine aided by hybrid functions such as energy recuperation that also considerably reduces the fuel consumption. Off-road, the new free-driving mode allows the GLE to rock itself free when bogged down in sand by automatically raising and lowering the suspension. On-road, the GLE leans into bends like a motorcycle, allowing cornering with almost no centrifugal forces – bye bye motion sickness.
In combination with the gentle nine-speed automatic transmission and the 4Matic all-wheel drive, it is a pleasant driving experience that makes it hard to believe you’re actually behind the wheel of a two-tonne SUV.
The GLE provides added comfort with an even more spacious interior. The second row of seats are now just as comfortable as those up front, also available with six fully electric adjustments. And at 2,055 litres, the boot is big enough to be used as a third row of seats that provides enough room for those up to 1.80 metres tall.
Among new technology that includes trailer manoeuvring and an active stop-and-go system, I find the latest generation of the multimedia system, which debuted in the A-Class, the most fascinating and practical feature. Several functions can now be controlled by simple hand gestures – a camera in the overhead console registers movements of the driver and front passenger. The system is even able to precisely distinguish the difference between the two, so when a hand approaches the touchscreen, individual elements are automatically highlighted depending on which passenger is attempting to control them. And if you’re a bit disorganised, like I am, and tend to lose things in the front-passenger footwell when it’s dark, the GLE will simply turn on a light for you as you reach over.
The GLE can even improve your well-being. Another new feature measures your stress level based on an intelligent algorithm, then recommends one of many programmes that use musical and lighting moods, plus a number of massage modes. In such an environment, I really don’t feel as if I’m in a car any more – it’s more like a holiday on wheels.