Love When You Least Expect It
THE NEW MERCEDES GLE BOUNCES INTO OUR HEARTS
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
WORDS: JONNY LIEBERMAN