Tested: 2023 Mercedes-Benz GLE300d… vs. ML500

Lucky you. Not only do you get NamWheels’ most seasoned active journalist to review this big Mercedes SUV, but I also happen to be the co-owner of its great-great granddaddy…

I beg your forgiveness for hijacking this GLE300d review as a comparison with my wife’s Familienkutsche, a 2004 ML500 of the loathed W163 generation. But I simply had to. They’re both silver, stem from the same manufacturer, and roughly do the same thing. When you squint heavily and ignore inflation.

The Alabama-built first generation of Mercedes-Benz’ M-Class (or ML) may have had chunky underpinnings and bomb-proof drive trains, but their rattling plastics and lack of styling did them no favours with the yuppy buyers they were so obviously aimed at. The 2005 W164 range corrected most of that, but didn’t go easy on mechanical issues.

Roll forward a few years and the 2011 W166 started out with shiny ML badges but aligned itself to Mercedes’ G-based naming strategy with its facelift in 2015. And in case you just silently wondered, the W165 designation was taken up long ago by one of those manically loud 1930’s silver racing cars.

This current generation, the W167, debuted in 2019 and is still mostly built in Alabama. And just to show you how far the M-Class / GLE has evolved over four generations, here is a fairly unfair chart comparing the values and virtues of our family-coach ‘500 with those of this new ‘300d:

Engine4,966cc Naturally-aspirated
petrol V8
1,993cc Turbo-diesel i-4 + EQ boost
Gearbox5-sp Auto9-sp Auto
Permanent 4WD with low rangeIntelligent AWD with drive modes
Tank size83L85L
0-100km/h7.77 (claimed 7.7)7.53 (claimed 6.9)
Top speed222km/h230km/h
Seats5 or 75 or 7
Boot size633L630L

If we ignore a couple of painfully obvious deficits (like cubic capacity) it actually turns out that the new one has piled up a couple of pounds and packed on a few millimeters… yet manages to be slightly faster and way more efficient with its infinitely more advanced drive train.

Will it be as bomb-proof as ye olde M113 V8? Given most of its long-lived four-cylinder turbo-diesel ancestors, there’s a good chance that the 300d’s engine will see similarly high mileage as its alcoholic ancestor. A subjective advantage of the old ML is its surprisingly spacious interior but relatively compact dimensions.

Every member of my family also applauds the W163’s straight and generous window line, because modern SUV’s (especially compact and/or wannabe-coupe ones) rob every available inch of glass for that oh-so-desirable tapered backside look. This decimates rear visibility and necessitates parking cameras… or those irritating cross-traffic nannies.

Pish-posh, the modern buyer will say. What they want is maximum fuel efficiency, thirty-two gears, every and any Sport accoutrement, and Android CarAuto on demand. The GLE300d does not disappoint on any of these levels because, even if you just want a beige headliner, the Mercedes configurator will force you into some R280,000 AMG Avantgarde AMG-Line extra AMG black pack.

On a diesel SUV!

Where the new 167-chassis also shines is in its car-like behavior, as MB long ago traded that ladder-frame chassis for tightly-packed independent suspension and car-like road manners. The old ML leans, wallows and floats in comparison to the new GLE; especially when driven in anger or approaching motorway speeds.

That’s where this new one quietly settles into its top gear ratio, hugs the road surface with impressive precision (for an SUV) and turns, brakes or overtakes with relative ease. The only time I found it to be as bouncy or vague as our old ML500 was during hard turns at parking speeds… for some reason it po-go’s around a bit.

And if I may add one more impartial observation: our test vehicle had keyless start but no keyless entry. It was also missing seat heaters and other luxuries you would find in competing Asian brands. You can get them as optional extras, but these tend to be rather pricey and/or locked into that blasted AMG package.

But I guess that’s what Mercedes-Benz has always done, even two decades ago when the M-Class stood on their showroom floors. The after-sales plans were slightly different back then, but today’s ones are nothing to be snuffed at: 2-year unlimited mileage warranty and a 5-year/100,000km maintenance plan. 

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