2020 Mercedes GLE 450 — A technology tour de force

By Jim Prueter

(April 30, 2019) For 2020, Mercedes introduces its fourth-generation, mid-sized GLE with five trim levels: GLE 350, GLE 450, and the performance AMG GLE 43, GLE 63 and GLE 63 S. At this time, Mercedes has not indicated if a plug-in hybrid or diesel variant will come later. The new GLE is unquestionably the most technologically complex vehicle we’ve ever driven and tested.

A techno-geek’s dream that will have them staying up into the early morning hours playing with the host of futuristic new technology and surprises. We’ll get into more of that in a minute.

The new GLE is good-looking, stylish with just enough new tweaks and improvements to the exterior to make it noticeably more contemporary and fresher looking than the outgoing GLE. It looks bigger because it is bigger, riding on a brand-new platform called Modular High Architecture with a three-inch longer wheelbase that shows up in additional interior room.

The GLE remains a four-door SUV that seats five in its standard configuration, and for the first time is available with a third-row seat option to expand seating capacity to seven. Like most three-row utility vehicles, the last row is best left to the kids if driving more than just a few miles. The second row is roomy, comfortable, and available with optional power-adjustment. And, there’s more legroom than the outgoing GLE.

Consistent with Mercedes’ tradition for luxurious comfort, front seats are available with heated massage, “seat kinetics” that slowly change the shape of the seats while you drive to avoid position fatigue. There’s even an active “workout” with the seats pushing against various parts of your back and shoulders.

There are new engines for the 2020 GLE, starting with the 350 powered by a 255-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder engine with either rear- or all-wheel drive and a nine-speed automatic transmission. Our test GLE, the 450, brings standard all-wheel drive and a 367-horsepower hybrid powertrain that consists of a turbocharged inline-six engine and a novel 48-volt electrical system.

The three AMG trim levels start with the AMG GLE 43 with a 362-horsepower 3.0 V-6, followed by the AMG 63 with its 550-horsepower V-8, and the AMG 63 S with 577 horsepower from the 5.5-liter V-8 engine.

As with all Mercedes products, there is so much to tell you about we can’t possibly get through everything and hope to keep your attention. For example, the GLE 450 tested here had 32 different individual options, several of those in packages that included up to 20 different items. We’ll do our best to point out those we found to be the most unique and interesting.

One of the most significant things about the GLE is that it can be had with a choice of three different suspensions. The standard base is the traditional steel springs that will work fine for most buyers, with a compliant ride and good handling.

Next up is the optional Airmatic suspension which is basically air springs that deliver a super silky-smooth ride with superb body control in twisty curves.

Finally, and new for 2020, is the advanced E-Active air suspension included on our test GLE 450 that, when activated, delivers some unique tricks such as leaning into a curve like a motorcycle rider to keep the vehicle flat. There’s even a mode that allows the driver to individually raise and lower each corner of the vehicle via settings on the center touchscreen. The response is immediate. While I would expect few if any will take their GLE off-road, should you get stuck in deep sand or snow the E-Active system can literally bounce the GLE up and down to work it free. We’re not sure it’s worth the $8,100 upcharge, but it certainly will do a number of things.

One thing that caused us no shortage of confusion and frustration was the new voice-response system that’s not unlike Siri or Alexa, accessed via a “Hey Mercedes” wake-up call. Merely discussing the use of the system would randomly and spontaneously wake the system up. It required detailed reading to learn the system, which is connected to the Internet. It’s maddening, annoying and certainly not helpful. This is technology gone wrong and we’d be better off without it.

We usually prefer the navigation provided by a smartphone app like Waze, however we really liked the new navigation in our GLE. It worked exceptionally well. The GLE nav is virtually idiot-proof with directions that can switch to a live camera feed from the front of the GLE when you come to a turn. Is it the soft curve to the right I’m supposed to take or the sharp turn to the right just a bit further? The live camera displays a live feed of the road with a big blue arrow floating over the exact road with its name, telling you which one to take so you don’t make the wrong turn.

Also, as you transition between speed limit zones like we did on our drive from Phoenix to Tucson, Arizona the GLE will automatically slow down to match the new posted limits as the system reads the speed limit signs. It worked especially well on the Interstate where construction zones had us moving from 75, to 65, to 55 and finally 45 in a relatively short distance. It could save you from a speeding ticket.

There’s also the addition of options we’ve experienced in other Mercedes vehicles such as the fragrance dispenser located in the glove box and operated via the center screen that allows you to select and adjust the intensity of a fragrance: masculine and woodsy, Pacific Ocean breeze, nightlife mood, or others.

Our weeklong test drive of the GLE allowed us to try out almost all the features and new tech. There was no shortage of times when we had to resort to the owner’s manual when intuition alone wasn’t enough. That was particularly true for things like seat adjustments and functions where we had to go several screens deep into the settings to find where the option was buried. Seat lumbar adjustment comes to mind, as did fragrance adjustment, some infotainment controls, and adjusting the pattern of the heat dispersion in the front seats. Most people never look at the 1,000-plus page owner’s manual, but you’ll want to when operating your GLE.

Overall the new GLE is beyond a superb and exceptional vehicle. As a mid-size luxury SUV, it doesn’t get any better than the GLE. It’s roomy, comfortable, luxurious, looks and feels upscale and is spectacularly delightful to drive with engaging dynamics, quiet and serenity. And, with its semiautonomous Pilot Assist it even handles some of the driving. But some of the nifty new technology will require some getting used to, and will come with more driving time in the GLE. And finally, pick your options carefully, as the price can quickly double over the base number.

Vital Stats
Base Price: GLE 450: $61,150
Price as Tested: $96,320
Engine: 362-horsepower 3.0-six cylinder connected to a 9-speed automatic transmission
Fuel Economy: 19-mpg city – 24-mpg highway – 21-mpg combined
Seating: Up to 7

Crash Test Ratings: The 2020 Mercedes GLE has not been crash tested by either the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

Where Built: Vance, Alabama, USA

Competes With:
Audi Q7
Audi Q8
Land Rover Range Rover Sport
Porsche Cayenne
Volvo XC90

Fab Features
Luxurious, roomy, opulent cabin
Advanced and exclusive safety and technology features
Unsurpassed ride and handling experience