Sunday drive by Hormazd Sorabjee: A look at the Mercedes-Benz India E-Class
In 2017, Mercedes-Benz India took a gamble when it launched the current E-Class. It introduced a stretched version only and not the considerably cheaper standard-length model. Would the customers pay a premium on what was already an expensive luxury sedan just for some extra legroom? The gamble paid off. Customers flocked to the E-Class for its exceptional comfort and space, and this luxury sedan quickly became the best-selling car in its class.
Armed with confidence off the E-Class’s success, Mercedes is taking the ‘longer is better’ route for its SUVs as well and is bringing a stretched version of the all-new GLE with a wheelbase that’s a whopping 80mm longer than the outgoing car. That translates to more space in the cabin and in particular, legroom.
The extra length is immediately noticeable when you try to ease this 4.9 metre long SUV into a tight parking spot or when you try and negotiate the tight entry and exit ramps in any parking mall. The new GLE is not a car designed for small spaces and it makes no bones about it. However, on the move, the GLE’s bulk quickly disappears and I’m amazed with how responsive and easy this hulking SUV is to drive. The sharp and responsive steering feels like it’s been plucked off one of Mercedes’ smaller, sportier cars whilst the quick-to-react and punchy 2.0 litre turbo-diesel gives this beast a certain agility that belies its weight.
The diesel GLE (badged 300d) has exceptional refinement and is one of the smoothest diesel SUVs in the market today. The engine is imperceptible for most of the time and it’s only when you push it hard that the distinct diesel drone is evident. Even then it’s like a distant murmer from under the long hood. The new GLE comes with a nine-speed automatic transmission. That’s right, that’s nine gears! The good thing is that all nine gears work in perfect unison and gearshifts are so smooth that they are almost imperceptible.
The drama-free character of the powertrain only serves to the mask the speed the GLE 300d is capable of. Zero-100kph comes up in just eight seconds, which is a good second and a half faster than the outgoing GLE 250d. That’s a huge difference and all its down to the new BS6 2-litre diesel engine, which has some pretty serious tech not just to meet latest emission regulations but to boost power and performance too.
For the speeds the GLE 300d is capable of, I expected the ride to be tauter and a bit more settled. And though the big Merc SUV glides over bumpy roads, there’s a fair bit of up and down movement and the odd thump and thwack over sharp edges, which can be disturbing for passengers. These foibles apart, the suspension, which is tuned more for comfort than sportiness, allows the GLE to glide over roads with an imperious air.
Big leap forward
You’ll immediately be struck by the amount of space on offer as you step into the sumptuous cabin and making it look even more airy is the white Artico ‘leather’ trimmings and the massive panoramic sunroof. The dashboard is dominated by two huge digital screens attached end-to-end. One of the talking points of the new GLE is Mercedes’s ‘MBUX’ infotainment system which is fast, responsive and easy to use. The track pad controller is still a bit fiddly to use though and the best way to operate the system is by simply poking the desired icon on the screen.
The GLE 300d also aces it when it comes to seat comfort, especially in the rear where there is just acres of space. I missed a recline function for the rear seat, which you only get in the higher-spec 450 petrol variant. Top variants will also get additional kit-like gesture control, wireless charging and a 360-degree surround camera.
The new GLE is a big leap forward in almost every area. It’s more refined, more responsive and quicker and it’s lighter to drive too. On the inside, space and comfort have gone up by several notches and so will the price. Expect to shell out in the region of rupees 75 lakh (plus taxes) when the GLE is launched in January 2020. It’s not cheap but like the E-Class has shown that the wealthy are happy to pay a few extra lakhs for a few extra square inches of space, making luxury cars the most expensive pieces of real estate.
Hormazd Sorabjee is one of the most senior and much loved auto journalists in India, and is editor of Autocar India
Sunday Drive appears every fortnight
From HT Brunch, December 15, 2019
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