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2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE first drive review: Bellwether luxury crossover SUV

November 20, 2018

The 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class that I rushed through a washed-out road on a steamy October afternoon didn’t seem to mind that when it rains in Central Texas, it pours. For Mercedes-Benz, the GLE has become a beacon of stability. It’s a middle child in a lineup of crossover SUVs stretching from around $35,000 for the GLA-Class to upward of $200,000 for the G-Class in full Hollywood decor.

The 2020 GLE is no awkward sibling, though. It’s a solid choice made far better by this year’s redesign.

MORE: Read our 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class review

The reworked GLE boasts two new engine choices underhood, a 2.0-liter turbo-4 rated at 255 horsepower or a 3.0-liter turbo-6 paired to a 48-volt electrical system good for 362 hp, that pair to 9-speed automatic transmissions. The GLE350’s turbo-4 provided good thrust through the hills northwest of San Antonio, only running light on grunt for quick highway passing on Interstate 35 on the trek back into town.

Mercedes makes a good case for opting for the turbocharged inline-6 in the GLE450. Its 48-volt system lets the GLE450 run on electric power alone in highway cruising for better fuel economy, and it supplies power to a trick hydropneumatic suspension system. Unlike fancy suspensions hidden underneath most crossover SUVs, the GLE450’s optional system ties into various active safety cameras and sensors to watch the road ahead and adjust each wheel independently to quell lean in corners or to take the harshness out of bumps.

EPA fuel economy ratings aren’t out yet, but I saw around 28 mpg in mixed driving in both GLEs according to their trip computers.

Mercedes hasn’t priced the 2020 GLE that goes on sale in spring 2019 for the U.S. yet, but it’s safe to assume that a GLE450 with the optional suspension will be priced somewhere between the stratosphere and mesosphere. Think most of the way to six figures.

The tech earns bragging points, but even the GLE350 that I hurtled through standing water felt composed and confident on dry pavement. Only a hint of road noise and wind rush disturbed its isolated, calming cabin.

To keep me relaxed, I had the massaging driver’s seat switched on and enjoyed the subtle aromas from the scent diffuser tucked into the glovebox. Those features, like the soft leather upholstery, matte wood trim, and Burmester audio system are options, but they don’t mask the comfort and space of the GLE’s interior.

The latest GLE is about five inches longer than last year’s model, so Mercedes saw fit to make a pair of third-row seats optional. They’re best for kids, and most shoppers ought to wait for the larger GLS-Class bound to follow.

A better use of that space came in expanding the GLE’s second row of seats, which now offers power adjustment. Legroom is stellar. The optional panoramic moonroof extends well into the second row.  

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class

Where the GLE makes its biggest strides is in its design and technology. Its dashboard draws heavily from the E-Class sedan, except with four squared-off air vents instead of round portholes. A pair of 12.3-inch screens sit under a single pane of glass as a reminder that the future is here, although some rivals now have more. Maybe that’s a good thing, maybe not. One sits in front of the driver and serves as an instrument cluster, while a nearly identical touchscreen is positioned at the center of the dash for infotainment functions.

On board is Mercedes’ flashy new MBUX software with standard navigation and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. Gesture controls are optional, but the laptop-like center console touchpad works well and probably won’t require lengthy lesson from the dealer’s service department.

As many as five USB-C ports are scattered about the cabin, a move that’ll seem smart in about three years but now requires the automaker to include a USB 2.0 adapter with each GLE.

Mercedes fits the GLE with its latest round of active safety tech. Automatic emergency braking is standard—something its revamped BMW X5 rival cannot say—and the options list is loaded with a slew of enhanced features such as a system that looks for an open lane and automatically enters it after the turn signal is tapped.

The redesigned GLE breaks plenty of new ground while staying on course.

Mercedes-Benz provided travel and lodging to Internet Brands Automotive to bring you this firsthand report.

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