About 8 years ago, there was a commercial by Mercedes-Benz that showcased the Magic Body Control in the S-Class using a chicken. I personally thought it was a brilliant marketing exercise. Jaguar even came up with a cheeky response, which fuelled a friendly ad war.
Now, the purpose of that video is to draw a parallel to the “magic carpet” ride quality in the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. However, it seems that this sought-after quality isn’t found in the majority of contemporary Mercedes-Benzes, even if said Mercedes-Benz features air suspension.
I’ve been rather critical of the ride quality of recent Mercedes-Benzes regardless of the suspension type – passive, adaptive, or air – whether it’s the C300, A250, or E350e. My feedback ranges from “it’s alright” to “my head is bopping up and down, is this the same company who made chicken commercial?”
That is, until I’ve driven this – the Mercedes-Benz GLE 450. And I found that the attributes most of us associate Mercedes-Benz to (maybe used to) are present in the GLE 450; it’s wafty and has the sense of heft from the way the doors close to the way it drives.
Exterior – Majestically squat
But before we dive into how the Mercedes-Benz GLE 450 feels, let’s take a brief run through the car’s exterior.
If you’re looking for a car to make a statement on your social status, this is it. The Mercedes-Benz GLE 450 just has such a commanding road presence from its size, muscular stance and a massive three-pointed star on the grille.
The aforementioned muscular stance is particularly noticeable from the rear. The distinctly broad shoulders and tumblehome paired with the enormous 315 section rear tyres work hand in hand to enhance GLE’s squat look.
Speaking of tyres, I think 21-inch wheels give the ideal balance in terms of aesthetics and ride comfort for the GLE. Earlier fully-imported (CBU) batches that came with 22-inch wheels do somewhat penalize ride quality, but they did look stunning.
As the Mercedes-Benz GLE 450 in Malaysia wears the AMG Line outfit, it gets the usual more aggressive front bumper with larger air inlets, a pair of ducts at the rear bumper, and the rather huge front diamond grille that adds to its presence.
Interior – Tech-laden cave
One thing about the Mercedes-Benz GLE 450 is that it’s rather tall and depending on your height, you may need to climb up to get in, especially if you set a high seating position.
Once settled in, most would likely be drawn to the party piece of the interior which is the sweeping surround for the dual 12.3-inch widescreens. I like how the screens are neatly integrated into the design and would even describe it as theatrical.
What’s no so theatrical, to me at least, are the quad air vents on the centre. Unlike the circular turbine style vents in smaller Mercedes-Benzes, these appear a little sombre. Perhaps it’s matured, as the GLE caters to a different set of buyers.
At the rear, the seats are power adjusted and so are the
peasant blockers sunblinds for the side windows. While the electric sunblind is a nice touch of luxury, the powered seats are a bit of an annoyance where practicality is concerned.
To get to the third-row seats, it takes ages for the second-row seats to make way and another lifetime to set back to its original position. Well, I suppose technology and luxury are meant to reduce human effort, though in this case, at the expense of time.
And when you do finally get to the third-row seats, it’s pretty tight. Myself with a 177 cm stature has zero tennis ball for kneeroom and headroom. Children, however, should be fine.
Let’s talk a bit about the sound system. Fun fact: the Mercedes-Benz GLE has 2 types of Burmester sound system – a 13-speaker 590-watt Burmester Surround Sound System and a 25-speaker 1,550-watt Burmester High-End 3D Surround Sound System. The Malaysian-spec GLE 450 has the former option.
I wasn’t aware of this until I did a little digging after I felt that it lacks the low-end bassline and when seated at the rear, even the mid-bass is almost non-existent.
And I found out that this 13-speaker system has no subwoofer and all the mid-bass is generated from within the dashboard area, which only the front passengers get to hear.
Bass aside, the soundstage is quite impressive courtesy of the centre speaker; it’s wide, airy, and really comes to life when the volume is bumped up. Vocals are clear and instruments have decent separation; highs are smooth but mid-bass is heavy as is usually the case with Burmesters, so I would tweak it down a few notches.
Regardless of the sound settings, rear passengers wouldn’t get to enjoy it as much when there’s only a mid-range speaker and a tweeter on the doors.
Audio aside, sitting at the rear of the Mercedes-Benz GLE does feel like you’ve made it in life. The electric adjustments, whilst slow, do elevate the sense of luxury.
There are B-pillar air vents on top of the ones at the centre, and there are even blowers underneath the front seats. Rest assured; you will be cooled in our blazing weather.
It’s also cavernous inside, to the point where it feels like other passengers are in their own time zones. More than 3 tennis balls of kneeroom and 2 tennis balls of headroom for yours truly despite the panoramic roof.
As much as I love driving, I would prefer to be chauffeured in the GLE.
Driving Experience – Gliding on silk
However, that doesn’t mean the Mercedes-Benz GLE 450 drives poorly. It’s certainly not as driver-centric as the BMW X5, which still has a higher degree of driving involvement, but to me personally, it matters less in large premium SUV.
