What’s new?

The latest Mercedes-Benz GLE is larger than the old model, and packed with high-tech features. There’s now a hybrid, as well as several petrols and diesels, and a choice of five- or seven-seat versions.

Tow car drivers haven’t been forgotten, with the Trailer Manoeuvring Assist feature to make reversing a caravan easier.

We’ve been driving the Mercedes-Benz GLE 400 d, which is powered by a brawny 3.0-litre diesel. With a kerbweight of well over two tonnes and a 3.5-tonne legal towing limit when equipped with the optional towing package, it has the makings of a very capable luxury tow car.

What are we looking for?

Any big, powerful 4×4 should take towing in its stride, and the GLE really needs to perform impeccably to match the likes of the BMW X5 and Land Rover Discovery. We want to find out if the big Mercedes is as stable and practical as its rivals.

Towing ability

GLE 400 d is powered by a brawny 3.0-litre diesel

Cars in general might be getting lighter, but this trend seems to have bypassed the latest Mercedes GLE. Even the lightest one weighs nearly 2.2 tonnes. Our GLE 400 d, the most powerful diesel in the range, has a kerb weight of 2265kg. That gives an 85% match figure, usually recommended as a sensible maximum for towing, of 1925kg.

The legal towing limit is 2700kg, but this increases to 3500kg if you opt for the towing pack. For £1150, this includes the cost of the towball and 13-pin electrics, as well as Merc’s trailer parking aid.

So the kerbweight and towing limit are high. The six-cylinder diesel provides the brawn to match the bulk, with a colossal 516lb ft of torque. That exactly matches the peak pulling power of the Land Rover Discovery SD6, which is our favourite heavyweight tow car.

We matched the Mercedes to the biggest caravan we could borrow, a Swift Fairway Platinum 880 with a MiRO of 1536kg.

The GLE immediately feels adept at towing. From the first turn of the wheel, it’s composed, and the engine seems to be tailor-made for pulling a big, heavy tourer.

The nine-speed auto gearbox swaps ratios cleanly, and quickly finds the right gear to make the most of all that muscle. Half throttle is enough for brisk acceleration. Push the pedal further and the GLE gets up to speed more quickly than some cars can achieve without a caravan to pull.

Of course, towing is not something that should be done in a hurry. But having so much performance in reserve makes holding speed easy, even on hilly roads. And if you do get stuck behind slower traffic on the motorway, it’s reassuring to know that you can quickly reach 60mph again when the opportunity comes.

Towball deploys at the push of a button

The GLE is stable as well as powerful. There was hardly a twitch from car or caravan, even in strong crosswinds. In fact, we didn’t realise how strong the wind was until we stopped, opened the driver’s door, and felt the breeze pushing it closed.

Hill starts are usually straightforward in a big, powerful 4×4, and so it proved with the GLE. The electronic parking brake held car and caravan still on a 1-in-10 slope, and the Merc’s 4×4 system put the power to a damp road without strain or wheelspin.

Reach the campsite, and the GLE is easy to manoeuvre. The nine-speed auto creeps smoothly, and there’s the handy reversing aid to fall back on if you would like a little help steering your caravan onto its pitch. A reversing camera gives a clear view of the towball when its time to hitch up again, and the electrics are mounted on the side of the towbar, well clear of the bumper.

The ball and socket reply at the push of a button – there’s one on the tailgate and one on the driver’s door. The ball motors all the way out, so there’s no need to lock it into position by hand.

Solo driving

Even with ‘sport’ setting selected for adaptive air suspension, you never forget the Merc’s size

In solo driving as in towing, the big Merc’s engine deserves star billing. Acceleration is mighty. Driven gently, the engine sounds subdued, and even when revved hard, it’s smooth and unstrained.

Although very quick in a straight line, the GLE is built for comfort rather than agility. Even with the ‘sport’ setting selected for the adaptive air suspension (standard with this engine), you need forget the Merc’s size, and the numb steering will keep the driver at arm’s length.

MBUX infotainment system is stunning while the cab spec includes nappa leather upholstery and heated front seats

In ‘comfort’, the GLE rides undulating roads well, with just a little flatness over dips and crests. ‘Sport’ mode keeps things better tied down, without spoiling the ride. Sharp-edged bumps are felt more than in a Land Rover Defender, but otherwise, this is a very comfortable car.

It’s a quiet one, too. The big 20-inch alloy wheels generate some road noise, but you can hardly hear the wind, even at motorway speeds. Long journeys are the GLE’s forte.

