Battle lines have been drawn in the fight for the seven-seat luxury SUV dollar, with Mercedes-Benz unleashing its latest tech-laden GLE.
The large soft-roader wagon sees the return of a seven-seat option for the first time since the original ML that set the template for the modern breed of luxury wagons.
It also picks up a new 48-volt electrical architecture that ushers in mild hybrid technology on some models and the availability of an active suspension system designed to smooth bumpy roads and extricate the car from a bog.
Priced from $99,900 the latest GLE is roughly on par with the $97,800 Audi Q7 but undercuts the rival BMW X5 by $18K (X5 prices recently increased by $5000).
Room for more
Those planning on carrying more can pay an extra $3900 for the third row of seats, something that then brings power adjustment to the middle row.
It means that all three rows can then be electrically adjusted, with those in the middle row getting Merc's terrific controls mounted in clear view on the doors.
The driver can even adjust the position of the front passenger seat remotely, improving legroom in the second row; think of it as a nice touch for limousine drivers, some of whom will no doubt choose a GLE.
At least the primary school-aged kids will be able to keep their gadgets juiced up thanks to twin USB ports between the back seats.
The tech connected will like the shift to smaller, smarter USB-C connections.
For the rest of us you'll need to buy more adapters (there's one included) to utilise the charging outlets positioned in all three rows.
It's indicative of a big jump in infotainment, something anchored by the 12.3-inch central screen that sits alongside an identically sized digital instrument cluster.
There's also Mercedes-Benz's latest MBux system that allows basic voice commands to adjust everything from the ventilation and audio to the seat heating and sunroof.
It works well with the refined elegance to the cabin, the classy open pore wood surfaces and matte metal surfaces blending beautifully with those cinematic screens that take up a decent slab of dashboard.
Speaking of which, there's no shortage of standard kit, even in the basic GLE300d, which gets 180kW/500Nm four-cylinder turbo diesel power.
The muscular torque makes light work of 2.1 tonnes, even at freeway speeds.
It's helped by the nine-speed auto that slickly shifts gears and decisively chooses an appropriate ratio.
Standard fare includes a head-up display, 360-degree camera, heated front seats, smart key entry, 20-inch wheels and all-wheel drive, as well as a healthy suite of active safety gear to help avoid a crash.
But there's only fake leather, the real stuff coming with the $18K step up to the GLE400d, powered by a 243kW/700Nm of inline six-cylinder goodness.
We didn't get to try that engine in the new GLE but have experienced it previously in other Mercs.
It's an impressive unit, with loads of good old fashioned grunt that makes for feisty acceleration. Smooth, too.
There's also a 270kW/500Nm petrol-fed inline six-cylinder turbo in the GLE450. It includes an electric motor that can provided short bursts of up to 16kW/250Nm to help get the car moving before the engine takes over, reducing fuel use slightly.
In 2020 a V8-powered GLE63 AMG joins the family, promising to suitably dial up performance.
Another thing we haven't yet sampled is the E-Active Body Control suspension that utilises the 48V electrical system to make quick and often dramatic changes to the suspension.
It's about enhancing the smarts and bringing more off-road ability.
It uses the forward facing camera to scan the road and can pre-prepare the suspension for imminent bumps.
There's also a "curve inclination" function that droops the inside wheels around corners to reduce leaning.
The jump up
And if you get adventurous and don't fancy getting the Oxfords muddy it can even help get you out of a bog.
The "rocking mode" effectively jumps the suspension, temporarily placing more weight on the tyre contact patches, in turn upping grip to help the car claw out of trouble.
You can even control the position of wheels individually via the central touchscreen, all with the aim of improving traction off-road.
There are more practical solutions for those not planning on dirtying the paintwork: the tail can be lowered to allow easy loading and unloading of luggage.
All of which sounds more appealing than the basic suspension system, which isn't overly inspiring.
The ride can jiggle at lower speeds, for example, and occasionally jolt over sharp surfaces. Ours was running on optional 21-inch wheels with wider rear tyres and lower profile rubber, something that takes the edge off bump absorption.
But it's the body control that sometimes lets the GLE down on country roads, successive movements and bumps sometimes leading to unwanted shifting from side to side.
The optional air suspension quells some of that unwanted movement, although the GLE is not as adept at disposing of imperfections as some rivals.
It's oh so quiet
Where the GLE makes up points is in refinement.
The cabin is impressively hushed, wind and road noise kept at bay to allow easy conversation at speed. The four-cylinder diesel is also smooth and serene.
Option the $4200 13-speaker Burmester sound system and you pick up a panoramic sunroof to further ramp up the ambience.
But it's the tech in the drive system that helps define the GLE, a bigger, more convincing large SUV that now caters for up to seven.