First Look – 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE
Sleek Styling and an Optional Third Row for Mercedes’ Popular SUV
The first premium Mercedes-Benz SUV, the ML, was launched in 1997 with rugged body-on-frame construction, a two-speed transfer case, and all the comfort one would expect from a Benz. But when the ML was redesigned, it lost some of those off-road goodies in favor of greater aerodynamics and improved on-road handling and comfort.
Now in its fourth generation (and renamed the GLE), Mercedes’ popular midsize SUV looks to blend the best of all worlds, offering the 2020 GLE-Class with greater off-road capability, improved luxury, and styling that brings the SUV into the new millennium.
Foremost is the GLE’s slinky new body. It retains the distinctive C-pillar and rear quarter glass design of its predecessors, setting the midsize SUV apart from other Benzes, let alone its competition. But most of the GLE’s other styling features have been wholly refined and smoothed out, achieving a very hybrid-like 0.29 coefficient of drag. Up front, a two-bar grille with center Mercedes-Benz emblem falls in line with the company’s other SUV offerings, but the trapezoidal shape of the GLE’s headlamps is more akin to the CLS-Class and Mercedes-AMG GT 4-Door.
Twin power bulges on the hood are a GLE signature, rendered in slightly crisper creases than before. The clean side profile is dominated by the GLE’s fuselage styling—a soft, rounded shoulder line and simply surfaced rocker panel replace the outgoing SUV’s slightly more complex body-side accents. Around back, the GLE retains its predecessor’s angular taillamps, but they’re thinner now, again recalling the AMG GT 4-Door.
The 2020 GLE-Class will be initially available in two confirmed powertrains, both mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission. The GLE350 will be powered by a 2.0L turbocharged I-4 producing 255 hp and 273 lb-ft, available in rear-drive or 4MATIC all-wheel-drive configurations.
The GLE450 will come standard with 4MATIC, powered by a 3.0L turbocharged I-6 and bolstered with a 48V electrical system called EQ Boost. The mildly electrified powertrain produces 362 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque, with the electrical system aiding with engine idle stop/start, regenerative braking, and accessory drive (air conditioning, water pump, and more). Mercedes says these two engines will be part of a wide variety of powertrains available on the 2020 GLE-Class.
While the first-generation ML offered old-school off-road dynamics thanks to its robust frame and two-speed transfer case, the newest GLE garners its rough-road prowess through 21st century technology. The GLE350 4MATIC makes do with a fixed 50:50 torque split between the front and the rear axles, with wheelspin managed by brake-based traction control.
The GLE450 4MATIC, however, has a more sophisticated system. An electronically controlled multi-disc clutch in the transfer case allows for either axle to receive up to 100 percent of the engine’s power. Furthermore, while driving on the road, the axles can vary torque split between the right and the left side, improving agility and stability.
The GLE’s optional 48V-powered suspension, called E-Active Body Control, also helps with off-road driving. In the event the GLE becomes stuck in mud or sand, the suspension automatically and quickly adjusts up and down, varying the ground pressure under the tires and allowing the driver to become unstuck. This powerful suspension can also vary wheel attitudes in rough driving using the Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX) infotainment display. When one wheel is stuck in a ditch or fully compressed, the driver can individually adjust that wheel’s suspension settings, enabling better off-road ability.
E-Active Body Control also affects on-road handling. When driven aggressively, the GLE will firm up the outside suspension, allowing it to actually lean into corners like a motorcycle. This enables flat handling, and most impressively, when equipped with a forward-monitoring stereo camera, the suspension can also anticipate mid-corner bumps, improving stability on rougher roads.
Inside, the interior’s modern, blue-accented design is centered around MBUX. The entertainment system, which we’ve sampled in the 2019 Sprinter van, is very easy to operate and intuitive, and its natural speech recognition works very well. For the GLE, MBUX includes two 12.3-inch displays as standard, recalling the slick, sophisticated setup of the 2019 G-Class. The displays are reconfigurable as well, allowing the driver to prioritize a sportier design, classic Mercedes gauges, a slick techy display, or “Understated” mode, which minimizes distraction and includes only the most relevant driving information.
The interior also makes good use of the 2020 GLE’s longer wheelbase—at 117.9 inches, it spans 3.1 inches more than the outgoing GLE. Up front, a more upright A-pillar helps minimize claustrophobia, improve visibility, and make entry and exit easier. Second-row legroom is up 2.7 inches, and those seats have been made more comfortable for a variety of body sizes thanks to optional electrical seating adjustments: fore and aft, seat recline, and headrest height. And for the first time since the 2004 M-Class, the midsize Mercedes SUV features an optional third row of seating. Those two passengers should probably be short of leg and small in stature, but they should do well to keep potential BMW X5, Lexus RX 350L, and Acura MDX shoppers in the Mercedes-Benz showroom.
Befitting a modern Mercedes-Benz, the 2020 GLE-Class comes loaded to the gills with technology. Aside from the electrically actuated suspension and MBUX infotainment, the GLE-Class also includes traffic-sensitive adaptive cruise control, which can provide stop-and-go traffic assistance and aid in keeping the SUV centered in its lane. Once traffic clears up, the GLE will accelerate to a speed preset by the driver or the recommended speed limit for that stretch of road.
Making its formal debut at the Paris Motor Show in October, the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE will arrive in U.S. showrooms sometime next year, ready to do battle with the all-new 2019 BMW X5, sophisticated Audi Q7, and more. With loads of available technology, aerodynamic new styling, and all the cachet of the three-pointed star, the GLE should be a solid choice in the midsize SUV class.