Competes with: BMW X5, Lexus RX
Looks like: A next-gen evolution of the current GLE
Drivetrain: A 255-horsepower, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder or a 362-hp, turbocharged 3.0-liter six-cylinder; nine-speed automatic transmission
Hits dealerships: Sometime in 2019
At long last, Mercedes-Benz has a new mid-size SUV. Astute readers will note that when the luxury brand overhauled its naming conventions and christened the GLE-Class back in early 2015, it was essentially a refresh of the extant M-Class, which had been around since mid-2011. Not so with the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class; this is a full redesign.
Mercedes claims significant additions to cabin space, and a third row makes its way back — the first time the M-turned-GLE has offered a third row since the tail end of the first generation, way back in the early 2000s. That makes the GLE a full-fledged competitor to the BMW X5 and Lexus RX, two mid-size SUVs with optional third rows.
Set to be revealed in full at the 2018 Paris Motor Show in October, the 2020 GLE hits U.S. dealerships in 2019 in GLE 350 and GLE 450 forms. There's no word yet on high-performance AMG versions of the SUV, though at least one is all but a given.
Evolutionary in nature, the redesign trades its predecessor's upswept headlights for a flatter design. That's in contrast to Mercedes' recent A-Class and CLS-Class introductions, both of which play up the headlight sweep even more. Like both sedans, the GLE has LED accent lights in a sharp angle toward the center — four of them, in this case. A wide, kayak-paddle-shaped opening spans the bumper, with taller outboard openings on a sportier GLE variant shown in press photos; both are thematically similar to the bumpers on certain Mercedes-AMG cars. In back, the GLE's taillights are thinner than its predecessor's, with thematic similarities to the CLS' rear lights.
Wheelbase is up 3.1 inches to help interior space. Nineteen-inch wheels are standard, and you can option the GLE all the way up to 22s.
Like so many other recent Mercedes-Benz redesigns, the new GLE features conjoined dashboard screens on a slightly elevated panel; the screens measure 12.3 inches apiece. The backdrop is what sets the GLE apart: Infused with horizontal veins — some of them from air vents, which pockmark the whole thing — the dashboard has a steep rake scattered with various pods of controls. It's less whimsical than the interior of the new EQC electric SUV, and it features two large grab handles on either side of the center console.
Press photos show meticulous detailing, from piped accent lighting around the grab handles to double-stitched wrapping even on the backside of the center console. Stay tuned; eventually we'll poke around a production model to report on materials quality.
Mercedes promises a fully adjustable second row with more headroom and legroom than the outgoing GLE-Class. Six-way power adjustments for each side are optional, as are power-folding controls from the cargo area — certainly easier than the outgoing GLE's multistep manual folding. An optional two-seat third row raises seating capacity to seven with what Mercedes calls an easy-access function from the second row.
Mercedes' new MBUX interface powers much of your interaction with the car. Like other recent Mercedes redesigns, the GLE adopts a touchscreen rather than the prior interface, which worked only off a console controller — a setup on which the jury is decidedly in. Voice recognition activates if you say, "Hey, Mercedes," a feature cribbed from smart speakers that could fast become the province of cars, too. (Creativity's lacking, however — we want to see "Howdy, Audi" or "Yo, Volvo!")
MBUX also features available gesture recognition with a camera embedded in the overhead console. It can recognize things like arm gestures, so if a front passenger reaches for the screen, Mercedes says seat controls will pop up for his or her chair, not the driver's. Both occupants can set favorite functions that the system dials up with a gesture of the index and middle finger, Mercedes says. Still, we've found gesture recognition in other cars to be more of a frill than a skill. If repeat attempts fail to dial up the favorite function, try an alternate gesture sans index finger.
Under the Hood
Replacing last year's 3.5-liter V-6, the GLE 350 has a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that's good for 255 horsepower and 273 pounds-feet of torque. The GLE 450, meanwhile, gets a turbo 3.0-liter inline-six-cylinder with 362 hp and 369 pounds-feet of torque. Both work through a nine-speed automatic transmission. Like the CLS, the GLE 450 aids the engine with Mercedes' Integrated-Starter Generator, essentially a 48-volt light-hybrid system that can recuperate energy and give some electric boost to help acceleration.
In the GLE 450, an advanced version of Mercedes' 4Matic all-wheel drive can now vary power to send all of it to either axle versus the 50/50 split in the GLE 350. With new air springs, the GLE can also individually control shock absorption and spring rates at each wheel to counteract lean, pitch and squat, Mercedes says.
New safety features include traffic-based adaptive cruise control that can slow the vehicle when the navigation system knows a traffic jam is coming up but still out of sight. Lane-centering steering works all the way to a stop, as does adaptive cruise control. Mercedes-Benz updated the automatic emergency braking to slow the GLE before you turn across oncoming traffic if there's a risk of collision — similar to a feature in various Audi models.
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