First Drive: 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE

First Drive: 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE

One of the biggest major redesigns we have seen for this model.

TORONTO, ON – After what seems like an eternity, the Mercedes-Benz GLE has finally gotten a full redesign. The mid-sized luxury crossover started life as the ML-Class, and was re-branded to “GLE” for the 2016 model year. Competing with hotly demanded competition from BMW and Lexus, the new GLE is expected to be a huge volume seller for Mercedes-Benz, and this latest model proves to be quite promising. We were invited to a national first drive event in Toronto, ON to spend a day driving various trim levels of the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE and see for ourselves what the new standard in luxury SUVs has to offer.

First Drive: 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE review

The new GLE is available in two variants at launch, the GLE 350 and GLE 450, both offered with 4MATIC as standard issue in Canada. The GLE 350 is powered by Mercedes-Benz’s 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder turbo motor, offering 255 horsepower and 273 lb-ft. of torque. The up-level GLE 450 gets the twin-turbocharged inline six-cylinder with EQ Boost mild-hybrid technology and pushes 362 horsepower and 369 lb-ft. of torque. Both models get a 9G-Tronic nine-speed automatic transmission and a tow capacity of 3,500 kilograms (7,700 pounds) in optimal configuration.

Out on the road, a well-equipped GLE 350 offers just about everything the typical buyer will want. The powertrain is impeccably smooth and despite having just four cylinders, has ample gusto to get you going. It’s no fire breather, but it’s quiet and operates smoothly. The only time the GLE 350 makes its lack of cylinders known is during fast highway passes, when the turbo-four tends to grumble a bit. This model also feels lighter on its feet, and a little more agile.

First Drive: 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE review

The higher-level GLE 450 offers one of the sweetest new engine options available from any manufacturer. Mercedes-Benz’s new turbocharged inline six-cylinder is quick, sounds excellent, and offers the buttery smoothness only a straight six can deliver. The mild hybrid tech works more for torque fill before the turbocharger kicks in rather than overall efficiency, and as a result power is instantaneous. While it’s more engine than most buyers will opt for, the six is better suited to the GLE’s size and is quite nice to drive both in urban and highway settings. A 5.7-second run to 100km/h doesn’t hurt, either.

Ever since the 2020 GLE’s initial debut, Mercedes-Benz has been talking about their E-Active Body Control setup, aimed to deliver the smoothest ride quality possible. It works alongside the GLE 450’s optional air suspension system and hydro-pneumatic suspension to lean the GLE in corners and make for minimized body roll. It can individually adjust damping at each wheel, borrowing some power from the 48V EQ Boost in the car.

First Drive: 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE review

Adding onto this technology is the “Curve” drive mode, which actually causes the air suspension system to lean into corners, much like a motorcycle. This makes for more comfortable handling and sharper response, and will lead you to think “why don’t all cars do this?” The air suspension is also height-adjustable and has an “Off-Road” mode that optimizes the vehicle’s settings to venture off the beaten path. A conversation piece is the “Free Driving Assist” feature, which actually causes the vehicle to bounce up and down, akin to a low-rider with hydraulics. This is meant to free the vehicle if stuck in mud or sand, but also makes for considerable hilarity in parking lots.

Those wanting the E-Active Body Control will need to shell out an additional $6,900, and add another $2,450 for the mandatory air suspension. It’s not cheap, but this suspension system makes for some of the best ride quality we have ever experienced in a midsized crossover, surpassing the scrumptious Lexus RX 350 (reviewed here) and the BMW X5. The GLE 450 absolutely glides down the road, and however cliché it may be to say, it does feel like the magic carpet ride that Mercedes-Benz suggests. Toronto’s pothole-ridden streets are made to feel like glass with this application.

First Drive: 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE review

Interior quality is top-tier as well, exactly what is expected from Mercedes-Benz. The test vehicles we drove had a variety of open pore woods and interior colours, and they all look excellent. The grab-handles along the center console are akin to the Porsche Cayenne (reviewed here), but they feel a touch more premium in the GLE. Interior space is abundant, with more than enough head and legroom for four full-sized adults. Those wanting an occasional-use third row will need to pay an extra $2,400 for electrically adjustable seats, and this also adds two USB-C ports for third row passengers.

The new Mercedes-Benz corporate infotainment system known as “MBUX” is quickly making its way across the lineup. We first sampled it in the A-Class (reviewed here) and it’s also in place here in the GLE. MBUX has some of the best voice recognition around, but overall is still unnecessarily complex to use. It’s a vast improvement over the last-generation COMAND system, but we would like to see a simple, dedicated button setup to skip tracks. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are also supported, which is a bonus over BMW’s CarPlay-only system. Thankfully, the 12.3-inch center screen is now a touchscreen, as well.

First Drive: 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE review

Mercedes-Benz prices the GLE 350 4MATIC at $64,000 to start, though options like the Premium Package, Technology Package, and Comfort Package are volume sellers and will bring the average transaction price to around $74,000 for Canadians. The GLE 450 with its slick engine layout starts with an $8,000 premium at $72,000, and offers a similar package breakdown that will bring the average buyer just over $80,000 before fees and taxes.

With cargo capacity of 630-liters that expands to 2,055-liters with the rear seats folded, the GLE can hold plenty of stuff for that weekend away. It also offers all of the driver assistance features that Mercedes-Benz is currently a leader in, including lane keep assist, active lane change, adaptive cruise control and collision warning. Many of these features are part of the Intelligent Drive Package, but that option is well worth the price in our opinion.

First Drive: 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE review

The 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE offers one of the biggest major redesigns we have seen for this model over the two decades it has been in production. The step-up in technology is mind-blowing, and the new suspension layout is groundbreaking across the automotive landscape. If you’re looking for a sporty crossover, the BMW X5 (reviewed here) is worth a good glance, but if luxurious, supple quality is at the top of your priority list, the GLE really can’t be beaten.

See Also:

2019 Lexus RX 350 AWD

2019 BMW X5 xDrive40i

2019 Porsche Cayenne S

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