Around town, the vehicle’s length and width are always on the driver’s mind, but no more so than in other big 4x4s, such as the Audi Q7 or Land Rover Discovery. You have a clear view out, which helps, as do the 360° parking cameras.

Space and practicality

Things are a lot tighter in the third row, but it’s possible to make the back seats less cramped by sliding the second row forwards

Much of the GLE’s extra length over its predecessor is between the front and rear wheels, which has allowed Mercedes to design a roomy, comfortable cabin.

The driver and front seat passenger have plenty of space to stretch out, but it’s in the middle row that the GLE has an advantage over most rivals. There’s a huge amount of legroom, so a passenger well over 6ft tall can sit behind an equally tall driver with room to spare. The panoramic sunroof does take up a little of the headroom, however.

Things are a lot tighter in the third row. If you regularly carry seven, a Land Rover Discovery might suit you better. However, it’s possible to make the back seats a little less cramped by sliding the second row forwards. They move electrically, so giving those in the back more legroom is done at the push of a button.

With all of the seats upright, the boot is small (Mercedes doesn’t quote a capacity), but with the third row folded, there’s a healthy 630 litres to fill, even with the middle row all the way back.

The middle row folds down and lifts up again with a button press, and with just the front seats left upright, there’s a huge 2055 litres for your bags.

Folding rows two and three gives 2055 litres for your bags

Unsurprisingly, the GLE’s interior combines practicality with luxury. It’s beautifully made in high-quality materials, and the MBUX infotainment system is stunning. It is also complicated, at first glance, with a choice of controls, ranging form a touchpad on the transmission tunnel, buttons on the steering wheel, the touchscreen itself, or voice control. It’s worth making the effort to become familiar with the system, as it’s easier to use than it first appears.

Buying and owning

Even by the standards of big 4x4s, this is an expensive car, with an asking price of nearly £73,000. That’s almost £2000 more than the equivalent Land Rover, and over £6000 more than the equivalent BMW X5.

You do get lots of kit as standard, though. AMG Line Premium Plus, the top-level specification, includes nappa leather upholstery, heated front seats, electronic adjustment of the middle row, DAB radio, a Burmester surround-sound system, satellite navigation, 12.3-inch multimedia display, air suspension, 20-inch alloys, and a long list of safety kit and driver aids. However, some will be put off by having a tyre repair kit, rather than a spare wheel.

Running costs will be high, but not unreasonable for a car of this size and performance. It sits in insurance group 48E of 50, so you can expect a pricey premium. Fuel bills aren’t quite as scary – the official combined figure is 39.2mpg, and we saw around 40mpg driving on the motorway. Towing the Swift, that fell to 23.3mpg.

After three years and 36,000 miles, expect the Mercedes to hold 49% of the original price. That matches the top-spec Land Rover Discovery’s retained value.

Verdict

Verdict is that the Mercedes GLE is a very capable, luxurious and practical tow car – but it is expensive

The Mercedes GLE is a very capable 4×4 – luxurious, practical and a pleasure to tow with. But that quality does come at a price. So should you pick one over its many talented rivals? Judged purely on towing ability, it’s on the same page as the Land Rover Discovery.

Stability is superb at any legal speed and on all types of road, and the tremendous 3.0-litre diesel is one of the best engines for towing we can think of. There is so much pulling power, available from such low revs, that the GLE’s nine-speed gearbox seems like overkill.

In solo driving, the BMW X5 is more fun, and the new Land Rover Defender has a smoother ride. But the GLE is superb for high-mileage drivers, with supportive seats, a quiet cabin and respectable economy.

The interior combines a quality finish with practicality. As a five-seater, it’s hard to beat, but the third row isn’t as roomy as you’ll find in a Discovery. Nonetheless, it’s useful to have seats six and seven in reserve, just in case you might need them, and there’s limousine-like space for anyone sitting in the second row.

This is an expensive car, even compared with other upmarket 4x4s, such as the Audi Q7 or the BMW X5. However, you do get a lot for your money. AMG Line Premium Plus is the highest spec level, and very well equipped. Luxury SUV buyers are spoilt for choice, and the Mercedes GLE makes their decision more difficult. You can buy sportier or more practical 4x4s, but as an all-round talent, the big Merc is among the very best.

How much will it cost on finance?

Whichever way you look at it, the Mercedes GLE is expensive. We found a contract hire deal through Vehicleflex.com. After an initial rental of £6933,51, there’s be 47 monthly payments of £770.39. The package allows for 10,000 miles per year, after which, penally charges for excess milage would be applied. Maintenance can be covered for another £63.92 per month.

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