The 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class is the finest midsize premium SUV the company has ever made. Lavish praise, admittedly, but there are facts to back it up. For example, no rival can match the optional and excellent hydro-pneumatic suspension. A navigation system with augmented reality is also offered.
This model year marks the arrival of an all-new GLE generation. And even though its rivals (especially the Germans) are great, this vehicle goes directly to the front of the pack. It’s refined, full of standard safety and convenience features, more spacious than before, more luxurious and generally feels more evolved.
One new standard feature is the Mercedes-Benz User Experience or MBUX. Think of it as a digital assistant like Siri or Alexa. It’s controlled by voice. Say "Hey Mercedes" to activate, then give a command such as "find the nearest gas station" and it carries out its task. Sometimes it’s a little eager, merely saying the word "Mercedes" in the course of a conversation can spark it into action, but saying "Cancel" puts it back on standby.
On a less technical, but still highly useful note, the new GLE-Class offers the option of a third row of seats, taking the total occupant count up to seven. The pessimists among us might assume that this extra accommodation will only be suitable for the young, short and flexible. Bear in mind, though, that the second row can slide forward and back, and that the new GLE has a wheelbase that’s 3.1 inches longer than its predecessor. The company claims that someone passengers measuring 5 feet, 10 inches tall will be comfortable.
This is, as its full name suggests, the SUV version of the GLE-Class. A GLE Coupe version with four doors and a sloping roof based on this new platform is no doubt being prepared for prime time. When it does, it will be reviewed separately.
Those seeking greater driving thrills than the current 2020 GLE offerings can provide must wait until the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE debuts later in 2020.
What’s New for 2020?
It’s a completely new generation making its debut this year, from the body shell outward. See the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class models for sale
What We Like
- Advanced drivetrains in the two higher trims
- Standard equipment includes blind spot monitoring
- Dual information displays
What We Don’t
- Entry-level engine a bit underpowered for a vehicle of this size
The first engine in the new GLE-Class range is a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder unit making 255 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque. This goes through a 9-speed automatic transmission to the rear wheels in the regular GLE 350 or to all four in the GLE 350 4Matic.
The GLE 450 4Matic and GLE 580 4Matic have all-wheel drive as standard, along with the same 9-speed automatic transmission. The GLE 450 employs a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline six that generates 362 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque. The GLE 580 is propelled by a twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V8 to the tune of a forceful 483 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque.
Both of these engines also have an electric motor running off a lithium-ion battery. Called EQ Boost, it’s a 48-volt system that might answer to the loose description of "mild hybrid," but it’s meant to perform other functions. One is to power the fuel-saving engine stop/start feature and make it a smoother action than often experienced in other vehicles. Another is to run ancillary items like water pumps, thereby doing away with drive belts and the parasitic losses they incur. It also allows the engine to reach its maximum output sooner.
Perhaps the benefit of the EQ Boost most keenly felt by drivers, though, is the E-Active Body Control optional adaptive hydro-pneumatic suspension powered by this 48-volt system. Our "Behind the Wheel" section further down goes into greater detail.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) didn’t have a full set of fuel consumption estimates at the time of writing. It reckons the GLE 350 4Matic should achieve 19 miles per gallon in the city, 26 mpg on the highway and 22 mpg in combined driving, while rating the GLE 450 4Matic at 19 mpg city/24 mpg hwy/21 mpg combined.
Standard Features and Options
The 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class SUV is available in three variants, with the entry-level model offering the option of AWD (known as 4Matic) for $2,500.
The 2020 GLE 350 ($54,695) comes with 19-in alloy wheels, gear shift paddles beneath the steering wheel, LED headlamps/taillights, power-folding side mirrors, a sunroof, keyless entry/ignition, remote start, dual-zone automatic climate control, simulated leather upholstery, power-adjustable front seats with driver’s-side memory, a power-adjustable steering column, dual 12.3-inch screens (one for driver information, one for infotainment), a hands-free tailgate, rain-sensing wipers, heated front seats, Active Parking Assist (self-steering parking feature), five USB (C-type) ports, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone integration, navigation, a voice-controlled digital assistant (MBUX), Bluetooth, an HD radio, 40/20/40 split/fold second-row seats, cargo cover, forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking, blind spot monitoring and driver fatigue monitoring.
