AA Driven Luxury SUV Car of the Year winner: Mercedes GLE snags redemption
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Redemption perhaps not in brand terms, anyway. Mercedes-Benz of course romped home to outright victory at last year's AA Driven New Zealand Car of the Year awards with the smart, tech-savvy new A-Class. And, while they weren't quite a finalist for the outright gong at last night's event, they did net a trio of awards for themselves.
No, this is redemption for the GLE as it, arguably and finally, steps well and truly out of the shadow of its patchy M-Class ancestry.
Driven has keenly followed the GLE's progress; from attending its international lauch in Texas to driving both the 300d and 400d on home soil. And it's an SUV we've struggled to find disappointment with.
The growth in size allowed Mercedes to convincingly tack on an extra row of seats. The whole cabin deserves praise to be fair, as it sports all of the brand's latest infotainment and safety tech — all wrapped in a design that strips the GLE of any whiff of utilitarianism. In other words, it's a true luxury car with SUV practicality.
“For technical reasons, for more comfort for the rear seats and knee clearance, you have a longer wheel base. And because of the longer wheel-base, the car can look like a dachshund because they are very long, so wheels are very important,” exterior designer Achim-Dietrich Badstubner told chief judge Liz Dobson.
“We take safety features into account 100 per cent. We have to basically follow the rules. We can’t question anything. We do question a lot and we try to optimise.
“Most of the time we are waiting for simulation but they talk about a millimetre or something, they give us a figure like 60 millimetres offset and we talk about maybe one or two mils. In the end we have to respect that."
And while outdoubtedly most buyers will gravitate to the larger and more traditional inline six 243kW/700Nm 3.0-litre diesel of the upscale 400d, we also had a lot of appreciation for the 180kW/500Nm four-cylinder 2.0-litre diesel in the 300d.
Remember, with all the tech and three rows of seating, the GLE is quite a heavy thing (90kg heavier than the outgoing model, in fact). So considering that, the pint-sized 2.0-litre does a bang-up job.
It faced quality rivals for segment honours in the Range Rover Evoque and Range Rover Sport. But, when it came to crowning the GLE as luxury SUV of the year, there was little doubt.