Love When You Least Ex­pect It


Motor Trend - - Contents - Jonny Lieber­man

2020 Mercedes-benz Gle-class

The new Mercedes GLE bounces into our hearts.

In 2002’s dark cult clas­sic One Hour Photo, Robin Wil­liams plays a creepy loser who drives a Toy­ota Echo. Con­nie Nielsen’s rich, smart, and de­sir­able sub­ur­ban mom rocks a Mercedes-benz ML 320. It was a per­fect bit of sym­bol­ism. A few years prior, Daim­ler had in­vented the mid­size lux­ury SUV seg­ment with that very ve­hi­cle, tap­ping into an undis­cov­ered au­to­mo­tive zeit­geist.

Lux­ury brands are now de­pen­dent on pre­mium SUVS for profits. Car sales are down while crossover and SUV num­bers are up and grow­ing. And don’t feel too bad for the movie’s cheap shot about Toy­ota— its Lexus RX is the best-sell­ing mid­size lux­ury SUV in the U.S., out­selling both the BMW X5 and Mercedes GLE (née ML) com­bined. Still, Mercedes sold nearly 55,000 GLES to Amer­i­cans last year, with more than 2 mil­lion sold glob­ally over the past 20 years. Not bad at all.

Meet the fourth-gen GLE. Rid­ing on a new plat­form called Mod­u­lar High Ar­chi­tec­ture (MHA for short), the W167 GLE is good-look­ing, roomy, lux­u­ri­ous, com­fort­able, great to drive, and burst­ing at the seams with tech—some good, some bad.

There are two engine choices. The GLE 350 packs a 2.0-liter tur­bocharged I-4 good for 255 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque. The GLE 450 comes with a ground­break­ing 48-volt 3.0-liter su­per- and tur­bocharged I-6 with hy­brid as­sist. That engine—code-named M256—cranks out 362 hp and 369 lb-ft. From be­hind the wheel, the GLE 450 doesn’t feel worlds quicker than the GLE 350. Re­gard­less of engine, all GLES come pack­ing Mercedes’ nine­speed au­to­matic. How­ever, I rec­om­mend you opt for the larger engine be­cause of the other op­tions it en­ables.

Should you get a GLE 450 4Matic, its 48-volt sys­tem al­lows you to opt for E-ac­tive Body Con­trol, also known as EABC—A com­bi­na­tion of air springs and elec­tro-hy­draulic ac­tive dampers. Each damper gets its own hy­draulic pump, which is ca­pa­ble of forc­ing its wheel up or down us­ing oil pres­sur­ized to as much as 1,885 psi. The pumps can switch di­rec­tion in­stan­ta­neously.

With EABC, Mercedes has achieved com­plete real-time con­trol of each damper and negated the need for anti-roll bars, just like Su­per Se­ries Mclarens. The re­sults are shock­ing and won­der­ful, in terms of both ride qual­ity and han­dling. There’s a drive mode called Curve that uses the built-in cam­eras to scan the road ahead and then cor­rectly lean the GLE. A right-hand cor­ner pops up the driver-side dampers, keep­ing the car per­fectly level. Be­cause the dampers and sus­pen­sion ge­om­e­try aren’t loaded and com­pressed, the steer­ing is greatly im­proved. Amaz­ing.

Then there’s off-road. Not only does the new GLE fea­ture the first-ever use of vari­able torque when us­ing low gears, but it also high­lights EABC’S real ca­pa­bil­ity. The ar­tic­u­la­tion of each wheel can be in­de­pen­dently con­trolled via a touch­screen. Imag­ine that one wheel is spin­ning but not to­tally in con­tact with the sur­face. You can now drop it a few inches—or raise it, or raise one side of the ve­hi­cle, or just the front, or just the back.

But that’s not all: Should you find your GLE mired in sand, sim­ply ac­ti­vate Free Driv­ing As­sist. The EABC sys­tem then be­gins hop­ping up and down, pulling sand un­der the tires as it does so, and un­stick­ing it­self. Also, yes, you can bounce the car up and down like a lowrider while go­ing through the Del Taco drive-thru. Again, amaz­ing!

My big GLE gripe in­volves Mercedes­benz’s new MBUX telem­at­ics sys­tem, which is too clever by half. For in­stance, if you go 56 mph in a 55 zone, a speed limit icon flashes at you. You can turn it off, but it took min­utes. Some­thing like that should take sec­onds. There’s also an Ama­zon Echo–like voice as­sis­tant that pipes up ev­ery time you ut­ter the word “Mercedes.” It’s wildly an­noy­ing and isn’t very ac­cu­rate or help­ful, ei­ther. There is a way to make the oo­dles of tech­nol­ogy eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble, but MBUX ain’t it.

To say the new GLE is good is akin to say­ing the Burj Khal­ifa is tall. It’s a true state­ment, but you’re leav­ing out most of the story. The new GLE is some­where be­tween ex­cep­tional and su­perla­tive. A real heavy­weight in the mid­size class.

Mercedes’ motto has been “The Best or Noth­ing” for some time now, and with the ex­cep­tion of the S-class, it of­ten rings hol­low. With the ar­rival of the new GLE, the slo­gan will be speak­ing the truth. n


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