By Shari Prymak
The Mercedes GLE may appear to be just another unassuming luxury crossover, but its significance to the automotive world should not be understated. The GLE was originally introduced as the M-Class in 1998, becoming the very first luxury crossover ever manufactured. It was the start of one of the most important trends in the automotive world. Today, luxury crossovers are as plentiful and ubiquitous as can be, and the GLE has become just one of many compelling offerings. Even so, it plays a key role in the Mercedes lineup, and the latest variant includes a few rather interesting features to help it stand out from the crowd.
The exterior design, though clean and purposeful, isn’t particularly eye-catching. Still, it is pure Mercedes, and the subtle resemblance to the M-Class models of the past is undeniable. In any case, it is the cabin which draws the most attention pushing luxury to new heights. The attractive interior combines rich materials with striking details including soft leather, open-pore wood trim, metal-finish surfaces, and even a stunning 64-colour LED ambient lighting system. It is incredibly spacious as well with plenty of room for both front and rear seat occupants to sit comfortably. The large cargo area is incredibly accommodating and can even be fitted with an optional third-row of seats for occasional use.
Technological highlights include Mercedes’ latest MBUX infotainment system which works through a pair of 12.3 inch high-resolution displays. The system can be controlled through the steering wheel, a centre console touchpad, touchscreen inputs, or Siri-like voice commands. It’s a complicated setup; however, the visual allure and incredible depth of features are very impressive. Other technological highlights include an augmented reality navigation system, an enormous and configurable head-up display, 13-speaker Burmeister audio system, an air balance fragrance system, and an energizing comfort system which networks the seat heating, ventilation, and massage functions. The multi-contour seats include several massage modes including hot stone and body activation.
The GLE continues to impress out on the road with incredibly smooth ride quality and refinement worthy of true luxury vehicle. Much of this comfort can be attributed to the optional E-Active Body Control air suspension system. Inspired by the Magic Body Control system on the S-Class, the setup can scan the road ahead of the vehicle for imperfections and instantaneously adjust the suspension for optimal comfort and control. It can even adjust the air bladders and tilt the vehicle in the direction of a turn to help mitigate body roll. An off-road mode allows for up to 11 inches of ground clearance with the ability to raise or lower each wheel individually. The real party trick, however, is a mode which bounces the vehicle to help free it when stuck in deep sand. It’s a bit gimmicky and makes concerning squeaking noises, but it is very cool nonetheless.
The entry-level GLE 350 comes equipped with a 2.0L turbocharged 4-cylinder producing a decent 255 horsepower. The GLE 450, however, gets a much brawnier 3.0L turbocharged inline-6 with a 48-volt starter-generator mild hybrid system. The engine offers plenty of power with silent operation and excellent refinement. The hybrid assist also allows for one of the most seamless engine start-stop systems on the market with none of the jarring shutters that often plague these systems. The inline-6 produces 362 horsepower and comes matched to a 9-speed automatic transmission and a 4MATIC all-wheel drive system. Naturally, moreover powerful and performance-oriented AMG models are available as well.
Pricing starts at $64,000 for the GLE 350 4MATIC and $72,000 for the GLE 450 4MATIC tested here. Various options and packages can inflate the price tag to over $100,000, at which point the GLE faces some pretty serious competition. Rivals include the BMW X5, Porsche Cayenne, and the Land Rover Range Rover Sport. As formidable as its rivals may be, the GLE really does stand out for its impressive depth of technology, opulent interior, and outstanding ride quality with the top suspension system selected. Admittedly, a much lower priced Lexus RX would accomplish the same task nearly as well with predictably far superior reliability on top of it. For those who demand next-level luxury with comfort and technology as a priority, however, the GLE should more than satisfy.