Being a Mercedes-Benz, I wasn’t expecting it to be a thrill to drive. What I did expect was opulence, and the GLE 450 delivered.
Starting from the 3.0-litre turbocharged in-line 6 engine with a 48V mild hybrid system named EQ Boost, it’s silky smooth and has the brawn to match the exterior.
Despite the 2.2-tonne kerb weight, the powertrain pulls with such ease and grace that really give substance to the phrase “no replacement for displacement.” It does 0-100 km/h in 6.4 seconds, if you must know.
The mild hybrid system makes the stop/start function as seamless as possible, akin to a regular hybrid. It also allows the engine to be cut off even before the car is stopped, but I found it to be premature at times, such as when passing through tolls. Well, at least the transition wasn’t felt.
What I did feel were slight judders from the 9-speed transmission as it downshifts when slowing down to halt. This is the only foible I have for the powertrain, the 8-speed ZF transmission in the BMW X5 is still the best in business.
Moving on to steering, it’s relatively light and predictable. Unlike some of the other Mercedes-Benzes, steering of the GLE feels quite natural and I’m able to place and track it accurately along my intended line.
Having experienced a multitude of sensitive brakes in Mercedes-Benzes, the GLE's brakes are surprisingly linear. It’s brilliant in daily driving. The flipside is that it’s not as confidence inspiring when braking at higher speeds, especially when you’re aware of its mass and the momentum it’s carrying.
Not only are you reminded of the GLE’s mass, but also its high centre of gravity. While the air suspension does lower the car and level it the best it can, physics takes over eventually when inelegant manoeuvres are asked of it. So it’s best to take it easy and soothe yourself over the in-line 6 hum.
Ride Comfort - Almost magic-carpet-like, almost
As I have may already hinted, the news is good in the comfort aspect of the Mercedes-Benz GLE 450. The Airmatic suspension provides the waft as you’d expect from a Mercedes-Benz.
Over dips and crests, the suspension does an impressive job keeping the car levelled, similar to the chicken commercial but not quite at that “magic carpet ride” level. Nevertheless, I find that it’s impressive to be able to glide along uneven roads and still remain taut enough to not wallow excessively.
If I were to nitpick, bigger potholes and unusually sharp edges can send more of an intrusion to the cabin than its regal character would suggest. If you’re expecting it to swallow potholes like a pick-up truck, then you might be underwhelmed. But most of the time, it does the job well enough to isolate the passengers from road irregularities.
As for the front seats, I still struggle to find the ideal recline angle and lumbar support in Mercedes-Benzes. Perhaps it’s just my back that finds them disagreeable after extended periods. Thigh support is excellent from the range of adjustments for the seat base angle and length.
At the rear, the seats are on the firmer side as with most German cars, which may or may not be a concern depending on individual. The seat base is of a decent length and it’s angled to give a decent level of thigh support. Long-distance journeys will be breeze.
Noise wise, it’s as serene as you’d expect a car of this stature to be. It muffles exterior noises exceptionally well with the all-round acoustic glass, giving the impression of being isolated from the outside world.
Tyre noise is noticeable on rough surfaces and wind noise can be heard at triple-digit speeds, but that’s likely down to the nature of human ears being more sensitive to noises in a quiet environment.
|Cabin noise levels|
|60 km/h||56 dB|
|90 km/h||61 dB|
|110 km/h||65 dB|
Fuel Consumption – Remarkably efficient
After a 109.4 km journey broken down to 60% highway, 40% city driving, the amount of fuel required to brim the tank was 11.78 litres. This gives a calculated fuel consumption figure of 10.8-litre/100 km.
Considering its weight, body shape, engine size, and output, 10.8-litre/100 km is an impressive figure. The Volkswagen Tiguan Allspace 1.4 with half its engine capacity and power does 10.3-litre/100 km.
The 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLE 450 is proper piece of kit. Like every other car, it’s not perfect; the transmission isn’t the smoothest, the sound system feels incomplete, and the rear seats take ages to fold.
Personally, these are relatively minor drawbacks that I wouldn’t mind living with in the grand scheme of things. It’s luxurious, wafty (though not quite like the chicken in the commercial), and basically everything you’d expect from a large premium SUV.
The BMW X5 is sportier to drive, but should that matter in an SUV? Plus, the interior looks just like every other BMW and there’s no adaptive cruise control.
On the other hand, the Volvo XC90 has more accommodating third-row seats and it’s a fair bit less expensive. However, it doesn’t ride quite as well and the 4-pot engine, electrified or not, just can’t match the regal, silky experience from an in-line 6 engine.
The point is, there’s no such thing as a perfect car, only a car that’s perfect for you. I could talk about the Mercedes-Benz GLE 450 and its rivals all day long but only you can decide if it’s your perfect car. All I can say is, it’s pretty close to being mine.