Mercedes diesel coupe
That 329-hp rating is somewhat deceptive, because what the engine delivers best is a sweet-natured well of torque. There’s good response right off the line as the turbos kick in early, but only a moment after that event the engine produces its 354 lb-ft of peak torque at 1600 rpm and maintains that output all the way up to 4000 rpm.
Throw in the confident talents of Mercedes’ seven-speed automatic transmission and the 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system, and the result is a nonchalant driving experience. There’s always torque available, and that torque always finds a drive wheel to use it. Make a passing maneuver on a two-lane back road, and the sensation is that of an easy vehicular shoulder shrug—like the one Michael Jordan performed after sinking six three-pointers in Game 1 of the 1992 NBA Finals.
Satisfactory—but Not Exemplary—Dynamics
Keeping in mind that—German roots and Alabama connections notwithstanding—this isn’t a Wernher von Braun–spec rocket ship (that mission is reserved for the AMG models), the GLE400 is quick and satisfyingly nimble. The waltz to 60 mph takes 5.5 seconds, while the quarter-mile goes by in 14.1 seconds at 99 mph. That’s exactly the same zero-to-60-mph time achieved by the 2017 Audi Q7 3.0T, which is powered by a 333-hp 3.0-liter supercharged V-6. And the Mercedes is 0.1 second quicker in the quarter-mile, with an identical 99-mph trap speed. The former V-8–powered ML550 was a bit faster than the current V-6–powered GLE400—getting to 60 mph 0.6 second quicker and completing the quarter-mile run 0.7 second earlier—but this new V-6 performs competitively. Buyers in this segment looking for more serious performance are better served by the BMW X5 or the Mercedes-AMG GLE63.
What the all-new Audi has over the refreshed Mercedes is more avant-garde styling and a more responsive chassis. There’s a bit too much M-class fuddy and/or duddy surviving in the GLE’s updated design, while the Q7 looks crisp and athletic. On the skidpad, the GLE400 managed only a dreary 0.72-g orbit where the Audi stuck to the tune of 0.85 g. Both vehicles were on all-season tires (19-inch Dunlops on this car, 20-inch Goodyears on the Audi), but our test driver noted that the rubber on the Mercedes seemed particularly low on grip. Compounding the issue, the stability-control system intervenes aggressively as soon as these tires start to slip. Throw in the Audi’s better steering feel and superior braking, and it’s clear that the GLE400 isn’t the driver’s choice in this class.
Of course, buyers could save a few bucks by choosing the less expensive GLE350, which starts at $52, 025 with rear-wheel drive. If that isn’t quite the right machine, there’s also a GLE300d 4MATIC powered by a 201-hp turbo-diesel four-cylinder or the new GLE550e 4MATIC plug-in hybrid that combines the GLE400’s turbo V-6 with a battery-driven electric motor for an aura of environmental virtue and a combined 436 horsepower. And at the top of the range is the wacky powerful 577-hp Mercedes-AMG GLE63S 4MATIC with a 5.5-liter twin-turbo V-8 under its hood.
Or there’s the funky GLE450 AMG coupe, which shares its essential engineering with the upright GLE SUV but has a stylish (to some eyes) sloping roof to eliminate much of that pesky utility and cargo capacity. It practically announces the owner’s disdain for logic, aesthetics, and usefulness—so naturally it got the starring role among the fleet of Mercedes products in last year’s Jurassic World flick.
There’s a grace to the GLE400 that was missing from its sometimes dumpy-looking ML ancestors. And there’s a unity to the design that seems in line with what buyers expect from a Mercedes. But there’s still some stopgap feel here, as if this may be the warmup act for a truly great fourth-generation mid-size SUV from Mercedes-Benz.