Twenty years ago, Mercedes-Benz introduced the first luxury SUV, and the world was shocked. Real luxury? In an SUV? Impossible! At the time, SUVs were regarded as trucks and fanciness was reserved for sedans.
Hard to imagine, since now every brand that builds an SUV has a luxury edition. Likewise, every luxury car brand now has an SUV (or will soon).
All this said, Mercedes designed the 2020 GLE with future customers in mind. This means new or evolved features, all with an eye toward what real drivers really want. We recently had a chance to test-drive one, and man-oh-man was it a treat. Here, some of the best new things you can expect.
A third row
The length of this midsize SUV was extended by three inches to accommodate a convenience row, one that can be used when you need it but doesn’t take up space when you don’t. This in turn adds more leg room in the second row, and the seats are on rails so they can move forward or back. The second row is also equipped with a push button, which automatically slides and tilts the seats forward for third row access.
As for that third row itself, the headspace is adequate but not ample, and legroom is fine when the second row is pushed forward a bit. In short, we wouldn’t want to ride back there every day, but it’s a lifesaver when you need it.
An elegantly redesigned infotainment system
For the new MBUX system (which stands for Mercedes-Benz User Experience), Mercedes engineers said buh-bye to vertically elongated screens. Now it’s one long sweep of glass from the driver’s side to the passenger’s side. Driver information pops up right in front of you, and just next to it, on a flat plane, you’ll see split or singular screens with navigation, maps and, of course, controls and settings. The system is controlled by a touchpad similar to your smartphone’s screen and it’s easy to get the hang of.
Navigation is especially smart, since the system not only shows you where you’re going on a map, but when your next turn is imminent. We found it intuitive not just for the driver, but also for the front row passenger, who may—and should—be assisting with directions.
4Matic 4 Wheel Drive with Body Control
OK, you may think of “body control” as something you’d talk to an eight year-old about. But in this case, it’s the ability to raise and lower suspension on each corner of the car to accommodate any road condition. It also has “rocking mode” which, if you’re stuck in sand or mud, essentially bounces and rolls the car out of said muck. Then there’s the “curve control” which allows the car to lean into curves, the way a motorcycle might, giving you more speed and control than an SUV typically can offer.
An Electric Hybrid System
Mercedes-Benz has made clear its commitment to electrified and alternative fuel systems. The company is implementing this gradually, starting with a hybrid assist system in the GLE that, while not a true hybrid that will get astronomical MPG, will help improve fuel economy, provide more power to the wheels, assist the car’s four-wheel drive function and offer an overall quiet experience.
*This* is worth all the package upgrades. The comfort feature on the touch screen—look for the lotus blossom icon—allows you to engage heated massaging seats, lower the cabin lights, activate relaxing music and diffuse a calming fragrance (we kid you not.) Hello, self-care.
The infotainment system listens for you to say “Mercedes” and then answers your questions or loads your request—from phone calls to navigation to playlists. “Mercedes” also learns your habits, such as your typical driving routes, and puts these things at the top of its responses. During our test-drive, the system kept coming on and I kept thinking that I’d inadvertently hit a button on the steering wheel. But no, it was just Mercedes listening for her name. In fact, we had this bit of fun with the whole thing.
And Then, the Features You Expect in a Luxury 3-Row SUV
The GLE is super quiet. I spent much of our drive in the third row, carrying on a conversation with my drive partner, Joe, and navigating part of our route as we decided to stop for coffee.
Head up display puts critical driver information on the windshield right in front of the driver. This system is becoming more commonplace in all sorts of cars, so it’s expected in a luxury SUV of this level.
Multiple drive modes including eco, comfort, sport, sport+ so you can pick the experience you want. Add Curve Control to sport+ and engage the paddle shifters and you might just be able to thrill the kids in the back seat.
Amazing leather, details and finishes. You expect this from Mercedes-Benz and the GLE did not disappoint. Finishes include the Mercedes-Benz nameplate on the door thresholds, hand-stitched leather along every surface and a panoramic sunroof that turns the cabin into a light-infused haven.
What This Car Costs
The 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE 350 4-cylinder turbo with 255 horsepower starts at $55,700
2020 GLE 350 4Matic all-wheel drive, $56,200
2020 GLE 450 4Matic six-cylinder hybrid engine with 362 horsepower, $61,150
Full pricing hasn’t been announced yet, but in the 2019 model year, the AMG model has a starting price of about $68,000 and the GLE 4Matic, fully loaded, is about $70,000