by Jared Rosenholtz
In case you haven’t been keeping up-to-date with the Mercedes-Benz SUV nomenclature, the GLE replaced the old ML. This means the 2020 GLE competes in the mid-size SUV category against models like the Audi Q7, BMW X5, Jaguar F-Pace, Maserati Levante, Porsche Cayenne, and Volvo XC90. We didn't pay much attention when the GLE first arrived on the market because it was little more than a rebadged ML. For the 2020 model year, the GLE is all-new, so we decided to test one to see how it stacks up against the competition.
The GLE is currently available with two engine options - a four-cylinder GLE 350 model and a six-cylinder GLE 450 model with an EQ Boost mild hybrid system. While the outgoing GLE was simply a rebadged ML, this all-new model displays some of the best technology Mercedes has to offer including a highly-advanced suspension system and new infotainment system. There are sportier competitors on the market but few offer the same level of comfort and technology as the GLE.
The 2020 year model sees the introduction of an all-new Mercedes-Benz GLE, the second generation of the nameplate and the first to be developed in its entirety as a GLE, after the previous generation’s changeover from the previous ML nameplate. This new model arrives with a vastly improved exterior, interior, and engine choices.
Although it is a completely new model for 2020, the GLE’s styling is evolutionary rather than revolutionary. Among the changes are completely new full-LED headlights and taillights, standard 19-inch alloy wheels, integrated aluminum roof rails, and an integrated roof spoiler, while features like illuminated running boards and a panoramic sunroof are optional. Exterior styling can be customized with available aggressive AMG-line body styling, larger alloy wheels (up to 21-inches in size), dark-accented, and Night package styling that converts chrome detailing to gloss black.
We were sent an Emerald Green GLE without the AMG Line Exterior Package. Along with 20-inch wheels and a more interesting grille, this $3,250 package gets rid of the plastic body cladding on the fenders, which we feel looks cheap on an otherwise elegant SUV. The GLE mostly blends in with the SUV pack, so don’t expect it to turn many heads at the country club.
With the redesign for the 2020 model year, the GLE has grown slightly but still fits within the confines of the mid-size luxury crossover segment. At 194.3 inches in length, it matches the 2019 BMW X5, while its wheelbase of 117.9-inches is longer than the BMW but matches the Audi Q7. It measures 84.9 inches wide and 70.7 inches high, with a ground clearance of 7.1 inches, indicative that this is hardcore off-roader right out of the box (although it can raise its suspension height in Off-Road Mode). It’s a heavyweight, too, with curb weights from just under 4,700 lbs in its most basic configuration, the figure swells as the options are added.
A color palette of 11 standard hues is made available across the GLE range, mimicking last year’s palette (only Black and Polar White are no-cost options). For $720, you can equip Obsidian Black, Iridium Silver, Lunar Blue, Brilliant Blue, Selenite Gray, and two new colors for the new model, Mojave Silver, and Emerald Green, all of which are metallic finish paints. Two Designo colors are available, with the Designo Cardinal Red Metallic finish costing $1,080 and Designo Diamond White Metallic costing $1,515. The latter two are expensive, but we’ll give Mercedes-Benz one thing, they do look good on the GLE. The Emerald Green found on our tester is an especially interesting color because it appears black in low light, then flashes its metallic brilliance when hit with sunlight.
Of the two non-AMG GLE derivatives, the GLE 450 finds itself as the most potent performer in the line-up. With 362 horsepower and 369 lb-ft gleaned from a new 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-six with a mild-hybrid supplementation dubbed EQ Boost adding 21 hp when necessary, the GLE 450 claims the 0-60 mph sprint in 5.5 seconds. This means the new GLE 450 is nearly as quick as the outgoing GLE 43 AMG. If you’re in search of anything quicker and more performance focused than that, there will be updated GLE 53 and GLE 63 AMG models coming soon.
Traction is granted by permanent all-wheel drive, a staple in this segment. Mercedes has also equipped the GLE with an off-road mode, capable of raising the ride height significantly and controlling each individual corner of the air suspension on-demand. The all-wheel drive also helps the GLE 450 with its maximum towing capacity of 7,700 lbs with the optional trailer hitch equipped, which is matched by the less powerful GLE350, albeit with far less ease.
On the GLE 350, Mercedes-Benz equips a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four developing 255 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque, while the GLE 450 receives a newly developed turbocharged six-cylinder developing 362 hp and a hefty 369 lb-ft of torque with the assistance of a mild-hybrid EQ Boost system which can add a further 21 hp when needed. The GLE 350 is available with rear-wheel-drive but the GLE 450 model comes standard with AWD with power channeled through a 9G-Tronic nine-speed automatic gearbox.
