With the 2020 GLE, Mercedes-Benz sheds the crossover SUV’s occasionally compromised past.
Set to go on sale in the spring of 2019, the 2020 Mercedes GLE-Class is as much a high-riding E-Class wagon as it is an off-roader. For most buyers, that’ll be just fine.
The GLE sets the standard for mid-size crossover SUV luxury. Accordingly, we rate it at 7.2 out of 10, without official crash-test data so that score may rise. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
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The GLE launches initially in a single body style with either turbo-4 or turbo-6 power. Four-cylinder GLE350 models come standard with rear-wheel drive and offer all-wheel drive as an option, while all GLE450 crossovers send power to each wheel.
The GLE350 uses a 255-horsepower 2.0-liter turbo-4 paired to a 9-speed automatic transmission to furnish power likely to be more than sufficient for most drivers. Opting for the GLE450 nets buyers Mercedes’ sublime turbocharged inline-6 engine paired to an 48-volt electrical system that saves fuel and adds a passing-power 21-hp boost to its 362-hp rating. The 48-volt electrical system can also power an available active body control system tied to an air suspension that uses cameras and sensors to watch the road ahead to preemptively strike back against rough pavement.
A GLE450 with the active body control system is costly—at least $73,000—but it delivers an S-Class-grade ride. Even without that tech, the GLE absorbs bumps in stride and can be entertaining when pushed.
The GLE’s two-box silhouette echoes the M-Class that pushed Mercedes into the 20th century. Its rakish C-pillar and big three-pointed star are cues to the past, but the new model has a more rugged look than ever thanks to fender flares that come unpainted or can be specified in body color.
Inside, the GLE’s look takes the E-Class’ organic, curvy shapes and squares them off, at least a little. A pair of 12.3-inch screens sit under a single panel of glass on higher-trim versions, the left one handling instrument cluster functions and the right working as a touchscreen for Mercedes’ new MBUX infotainment software. MBUX works well, mostly, but its best feature might be its voice-recognition system. Gesture controls are also available, but seem more distracting than useful.
The GLE’s interior is supremely spacious and, in the high-trim versions Mercedes has shown us so far, it’s exceptionally luxurious. The front seats are supportive and offer a good, but not great, view out, and the rear seats have plenty of room for two or three. A third row is optional, but most users will be better off waiting for the inevitable redesigned GLS-Class—it’s in essence a GLE with a stretched body.
The GLE350 costs at least $54,500, but not many will leave its Tuscaloosa, Alabama, assembly plant for less than $60,000 with just a few options. Those run the gamut, from Burmester audio to a head-up display to a package with heated front seats and armrests. An in-car fragrance diffuser is even available. For a price, of course.
The good news is that all GLEs include automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitors, LED headlights, and car-to-X communication that makes them somewhat future-proof.