The 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class unveiled Tuesday is designed for the way Americans actually use their crossover SUVs: in traffic, and with a full load of passengers aboard.
The redesigned Mercedes GLE will be available with three rows of seats, enough room for up to seven passengers. A new traffic-assistance system recognizes traffic jams and can keep the GLE in its lane and away from the car in front with limited driver intervention at speeds of up to 37 mph. The system can stop the vehicle for up to one minute and then follow the flow of cars as they start moving again. Mercedes said that the GLE uses a camera system, long-range radar, and short-range radar to support its driver-assistance system.
The GLE's stop-and-go system complements an impressive suite of standard active safety features such as automatic emergency braking, active lane control that can automatically drive the vehicle into an open lane, adaptive cruise control that can adjust the vehicle's speed based on speed limits, and automatic cross-traffic braking.
Stretching about 5 inches longer than last year's model, the GLE benefits from a wheelbase that's about 3 inches longer. That provides it with enough interior space for three rows of seats—the first time Mercedes' mid-size crossover SUV has offered seating for more than five since the 2005 M-Class.
The GLE evolves the look that debuted more than 20 years ago in the original 1998 ML320. Its front end features a wide grille flanked by big LED headlights that sweep well into its fenders. From the side, unpainted fender flares give it a more off-road-oriented look than before (and remind us of a popular dealer-installed option on the original ML320). Wide taillights at the rear that culminate in a point mark perhaps the biggest design departure for the automaker's luxury crossover SUV.
Mercedes said that the GLE's slippery new shape is the lowest among a competitive set that includes vehicles such as the BMW X5 and Volvo XC90.
Beyond the GLE's curvy styling, its interior is a cornucopia of technology. A standard 12.3-inch touchscreen for infotainment sits high on its dash and is complemented by a identically sized screen in its instrument cluster. The two screens sit under a single piece of glass above a quartet of climate control vents and controls.
Infotainment inputs not handled by the steering wheel-mounted controls are handled by a touchpad and a handful of hard buttons on the center console. Mercedes' latest infotainment system, which it calls MBUX (Mercedes-Benz User Experience) that first arrived in the Sprinter van and G-Class off-road SUV, makes its mainstream debut in the GLE. Hand gesture control capability will be optional for the MBUX system as will Burmester speakers for its audio system.
Thanks to its longer wheelbase, the GLE's rear-seat leg room grows by 2.7 inches to 41.1 inches. Its second row folds in a 40/20/40 arrangement via a door panel switch.
2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class
Under its hood
The 2020 GLE will launch early next year first as the GLE350 and GLE450 with standard all-wheel drive. A rear-wheel-drive version of the GLE350 will follow next spring.
Under the hood of the GLE350 sits a 2.0-liter turbo-4 rated at 255 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque that sends power to the wheels via a 9-speed automatic transmission.
The GLE450 uses a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6 mated to a 48-volt mild hybrid system good for a combined output of 362 hp and 369 lb-ft. The 48-volt starter-generator system can provide up to a 21-hp boost for passing power. Mercedes quotes a 0-60 mph sprint of 6.6 seconds for the GLE450, about half a second faster than the GLE350.
That 48-volt system also powers a trick suspension system that looks at each wheel individually to determine ideal spring and damping forces. The system starts with a sensor that scans the road ahead to evaluate conditions and then communicates with a hydropneumatic suspension to improve ride quality and reduce body lean in corners. The system will be standard equipment on the GLE450.
The hydropneumatic suspension can also "rock" a beached GLE450 to free it from deep sand such as on a beach.
Mercedes said that 19-inch alloy wheels will come standard on the GLE and that an air suspension that can lower the vehicle by about 1.6 inches will be optional.
The GLE's all-wheel-drive system can send up to 100 percent of available torque from one axle to the other, although it is normally fixed in a 50/50 arrangement.