There’s a black sheep in this 2020 SUV of the Year contender’s family
- The GLE 450
- Off-road chops
- Bank vault interior
- The GLE 350
- Infuriating MBUX System
- Hit-or-miss transmission
“Self-own” hasn’t made its way to the pages of most dictionaries just yet, but when it does, the Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class may well serve as an example reference. “The GLE 350’s blundering performance, especially in light of the GLE 450’s standout revue, was the automotive self-own of 2019,” it might read.
Judges roundly praised the pricier, air-suspended GLE 450 for its smooth I-6, sharp handling, and quiet, comfortable interior. MotorTrend en Español managing editor Miguel Cortina, Detroit editor Alisa Priddle, and features editor Christian Seabaugh all delighted in its performance on the handling circuit, and editor-in-chief Ed Loh and guest judge Johan de Nysschen sparred over whether it or the BMW X5 did it better—and they both liked the X5 a lot. Although judges disagreed on whether the new engine was downright quick or merely adequate, they all had praise for its refined performance and well-programmed nine-speed transmission.
The praise got stronger as the road got rougher. “Mercedes really gets off-roading, doesn’t it?” Seabaugh asked rhetorically. Senior production editor Zach Gale found it didn’t even need any of its special off-road modes to make short work of our deep sand and frame-twisting off-road tests.
The lovefest ended when judges stepped into the GLE 350. “GLE intenders should avoid this standard suspension at all costs,” Zach Gale warned. Executive editor Mark Rechtin said that “the suspension’s response to midcorner bumps felt like an amusement park Tilt-a-Whirl.” Cortina called it “one of the worst suspensions” of the competition.
Loh took it a step further: “I did notice some weird transverse bobbing diagonally across the vehicle from rear to front on the handling track. On the ride quality evaluation loop, it escalated to nearly uncontrollable. It’s the worst-riding SUV here by far; it rides like a live axle pickup truck with one flat-spotted tire. Shocking amounts of vertical motion.”
De Nysschen was even less impressed by the GLE 350: “To be frank, the suspension performance is mediocre at best and astonishingly incompetent at worst. Vertical body movement control is fundamentally flawed to the point of potentially being dangerous. Striking low-frequency sine wave undulations at speed triggered such violent body oscillations that it may prove beyond the capability of anyone less than an experienced driver to maintain control. By far the worst of all the vehicles tested, at any price point.”
It didn’t end there. Judges also clobbered the GLE 350 for its middling four-cylinder engine and ungraceful nine-speed automatic, the latter a curiosity since it worked fine in the six-cylinder GLE 450.
Regardless of engine or suspension, the judges also had unkind words for Mercedes’ new MBUX infotainment system and its Tic Tac touchpads on the steering wheel and center console. “Might as well be a Rubik’s Cube for its ease of use and intuitiveness,” Priddle said.
“Mercedes went from having one of the best infotainment systems a few years ago, with the final iterations of COMAND, to one of the worst,” Seabaugh said. “Touch controls in a car rarely if ever work. The laptop-style mousepad in the GLE is truly useless—it doesn’t read swipes, and it jumps past menus and pops things up that you don’t want to access. Even the simplest thing, like changing from CarPlay to a radio station, is needlessly complex and takes far too long to complete.”
Some judges were willing to forgive MBUX, but even the best user experience couldn’t have saved the GLE 450 from the GLE 350.
“At this price point, the GLE 450 is an irresistible choice,” de Nysschen said. “As a stand-alone model, in my book, it has what it takes to be SUV of the Year. But this award goes to the whole range, not a single model, and there’s a black sheep in the family.”
|2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE 350 4Matic||2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE 450 4Matic|
|Base Price/As Tested||$57,195/$72,685||$62,145/$84,640|
|Power (SAE net)||255 hp @ 5,800 rpm||362 hp @ 5,500 rpm + 21 hp (elec); 362 hp comb|
|Torque (SAE net)||273 lb-ft @ 1,800 rpm||369 lb-ft @ 1,600 rpm + 184 lb-ft (elec); 369 lb-ft comb|
|Accel, 0-60 mph||7.6 sec||5.6 sec|
|Quarter Mile||15.8 sec @ 87.5 mph||14.2 sec @ 97.4 mph|
|Braking, 60-0 mph||130 ft||115 ft|
|Lateral Acceleration||0.78 g (avg)||0.83 g (avg)|
|MT Figure Eight||28.2 sec @ 0.62 g (avg)||27.0 sec @ 0.69 g (avg)|
|EPA City/Hwy/Comb||19/26/22 mpg||19/24/21 mpg|