The new inline-six engine is a gem, with smooth power at almost any rpm. Mash the throttle, and the inline-six loves to deliver smooth bursts of acceleration all the way up to redline. Power is so readily available thanks to the mild hybrid assist, it almost feels like a normally aspirated engine. As a luxury item, the 3.0-liter mill is tough to beat but it lacks the sporty exhaust note found in the BMW X5. The EQ Boost also provides one of the smoothest start-stop systems we’ve ever tested, which is virtually undetectable. If you find yourself constantly turning off stop-start in your car, we promise the GLE’s system will completely change your opinion on this feature.
And although the inline-six is remarkable smooth, it is slightly let down by Mercedes’ 9G-Tronic transmission. The gearbox shifts smoothly during acceleration but can produce jerky shifts when coming to a hault. It is a minor complaint in an otherwise brilliant powertrain.
With the 2020 GLE 450, Mercedes has managed to change the game on comfort in the midsize SUV segment. Our tester was equipped with the $8,100 E-Active Body Control Package, which allows the driver to control the Airmatic suspension at will. Flipping the GLE into off-road mode raises the suspension to its highest setting and enables a feature called Free Driving Assistant. This system can literally bounce the vehicle up and down in the event it gets stuck in snow, sand, or mud. It can also be used to entertain the kids and participants at car shows.
When the GLE’s suspension isn’t bouncing you out of an off-road predicament, it is graciously gliding over all imperfections on the road. Thanks to an ability to read the road ahead using cameras and sensors, speed humps are essentially erased by this suspension. We’ve never driven an SUV, aside from maybe the Rolls-Royce Cullinan, that rides over bumps more smoothly. When the roads get twisty, the GLE also has a curve mode that nearly eliminates body lean, which is impressive on such a large SUV.
Mercedes has also included a Sport Mode, though it is not the GLE’s main purpose. Steering is fairly light and not as precise as some competitors, so we don’t consider the GLE as the king of the pack for sporty driving dynamics. We also felt the need to lean heavily on the brakes when bringing the GLE to stop, which is likely due to its nearly 5,000-pound curb weight.
Despite the additional thrust, the EQ Boost system ensures the GLE 450 is only marginally less economical than the GLE 350. Still, smaller displacement equals higher mileage, with the GLE 350’s EPA mileage estimates at 19/26/22 mpg city/highway/combined. The GLE 450 fares almost identically at 19/24/21 mpg. Both models require premium unleaded gasoline, and a full 22.5-gallon tank should achieve a range of up to 495 miles with mixed driving conditions in the more economical GLE 350.
We easily matched the EPA estimates thanks to the GLE 450’s excellent stop-start system. With the help of the mid hybrid assist, the GLE can deactivate its engine without interrupting the climate control or alerting the driver. The engine turns on and off so quietly and so smoothly, it’s difficult to even tell when the stop-start system is engaged.
It’s easy to be distracted by Mercedes-Benz’s state of the art MBUX infotainment interface equipped to the GLE, which is good enough to take the focus off of what is one of the best interiors Mercedes has produced. A classy design and high-quality materials are paired with opulent mood lighting, comfortable seats, and an abundance of available technological features. The cabin is spacious enough for adults front and rear with generous headroom and legroom for all and a standard five-seat configuration. But for the new model, a seven-seat configuration is also available for the first time, placing the GLE closer than ever to the practicality of the Volvo XC90 and Audi Q7. If you do need that third row for hauling adults, however, you are much better off with the larger GLS because the GLE’s third row is cramped even for smaller adults.
The GLE’s interior is one of our favorites in the segment. We especially love the dual screens in the dashboard, which are highly customizable and can be controlled via small touchpads on the wheel, a larger touchpad on the center console, a touchscreen, and voice command. All of the areas around the screen feel highly premium with either real wood or metal trim. The interior was even further jazzed up by ambient lights with an endless array of color options.
We also marveled at the highly adjustable front seats, which even included an optional massage function as well as heating and ventilation on our test vehicle. Even the back seat, which provides a generous 40.9 inches of legroom, can recline and slide electronically using controls on the doors.
Base GLE models come with a simulated leather material called MB-Tex, but can be equipped with either black, Macchiato Beige, or Espresso Brown leather for $1,620. For $2,990, the GLE can be equipped with more premium Nappa leather in either black or Magma Grey. Those leathers can be matched with Grey Linden wood or Aluminum trim as standard, or Natural Grain Grey Oak and Natural Grain Brown Walnut wood for an additional $160. No matter which color options you pick, all of the materials feel premium and high-quality.
With the optional third-row seats in place, the GLE loses all practical cargo volume. However, in the standard two-row configuration, it offers 33.3 cubic feet of storage, not the best in the segment, but still plenty for a family holiday. Fold the second-row seats (40/20/40 split) and the GLE avails a maximum storage capacity of 74.9 cubic feet, one of the biggest cargo bays in the segment. Loading is generally easy with a large power tailgate opening, but the available Airmatic suspension makes it even easier, by lowering the ride height further for increased ease of use. Folding the rear seats and accessing the third row is made easy with electrically-powered adjustment, though the adjustment itself takes longer than manually-adjustable seats.
