I recently had the chance to drive the brand-new 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE, which is a new luxury crossover. You may not be surprised to hear about a new luxury crossover, because it seems there’s a new luxury crossover coming out every few weeks, between BMW, Porsche, Land Rover, Audi and yada yada yada.
But the GLE is new, and it’s the midsize Mercedes-Benz luxury crossover, and it has quite a few noteworthy features. I’ll start with the powertrain: the base-level GLE 350 uses a turbocharged 4-cylinder with 255 horsepower, which seems a bit overmatched for this size of vehicle. But you can pay just $5,000 extra to step up to the GLE 450, which uses a turbo 6-cylinder with 362 hp — and that’s absolutely the one to have, as it’s a relatively small price jump considering the power boost.
So I drove a GLE 450, and I came away rather impressed. The primary benefit, to me, is the technology: I think Mercedes-Benz now has the best infotainment system in the entire car industry, finally beating out Tesla’s system — which debuted about seven years ago — and Volvo’s excellent system. The Mercedes-Benz system offers more points of controllability than Volvo or Tesla, since you can use it as a touchscreen, or you can talk to it, or you can control it with steering wheel buttons, or you can operate it with a controller in the center console. The Mercedes-Benz system also has endless configurability and technology options and features, including self-parking and something called "Seat Kinetics," which adjusts the seat as you drive to keep you loose.
The infotainment system is good, but the gauge cluster is better. Also completely a screen, the gauge cluster can be adjusted in a myriad of ways, showing basically any piece of information you can possibly imagine. You can have the traditional setup with a tachometer, a speedometer and an odometer in the middle, but you can also do pretty much anything else, including configure the system to give you a full-screen display of your map or your vehicle safety settings or many other things. The configurability is brilliant, and it’s far better than gauge clusters in rival models.
Out on the road, the GLE 450 doesn’t provide any major surprises. Surprisingly, even the 6-cylinder engine feels only adequate, so I suspect the 4-cylinder will really be lethargic — again, helping to justify that price boost over the smaller engine. Steering and handling is fairly typical of a midsize Mercedes-Benz SUV, which is to say average for a luxury crossover, but the ride is comfortable and quiet. Visibility is good in all directions thanks to lots of glass and big, well-positioned mirrors.
Interestingly, the GLE now offers 3-row seating — something Mercedes-Benz tried before with the GLE’s predecessor, the M-Class, then abandoned, and now brought back. The GLE I drove didn’t have a third row, but you can get it, and it makes the crossover a bit more practical — though the new GLE is five inches shorter than an Audi Q7, meaning that third row will probably be a bit tight. Still, offering it is a big deal, as two key rivals — the BMW X5 and the Porsche Cayenne — don’t.
Overall, I’m impressed with the new GLE, and I think it should find a place in just about any luxury SUV shopping list. It’s reasonably attractive, it’s comfortable, it’s nice and quiet inside, it has a roomy backseat and an available third row, and, maybe most importantly, the level of technology is truly astounding — a major factor that contributes to luxury car buyers purchasing their vehicles. The midsize luxury SUV segment is tremendously competitive, and the GLE is here to be a serious competitor for all the big players — and the latest GLE is a big and welcome update over the previous generation. Find a Mercedes-Benz GLE-CLass for sale
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