If you’re among those who believe names are nothing more than arbitrary labels, you think very differently from some big carmakers. First it was Infiniti that managed to turn its seemingly well-established naming convention into a convoluted system, then many others followed, including BMW and Audi. Mercedes-Benz followed suit and decided to change the names of its entire SUV range.
In a nod to the legendary G-Class, all names now start with a G, followed by an L – for no particular reason but that it is ‘a letter that appears time and time again over the history of Mercedes-Benz’ – and a third letter that denotes the passenger car model on which it is based.
So the GLA is based on the A-Class, the GLC (formerly GLK) on the C-Class, and the GLS (formerly GL) on the S-Class. Naturally then, when the E-Class-based ML got a facelift, it had to be called the GLE, although the name appeared first on the brand-new X6-rivalling GLE Coupé.
Even though it doesn’t look as swanky as the fastback, and even if the bodywork looks similar to the ML’s, especially in profile, the GLE represents a substantial overhaul for Merc’s mid-size utility vehicle. Most of the styling tweaks have been made to the front and rear, with elements that bring the GLE’s looks in line with Stuttgart’s new corporate design language, which is already seen in most of the other models. These include a redesigned radiator grille, new bumpers, headlights with daytime running lamp ‘eyebrows’, new wings, and a bonnet with two power domes up front and restyled tail lights at the back.
In addition to these, there are further design features in our test car, which is the mad, bad GLE 63 S version. It features the A-wing in the front bumper, which is now a characteristic feature of all AMG vehicles, as well as the chrome double-louvre grille and wider wheel arches to fit larger 21in AMG cross-spoke light alloys. The cabin has also been refreshed, with the new 8.0in central display now partially integrated into the console rather than looking tacked on as before.
The supple leather upholstery, the open-pore brown ash wood trim along the dashboard and the door cards add to the sophisticated air of the GLE’s passenger space. The steering wheel is hefty, and a pleasure to hold, like the one in the coupé version. The seats are very supportive, with endless configuration options.
Under the bonnet is the same 5.5-litre V8 that powers the coupé, putting out 577bhp from 5,500rpm and 760Nm of torque from a low 1,750rpm. Mated to a seven-speed automatic gearbox, it sprints from 0-100kph in a physics-defying 4.2 seconds and hits a top speed of 250kph. These sound like terrifying numbers for a two-tonne-plus hulk. However, in reality, the surge doesn’t feel as vicious or abrupt as that of the BMW X5 M, which brags identical acceleration figures.
But that’s not to say that driving the GLE 63 S is devoid of any excitement. In fact, in Sport mode, the GLE’s performance is gracefully adrenaline-charged, with the seven-speed ’box keeping you in the mid-range by holding on to lower cogs. Controlling the transmission by the steering-mounted paddles is a joy as each shift is rewarded with a magnificent orchestra of sizzles and bangs from the quad exhaust pipes.
Despite the optional airmatic suspension, variable damping and active anti-roll bars keeping things sharp and composed, there’s apparent understeer when taking corners at high speeds. But that’s to be expected in a large AWD vehicle. The difference between Sport or Sport+ and Comfort driving modes is stark, as choosing the latter mellows the ride down to a level of plushness that is fit for a flagship luxury saloon.
Our test car is loaded with optional packages, including the Driving Assistance Package Plus, which adds adaptive cruise control with stop-start, Pre Safe Brake with pedestrian protection, Cross-Traffic Assist,
Active Blind Spot Assist, and Active Lane Keeping Assist. The Comfort package, among other things, adds the soft and automatic power closing of all doors and a reversing camera. The parking package and Active Parking Assist give you a 360-degree overview, helping you manoeuvre the GLE into even the tightest spots with ease.
The ML 63 AMG has been one of our favourite performance SUVs. Now, in its new GLE guise, Mercedes has added more power, more dynamism and more technology than ever into the mix. Stuttgart has made sure that changes go further than just the name, and that the ML, by any other name, would drive just as sweet. In fact, even sweeter.