Internal storage is abundant, with large pockets on all doors, large cup holders throughout (heated and cooled in the center console), and a wireless charging pad and smartphone-sized storage bin in the center console. We did notice that water bottles rolled around a bit in the cup holders, but they held larger drinks with ease. The storage bin under the center armrest is on the smaller side, but not impractically so.
In typical Mercedes-Benz style, there’s an abundance of standard and optional features available for the new GLE. Standard features include power adjustable front seats with heating and memory, a power liftgate remote start, reverse camera, dual-zone climate control, a power tilt-and-slide panoramic sunroof, and power steering wheel adjustment. Optionally, buyers can equip ventilation to the front seats, massage functionality, heated armrests, heated and cooled cup holders, a heated steering wheel, four-zone climate control, soft close doors, heated second-row seats, power second-row seats, and optional third-row seats.
In-car Wi-Fi is available, along with wireless device charging, as well as a full-color heads-up driver display, as are numerous driver aids like evasive steering assist, lane change assist, blind spot assist, and lane keeping assist. The list goes on, it’s just a matter of how much you’re willing to pay as the prices for the extras add up fast. We were slightly disappointed by some of the driver assist technologies, including the lane change assist, which we couldn’t get to work with any amount of repeatability.
Operating any of the GLE’s infotainment features is incredibly intuitive but the new MBUX system can seem overwhelming if this is your first introduction to it. All of the controls can be operated using one of four inputs including wheel-mounted controllers, a touchpad, touchscreen, or voice command. By adding so many redundant methods to control it, Mercedes ensure everyone can find a way they like to control the car.
If all else fails, just say "Hey Mercedes” and the car will listen to your voice prompts. The system is highly advanced and can even understand natural language such as "I’m cold” to turn up the climate control temperature. Although the voice command itself works well, we often found it difficult to trigger, while sometimes it triggered accidentally even when we did not say, "Hey Mercedes.”
MBUX even learns your daily behavior so if you call your mother every Tuesday at 5:00 PM, the screen will display a prompt reminding you to call your mother. Even if all of this isn’t to your liking, Mercedes includes Android Auto and Apple CarPlay as standard.
Completely new for the 2020 year model, it’s still too early to glean any information regarding the new GLE’s reliability, and it’s too soon in the model’s lifespan to pick up on serious problems. As of yet, there have been no recalls. We experienced no issues with the GLE during our week of testing aside from a poorly fastened door handle that squeaked when it was grabbed.
The Mercedes-Benz GLE is covered by a range of warranties, including a standard four-year/50,000-mile basic warranty with extended options up to 100,000 miles. Mercedes maintenance is notoriously pricey, so be sure to opt for a service plan with your vehicle.
This early in the GLE’s current generation, neither the IIHS or NHTSA has tested its crash safety. But the 2019 model was awarded Top Safety Pick + status by the IIHS, and with more advanced safety features than ever, we expect the 2020 GLE to score highly.
Generous safety features come standard, with nine airbags (dual front airbags, front side-impact airbags, front pelvic airbags, a driver’s knee airbags, and side curtain airbags), attention assist, trailer stability assist, crosswind assist, active parking assist, and blind spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert. Additional features add further peace of mind with DISTRONIC distance control, evasive steering assist, active blind spot assist, lane keeping assist, a surround-view camera system, and route-based speed management for the adaptive cruise control.
It would be underselling the 2020 GLE if we didn’t say it was the best all-around package in the mid-size luxury SUV segment. With handsome looks, a stunning interior, advanced technology, off-road credibility, smooth engine, and flawless ride, there’s almost nothing not to like about the GLE. The only SUV we’ve ever tested that can match the GLE on comfort is the Rolls-Royce Cullian, which is more than four times more expensive.
There are sportier SUVs in the segment, like the BMW X5 and Porsche Cayenne, but if you already have a sports car in the garage, why do you need your SUV to be sporty? We could complain that the GLE is far from the prettiest model in the Mercedes lineup and the third-row space is pitiful but we think it best to consider the GLE as a five-seater and wait for the GLE 63 AMG to dial up the flare.
In its base format, a Mercedes-Benz GLE 350 starts off at a base MSRP of $56,200, excluding tax, registration, licensing, dealer mark-ups, and destination charge. The GLE 450 starts from $61,150. However, that base price is seldom the price paid, and if you’re too heavy-handed when it comes to ticking the extensive options list, prices could soar well into the $90,000 bracket.
The Mercedes-Benz GLE is available in two trims: GLE 350 4MATIC and GLE 450 4MATIC.
