Saturday 21 April 2018

Cars: The Merc that chills out - by stepping up a gear

This GLE now has nine of them

Nine gears: Mercedes GLE
Nine gears: Mercedes GLE
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

I think it is one of sport's most irritating clichés to hear how a team 'stepped up a gear' when they had to. When I listen to players, managers and commentators mouthing such inanities I fear what's left of my cognitive functions will frazzle in a haze of exasperation.

And yet here I am to tell you - irony of ironies - about a Mercedes that can go up another gear when you need it to.

Which means it now has NINE of them. Unlike in sport, however, it doesn't herald an increase in adrenalin or activity. In the large GLE sports utility vehicle I've just been testing, it means quite the opposite: ridiculously low engine revs at top motorway cruising speeds.

At 120kmh your normal engine with five or six gears would be somewhere between 2,700rpm to 3,000rpm - and more.

But this 2.2-litre four-cylinder diesel auto with 204bhp at its beck and call was only ticking over (1,400rpm to 1,450rpm). So it was working at only half the level of a normal 6spd car. And we're talking a large, bulky, weighty sports utility vehicle (SUV).

Obviously, the lower the revs the less fuel (in this case diesel) is consumed. It was wonderful to see and sense.

To be fair it liked to stay in eighth gear a lot. That only stands to reason because I was pressing on a bit sometimes. Yet as soon as I got into the 110km/115km range and eased off on the pedal, I'd prod it into ninth via the F1-like paddles on the steering wheel. And there it would happily whish along.

Even allowing for the lower revs, I'd dispute the official fuel consumption figures of 5.7l/5.9l/100km and put them closer to 7.5l/km in real-world (well mine anyway) driving. For a big luxury SUV that is still a good figure. By the way the GLE is the new name for what is an enhanced, modernised version of the old M-Class which, I frankly admit, never did much for me.

Not that they went overboard with this on their modernisations either, though it drove well.

They have come up with a striking new front, I'll admit. Taken in isolation it looks the part. But it seemed to me to be singularly at odds with the rest of the body which is a bit of an angular hulk, especially with those rear-corners.

Give them their due, the cabin is nicely upgraded. Oh, I might as well admit it: I found it suited me a lot. There was plenty of big-seat room, great driving position and loads of space. It was just so comfortable.

However, the central screen that shelters and shows so much information still looks out of place on what was an otherwise pleasant dash. I know they say they have integrated it. Not so sure it works that well. But the 'command controller' on the central console does.

I liked the way the elbow rest splits in two to give a great bit of space for the bits and pieces that seem to accompany me on every drive now: charging connections for the phone (hands-free through Bluetooth), spectacles case, my little test notebook etc.

But I would urge them to do something about the rear tailgate. It's huge and heavy. I had to pull hard to drag it down and close. I know I'm spoilt with electric versions in most motors I've been driving. My advice is to order one. On a wet, cold day you'll save precious time and keep dry if loading or unloading the massive boot.

With permanent all-wheel-drive 4Matic versions (there is a 4x2 as well) or AWD in any car these days, I sense the traction and grip. And I like it. I value the bit of reassurance it gives. There are several options on the AWD in this (Sport, Comfort, Individual).

I'm not taking liberty with your money but I'd make the point that if you are going to buy an SUV of this stature, then do think about AWD especially if you are likely to be towing anything (3,500kg capacity).

I drove this over a right old testing off-road course abroad earlier this year. It's a seriously decent all-rounder, no doubt about that. Decent package now.

Which prompts the final cliché... the revised ex-M-Class, now GLE, has gone up a gear in more ways than one.

Facts & figures

Mercedes GLE 250d 4Matic 4WD 9spd auto diesel (2,143cc, 204bhp, 5.7l-5.9l/100km, 149g/km, road tax €390. Prices start at €65,665. 250d 4Matic from €71,750; version on test with optional extras: €74,721. Delivery/related charges extra.

Equipment on test car included ARTICO black leather upholstery, active parking assist/Parktronic, heated front seats, spread of active and safety equipment, collision prevention assist, collapsible spare wheel, Garmin sat nav. Extras included reversing camera, ambient lighting, poplar wood trim.

My side of the road

Try this and let me know how you get on. Smile. Even if you are in a mad hurry and wouldn't normally let that person out of the side road, just do it. And smile. We're not going to become better, and safer, drivers without some effort. It's my own intention to try much harder because, like many others, I've become an All-Right Jack. Here goes the 'smiles better' route.

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