Mercedes-Benz GLE 350 4MATIC. The Fourth Generation SUV is Bigger, Smarter, and More Elegant
words and photos by TOM STRONGMAN
I think most people have yelled at their car at one time or another, but the 2020 Mercedes- Benz GLE takes voice recognition to a new level with control that is simple and intuitive. When you say “Hey, Mercedes,” it responds like Siri or Alexa. “Hey, Mercedes, I’m cold. Turn up the temperature.” And it does. Asking for navigation instructions is as easy as talking to a friend: “Hey, Mercedes, take me to 1212 Main Street.” It even learns your habits and phrases. You can also write with your finger on the console touchpad.
The infotainment system, called the Mercedes- Benz User Experience, or MBUX, uses voice control and natural language, but it also has gesture recognition that responds to hand and arm movements. The instrument panel has two 12.3-inch screens, one for digital instruments and a center touchscreen multimedia display. Mercedes-Benz has not used touchscreens up to now because of safety but also because screens were not to its liking. The screens reside under a wide swath of glass that looks elegant. The screens are integrated into the cabin attractively, rather than looking like a tablet stuck on the dash. The driver can select several instrument displays including one that places a large map behind the steering wheel. When you’re using the navigation system the center screen shows a forward-facing camera view when you come to an intersection. The view shows street labels and turn arrows. That is tremendously handy, with one caveat – you have to look down to see it.
The GLE is the fourth generation SUV that began life as the ML 320 in 1998. The company has sold 2 million ML-class SUVs globally in the last 20 years. The new model is bigger, more aerodynamic, and is loaded with technology. There are three models: the GLE 350, the all-wheel-drive GLE 350 4Matic, and the GLE 450 4Matic. Prices start at $53,700. The GLE 350 4Matic begins at $56,200, and the GLE 450 4Matic starts at $61,150. I drove a GLE 350 with a sticker price of $65,270.
Standard features include navigation, LED headlamps, and tail lamps, smartphone integration with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, blind spot assist, active brake assist, attention assist and active parking assist. Active brake assist recognizes pedestrians as well as being able to apply the brakes in the event the vehicle turns across oncoming traffic. Pre-Safe Sound emits a short interference signal if a collision is imminent, triggering a protective reflex in the human ear to reduce hearing loss in the event of an accident.
Other optional driver assistance functions include active stop-and-go-assist for traffic jams up to 37 mph, evasive steering assist, active lane keeping assist, active speed limit assist that adjusts the vehicle speed when speed limits change, and active emergency stop assist that will brake the vehicle to a standstill if it detects the driver is not longer actively driving the vehicle. Once the vehicle is stationary, it will unlock the doors to allow first-aid responders access.
The GLE 350 is powered by a 2.0-liter, 255-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder while the GLE 450 has a 3.0-liter, 362-horsepower turbocharged inline six cylinder. The 450 has a 48-volt mild-hybrid assist system that aids fuel economy. Both engines drive through a nine-speed automatic transmission.
The 2.0-liter engine delivers surprising performance for a vehicle of this size. It has excellent low-speed throttle response and it cruises comfortably. It accelerates to 60 miles per hour in 7.1 seconds, according to Mercedes, whereas the GLE 450 hits that mark in 5.5 seconds. The GLE 450 appeals to techno-geeks not only because of its mild-hybrid system but also because of the optional E-Active body control made possible by the 48-volt system. E-Active controls the ride height and spring and damping forces of each individual wheel. The system can scan the road ahead, lean into curves, and even rock the car out of a sand trap.
The GLE’s interior is larger than that of the previous model and that results in generous legroom for the back seat. A thirdrow seat is optional but it diminishes cargo space when in use. The test car’s light gray interior had metal weave accent panels that were bright without being gaudy. The front seats offer a wide range of adjustability so that they can be tailored to fit people of all sizes. Grab handles on the center console provide extra support for rough roads or off-road terrain. There are five USB ports throughout the vehicle, and the center console has a wireless charging pad for cell phones. The audio quality of the Burmeister stereo system was first rate.
There are several apps that can be added to MBUX infotainment system to work in conjunction with the driver’s smart phone. One shows nearby restaurants with rankings and directions. This would be invaluable for travellers when they arrive in new cities.
The all-new GLE is an excellent example of why SUVs have become so popular. It blends state-of-the-art technology with the comfort of a luxury sedan and the ability to carry people and things over roads or trails with safety regardless of conditions.