The GLE 450 4Matic ($62,145) receives a more sophisticated AWD system than the GLE 350 4Matic, plus the inline-6 engine.
The GLE 580 4Matic ($77,795) comes with the air suspension as standard, along with the AMG Line package bringing some cosmetic differences and 20-in alloy wheels.
The 450 and 580 models are eligible for the E-Active Body Control system. It’s pricey, though, at $8,100.
A Premium package contains a Burmester surround-sound system, 64-color ambient LED cabin lighting, wireless charging, satellite radio and a 115-volt outlet.
The Driver Assistance package brings adaptive cruise control, evasive steering assistance, along with various active functions covering steering, lane-keeping assist and stop/go assistance.
Other options include a panoramic sunroof, leather upholstery, adaptive air suspension, a heated steering wheel, third seating row, cabin air purification/fragrance system, ventilated/massaging front seats, quad-zone climate control, soft-closing doors, gesture control, a head-up display, heated front armrests, heated second-row seats, heated/cooled cup holders, navigation with augmented reality, adaptive high beams, a 360-degree camera system, 20-in alloy wheels and a trailer hitch.
The cargo area behind the second row is 22 cu ft. up to the top of the backrests. Folding those seats down expands the space to a total of 72.5 cu ft.
Neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) have crash-tested the new GLE-Class. But it should be as safe as anything on the road.
Although Volvo is often seen as the "safety first" car maker, Mercedes-Benz is just as innovative and diligent in this respect. The new GLE’s body shell uses ultra-high-strength steel where it can be most effective. Several accident prevention aids are standard, as well as nine airbags.
Behind the Wheel
There are many options and alternatives that might confuse a buyer. But let’s just focus on the basic model for a moment. The ride quality is perfectly comfortable and composed, absolutely suitable for a luxury midsize crossover. The cabin is also sufficiently serene and spacious, while the dual displays are a constant reminder of the GLE’s tech riches. If AWD is not considered necessary and driving duties are not expected to work the engine particularly hard, then we can imagine many owners being perfectly happy with this choice.
Luxury vehicles really ought to have more than four cylinders, though. The GLE 450 4Matic is a stronger performer and its AWD system has an advantage of the GLE 350’s option. It can send up to 100% of available torque to either axle, whereas the simpler version runs to 50/50.
It’s at this level where the E-Active Body Control becomes obtainable. Not to be confused with the air suspension, this system takes its power from the 48-volt setup. Each shock absorber is monitored continuously and adjusted by its own electric motor to suit the conditions of the moment. It also has a cornering function where it leans the GLE into a bend (similar to how motorcyclist might take a corner) to reduce the sensation of lateral forces. And if someone gets stuck in sand, this system can "bounce" the vehicle free. It really is a remarkable piece of equipment.
Other Cars to Consider
2019 Acura MDX— Not so high-profile as its German rivals, but excellent value for money. A hybrid is also offered.
2019 BMW X5— A new generation debuted last year. The range starts off with a more powerful engine than the GLE. Well worth considering.
2019 Porsche Cayenne — Revamped completely last year. A thrill to drive, even if it is an SUV.
2019 Volvo XC90— Spacious and stylish, with plenty of standard safety features. A plug-in hybrid version is available.
Used Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class— This full-size luxury SUV can definitely take a couple of adults in the third row, while also being highly capable and deeply cosseting.
The GLE 450 4Matic is a good all-rounder. We always think that adding driver-assistance features is a smart idea. And stretch to the E-Active Body Control feature if possible. Find a Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class for sale