2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE350 Review - The Artist Formerly Known As ML
2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE350 RWD
Those of you who railed against Bark’s glowing review of the 2016 Ford Mustang convertible by claiming his “Ford bias” tainted his viewpoint might also think my yarn about this vehicle is spun in a similar vein. After all, I worked for Mercedes-Benz Financial Services for 17 years, and here I am reviewing my own Mercedes-Benz-subsidized retiree lease vehicle. How could I possibly be objective, you ask?
Before we find out, bear in mind that I’ve driven a total of over 60,000 miles in ten separate copies of the last generation ML350 and its variants, so I know this SUV’s predecessor inside and out.
Most changes made to the GLE are positive, but there are a couple glaring exceptions.
For 2016, Mercedes-Benz refreshed the venerable ML350 SUV and changed its name to the GLE350, thus abandoning 17 years of strong model name recognition. The Alabama-built midsize sport-ute joins all other Benz SUVs in having a name that starts with the letter “G.” The GLE/ML will no longer be the best-selling Benz SUV this year, as the hot, new GLC and its gorgeous, over-the-top interior will take that crown. The more efficient GLC is the future of Mercedes SUVs, but there is still a lot of life left in the old, grey ghost GLE.
Most GLEs sold in America have the same engine as our example — a smooth, 302 horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 with direct injection. Mercedes also offers a turbo V6, a 2.1-liter four-cylinder diesel, a plug-in hybrid and two high-horse V8 AMG variants. The days of V8s in mainstream GLEs, as well those with the torquey six-cylinder BlueTec diesel, are long gone. The GLE is also available as a coupé/hatchback/eyesore model designed to compete with the BMW X6.
Our rear-wheel-drive tester came with the premium package, which includes Mercedes’ new Comand infotainment system, navigation, voice control, rearview camera, satellite radio and keyless entry. It also features the Lane Tracking Package with blind spot assist and lane keeping assist. The GLE comes standard with every advanced safety geegaw known to man, including the capitalized-from-the-factory COLLISION PREVENTION ASSIST PLUS WITH ATTENTION ASSIST.
The new GLE is upgraded with a new grille, headlamps and LED taillights. The changes are so subtle that you will need to park a GLE next to an ML to notice the difference.
Let’s talk about the eight-inch elephant in the room. Around a zillion internet commenters have criticized the look and placement of the new Comand screen, which stands vertically apart from the dashboard. It may look funky in pictures, but it’s a huge leap forward. The screen is now closer to eye level and Benz has enhanced its high-resolution graphics to boot. From a driver’s point of view, it’s far superior to its predecessor in the ML.
That being said, there is a reason the Comand system operator’s manual is 203 pages: MB has added a ton of functionality with the introduction of the GLE. I say they added redundancy and complexity. (One nice touch is that highlights of this manual, and the 453 page regular manual, can now be viewed within the Comand system.)
Mercedes has added a touchpad on top of the familiar rotary dial for 2016. It performs the same functions as the dial, but you can now control media and navigation with a swipe of the finger instead of pulling or twisting the dial. You can control functions four different ways: using the buttons on the dash, voice control, rotary dial or the touchpad. Trying to mix and match which ones to use can create some confusion. If this were my first Mercedes-Benz vehicle, I would be totally flummoxed.
The touchpad features a handwriting recognition app for functions such as pulling up phone contacts. Just draw the letters with your finger and the system does a search. My scribbles often came out on the screen looking like those made by a drunk John Madden while outlining Packer plays on a telestrator. I disabled that feature after a few days.
My biggest gripe about the Comand system is that you can no longer store favorite destinations in their own place, and you’re now forced to merge them with your phone address book. This issue is actually mute thanks to the GLE being one of the first Mercedes models to have the amazing Apple CarPlay as standard equipment. Just plug-in your Apple device and you have most of the Mercedes navigation functionality in Apple Maps, albeit without the nice graphics. I now know why my searches of dealer inventories yielded cars loaded to the gills sans navigation: if you have an iPhone, you no longer need it.
I’m probably the only person who cares that Mercedes dropped the altimeter feature in the Comand module in the GLE. When you live in a mountain state, an altimeter is more than just a fun toy. Yes, I know, there’s an app for that.
In keeping with the Mercedes-Benz heritage of crappy Becker and Blaupunkt radios, the base sound system in our GLE is not worthy of a luxury vehicle. You’d be better off opting for the $850 Harmon/Kardon LOGIC7 stereo or the $5,800 Bang and Olufsen BeoSound banger, the latter of which is not available to people who live near major earthquake faults.
