The new structure sits on a heavily reworked double wishbone front and multi-link rear suspension. Lower end models continue with standard steel springs and adaptive dampers, but they can be optioned with the three-chamber height adjustable AirMatic air suspension that comes as standard on higher end models at extra cost.
Buyers who opt for the GLE 450 4Matic also get the choice of Mercedes-Benz's advanced E-Active suspension. A further development of the AirMatic system, it works in combination with a 48-volt electric architecture and stereo camera that is used to scan the road to provide individual adjustment of the air spring and damper acting on each wheel, allowing it to not only counteract body lean but also better control pitch and dive.
The initial engine line-up for the new GLE in the UK includes just two units, though others, including two six-cylinder diesels and a pair of AMG fettled petrol engines, are set to follow later in 2019. Right now, however, the line-up starts with a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel with 242bhp and 369lb ft of torque in the GLE300d 4Matic and, for the time being at least, is topped by a turbocharged 2.9-litre six-cylinder petrol unit boasting 362bhp and the same 369lb ft in the GLE 450 4Matic.
The latter engine, part of a new in-line family of petrol and diesel units, is equipped with Mercedes-Benz’s new EQ Boost function, comprising of a 48-volt integrated starter generator. Mounted within the forward section of the gearbox, it uses energy from a lithium-ion battery to provide an added 22bhp and generous 184lb ft of torque under acceleration in a mild-hybrid process that is not only claimed to enhance performance but overall economy, too.
How does the GLE perform on the road?
The new petrol-electric drivetrain, also used in the CLS 450 and S500, is tailor-made for the new GLE, providing prodigious shove when accelerating from low speeds and a solid turn of speed through the gears on a loaded throttle. It is also pleasingly hushed and well isolated from the cabin, giving the GLE 450 4Matic agreeably calm and relatively quiet cruising qualities.
For the most part, the GLE's standard automatic gearbox is every bit as silken smooth on upshifts as it is during downshifts. The nine-speed unit, which comes with steering wheel-mounted shift paddles as standard for manual shifting, is quick to respond to any given driving condition, picking off suitable ratios smartly at lower speeds around town and holding on to any given gear when pushed along at a higher pace on the open road. Helping to add to an overriding impression of improved driveline refinement is a mechanism which activates a clutch to decouple the engine from the gearbox for extended periods of off-throttle coasting.
The GLE 450 4Matic is also among the six- and eight-cylinder versions of the new Mercedes-Benz model to receive the latest version of Mercedes-Benz’s 4Matic four-wheel drive system with full variable apportioning of power to either the front or rear wheels. This not only helps improve traction on the road but also extends the new SUV’s ability in off-road conditions.
As good as the driveline and resulting performance are, however, the manner in which the GLE 450 manages to mask its considerable size and weight with truly impressive handling traits while delivering a cossetting and pliant ride is arguably its crowning achievement.
The steering offers agreeable weighting and good directional responsiveness with a heightened sense of precision and greater feedback compared to the old model, even though it goes without the rear-wheel steer assistance of some more contemporary luxury SUV rivals. The adoption of a full variable four-wheel drive system also plays a significant role in lifting its handling prowess well above its predecessor, providing outstanding grip and superb levels of on-road traction no matter what the weather and road conditions throw at you.