Look out, Lexus
The Mercedes-Benz GLE may be one of the best-sellers in the midsize luxury crossover segment, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t use a redesign. Despite a name change and an update for 2016, the current car has been on sale since 2011. If Mercedes wants to challenge the Lexus RX, it needs something less dated. Something like the 2020 GLE.
From the outside, the new GLE doesn’t offer a lot of surprises. It gets the latest iteration of Mercedes’ “sensual purity” design language that’s almost entirely devoid of sharp corners and straight lines. We wouldn’t call it gorgeous, but the design works. At worst, it’s inoffensive.
Compared to the current version, the 2020 GLE has also grown considerably. Its wheelbase is 3.1 inches longer, a change that Mercedes says adds 2.7 inches of legroom behind the front seats. More important, though, the GLE now has room for an optional third row that adds seating for seven. As with other midsize crossovers, the back seat looks cramped, but smaller passengers may not mind.
Inside, the current GLE’s button-heavy center console is gone, replaced with the latest version of the German automaker’s dual-screen display. But although everything is immediately recognizable as a modern Mercedes, interior designers tweaked what they could to give the GLE’s cabin a look of its own. Based on our recent drive of a GLE prototype, we fully believe Mercedes’ claims that the new model is more comfortable than before, especially in the second row.
At launch, the GLE will be available with two different engines. The GLE 350 gets a 2.0-liter turbo-four that makes 255 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque. The GLE 450, however, pairs a 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-six with a 48-volt mild-hybrid system good for 362 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque. Regardless of which GLE you choose, shifting is handled by a nine-speed automatic.
Like the S-Class, the new GLE offers an optional road-scanning active suspension. But unlike the S-Class, the GLE’s fancy suspension is built on a 48-volt platform that can control each wheel independently of the others. Not only can it precisely manage damping at all four corners, it also uses a hydraulic system to raise and lower individual wheels based on road conditions. That means it minimizes body roll, improves ride quality, and maximizes passenger comfort.
The GLE can also be had with a fully variable all-wheel-drive system that uses a transfer case with a multidisc clutch to split torque between the front and rear axles as needed. That means it’s capable of sending all the power to the front wheels, all the power to the rear, and anything in between. When combined with the hydraulic suspension, the GLE’s all-wheel-drive system reportedly offers impressive off-road capability, as well as exceptional cornering for a vehicle its size.
Mercedes didn’t skimp on driver assistance or safety tech, either. From automatic emergency braking to lane keep assist, the GLE comes packed with all the latest features. That includes an improved adaptive cruise control that can anticipate slowdowns in advance, slowing the car automatically. It can also adjust driving speed to account for a curve in the road and handle most of the driving responsibilities during a traffic jam. The system even stays active in true stop-and-go traffic as long as it doesn’t sit still for more than a minute.
At the moment, Mercedes hasn’t released pricing information, nor has it announced when the GLE will go on sale in the North America next year. Hopefully, we’ll get more information when the 2020 GLE is publicly revealed at the Paris motor show next month.