Start the engine, drop the slick column-mounted shifter into Drive or Reverse, hit the gas it and … wait a second for the new-for-2016 automatic Electronic Parking Brake to release, causing you to lurch ahead. The system automatically engages when you shift the transmission to Park. If you open the driver’s door while maneuvering, as I did recently in a dark, cramped parking lot, the system also engages and screeches the GLE to a halt. I am trying to get in the habit of releasing the brake before I set off.
Jack Baruth mentioned the same brake in the comments on his CLA250 rental test, calling it “bewildering,” and I tend to agree.
Power from the V6 is more than adequate and the GLE is clearly quicker than its claimed 7.5 second 0 to 60 mph time. The seven-speed automatic transmissions shifts seamlessly. Mercedes has upgraded the Dynamic Select handling control system for the GLE, with a choice of “Comfort,” “Sport” and “Slippery” modes. The steering tightens up noticeably now when selecting “Sport,” but there is still some on-center play. Handling is good for a 4,900-pound sport-ute, but Mercedes-Benz knows their customers value ride and comfort over cornering ability. I’ve driven the GLE’s German competition and two things are obvious: they are more entertaining in the twisties, but are nowhere near as tight and well-screwed together as the Mercedes.
The GLE also passed the “Tucson Test” by smoothly bouncing through the worst potholes found in any city in the West.
The GLE retains my favorite trait of the ML: its extremely quiet cabin. Combined with its composed chassis and comfortable seats, the GLE is a sensational highway cruiser, nearly on par with the S-Class sedan. A recent 2,200 mile round trip sprint from our Tucson home to the Fort Worth NASCAR race and then to South Texas to see the bluebonnets in bloom was a breeze. Rolling across desolate and windy West Texas at 90 mph, the GLE tracked like a freight train. The same trip in previous years in a GLK and a GTI left my wife and me tired and cranky.
If you desire a luxury SUV to transport five people in safety and comfort, the GLE is a good choice. I had exactly zero warranty issues, nor any squeaks or rattles, in all my ML350 company cars, though I never drove any of them beyond 10,000 miles. Your mileage may vary.
Mercedes-Benz has a corporate mission of delighting customers by exceeding expectations. I’ll leave you with one such example, a feature not mentioned in any marketing material or the Mercedes-Benz website. Unlock the GLE at night and projector lights under each outside mirror broadcast a foot-high image of the 1920s Mercedes-Benz logo onto the ground. Some may snicker that this is akin to drivers who sport the license plate, “My Benz” or some such “I own a Mercedes” message. As an old Benz guy, I cannot be objective: I love that feature.
Disclosure: This GLE350 is the author’s current Mercedes-Benz retiree lease vehicle, which is subsidized by Mercedes-Benz USA.
[Images: © 2016 Steve Lynch/The Truth About Cars]
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- Golden2husky You'd be way better off in a base Vette for that money.
- Gene Sedans and coupes don't sell in the quantity that they used to but they still make up a significant market. Why Ford abandoned this segment still baffles me. Again, just look at Toyota, Dodge, Mercedes, BMW, Hyundai, etc who have not abandoned this segment.
- JMII Cracker Barrel - there is one off every major interstate interchange east of the Mississippi.I don't drink coffee - and based on the constant debate / worry of others just drinking water or tea has greatly simplified my life.Regardless of your choice in snacks and drinks I recommend the iExit app: https://www.iexitapp.com/ it shows what hotels, restaurants and gas stations are coming up so you can decide if its worth pulling off.
- Redapple2 My dad s buddy got a tire thru the windshield. DRT -dead right there.
- Redapple2 Hope they fix the:1 ride. worse than a corvette2 seating position. ankles at the height of my butt is UNCOMFORTABLE .As is. Horrible truck
I always did like the ML's, even if the early ML's are a BHPH favorite nowadays. The M272 *is* a nice mill.
Guys, Someone mentioned transmission problems being common with the ML350. Has anyone had an issue of their car being thrown into park when opening the driver's or passenger door (i.e. your kid wants to spit out his gum) and the car abruptly goes into park. (I think Steve mentions this in his article) This happened to me while backing out of the garage into driveway and was so sudden and abrupt that, in fact, I thought I had hit a low-lying item (bike, toy, BRICK WALL). I got out to check and the car suddenly began to roll backward down into the backyard (driveway ends at the crest of a small hill)This crazy confluence of events ended badly in injury and quite a bit of car and landscape damage. Has anyone heard of such a story? I'm looking for a precedent. And validation that I am not crazy. Thanks