Both models come extensively equipped as standard with 19-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, a sunroof, power liftgate, keyless entry and ignition, adaptive dampers, automated parking, and a 12.3-inch MBUX infotainment system with AI abilities, navigation, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, HD radio, and five USB-C ports.
Where the trims differ is in their powertrains, with the GLE 350 powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine developing 255 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque, while the GLE 450 gets a turbo 3.0-liter six-cylinder developing 362 hp and 369 lb-ft, supplemented by a 21 hp mild hybrid 48-volt system. The GLE 450 is the only model with the option of the E-Active Body Control system with predictive suspension adjustment to manage body roll.
|GLE 350 RWD SUV||2.0-liter Turbo Inline-4 Gas||9-Speed Automatic||Rear Wheel Drive||$50,478||$53,700|
|GLE 350 4MATIC SUV||2.0-liter Turbo Inline-4 Gas||9-Speed Automatic||All Wheel Drive||$52,828||$56,200|
|GLE 450 4MATIC SUV||3.0-liter Turbo Inline-6 Hybrid||9-Speed Automatic||All Wheel Drive||$57,481||$61,150|
Mercedes-Benz offers numerous standalone and package upgrades to the GLE range, however, not all are worth the extra spend.
Aesthetically, AMG styling packages are available with 20-inch wheels and aggressive bodywork, priced from $2,900 for the standard AMG-line exterior, or $3,200 for the Night Package with dark exterior trimmings. Likewise, an AMG interior trim adds sports seats, sporty interior trim, an AMG sports steering wheel, and AMG mats for $400.
The third-row seat package is available for $2,100, equipping two extra seats, power second-row seats, and two additional USB ports in the rear, while a $1,850 Premium Package adds a 13-speaker Burmester surround sound system, 64-color LED ambient lighting, wireless device charging, SiriusXM radio, and a 115-volt power outlet. We’d skip the third-row unless you need it for small children but the optional sound system is worth the money. There’s also an acoustic comfort package for $1,100 which adds laminated windows with an acoustic and heat-absorbing membrane, making the GLE’s cabin even quieter inside.
The $1,600 MBUX Technology package adds augmented video for navigation, the MBUX interior assistant, and a driver’s head-up display. Airmatic air suspension is available on both trims for $1,710, but only the GLE 450 gets the option of E-Active Body Control for $8,100. It may seem like a lot to spend on an option you can’t even see but the E-Active Body Control makes the GLE one of the most comfortable SUVs on the market. Be sure to at least test drive one at the dealer before deciding to save the $8,100.
If GLE’s endless array of options seems too confusing, let us help you out by telling you exactly how we’d option it. Go for the GLE 450 with the inline-six engine for $61,150 because the smooth power is too irresistible. Add the AMG Line exterior for $3,250, panoramic roof for $1,000, Emerald Green paint for $720, leather interior for $1,620, acoustic comfort package for $1,100, premium package for $1,850, MBUX technology package for $1,600, massaging and ventilated front seats for $1,500, the E-Active body control, and a few various options to bring the total price to $88,960.
Wonderful though the GLE may be, it’s a lot of SUV, and for many buyers, the smaller GLC may be enough. Smaller in size, the GLC only seats five, as opposed to the optional seven in the GLE, but five adults will still be relatively comfortable. Based on an older generation of vehicle architecture, it still boasts a refined interior with high levels of available technology that place it firmly in the luxury category, but the GLE is classier, roomier, and offers technology that elevates the industry as a whole, not just the mid-size SUV segment. The MBUX infotainment system is more intuitive and advanced than the GLC’s COMAND system, however, the older setup still compares favorably to the systems found in rivals. The GLE rides better too, especially when equipped with the E-Active Body Control, and the engines are more refined and powerful than those of the GLC. But the GLC is much cheaper - the concession made as you’re getting much less SUV for your money. The GLE is better than the GLC every metric, but if you’re only just stretching your budget for a base GLE 350, a well-specced GLC may suit your needs a little better.
Both the X5 and the GLE have been newly developed for the current model year, taking great leaps beyond what previous generations offered. Both offer comfortable, roomy seating for five, but the GLE offers available seating for seven - even if the third-row is somewhat cramped. Both offer comparable cargo volume and high-quality interiors, and both are extensively equipped with safety and technological conveniences, but the Mercedes feels more luxurious overall, aided by the class-leading ride quality when equipped with the E-Active Body Control. In terms of engines, both offer a couple of good options with similar performance, but the X5’s eight-speed automatic is more refined than the GLE’s nine-speed. Both the X5 and GLE rank near the top of this segment, and priced similarly they’ll be at the top of your shopping list. Either is a good buy, but if comfort is your priority, the Mercedes just edges the BMW for the top spot.