2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE Review

Christian Wardlaw, Independent Expert | Sep 14, 2020

Introduction - Find the best Mercedes-Benz deals!

An amorphous blob of a vehicle, the original Mercedes-Benz ML-Class was among the first luxury SUVs for sale in America. Not only that, it was the first vehicle made at the automaker’s Alabama assembly plant, which to this day is where the ML’s successor, the GLE, is built.

What seemed a ridiculous prospect in the summer of 1997 actually proved prescient. Not only did the ML-Class survive, it thrived. Other car companies got into the luxury SUV business and now, 23 years later, even Lamborghini makes one. Visit your local Mercedes-Benz dealer, and you’ll find no fewer than six SUVs for sale, or eight if you count the fastback “coupes” as separate models.

For 2020, the midsize model that started it all got a complete redesign. The 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE comes in standard and rakish GLE Coupe versions, and this review is focused on the former rather than the latter. 

Five GLE models are available, including the GLE 350, the GLE 450, the GLE 580, the AMG GLE 53, and the AMG GLE 63 S. Each one comes with standard 4Matic all-wheel drive except for the GLE 350. Prices kick off at $54,750 and rise to more than double that.

For this review, J.D. Power evaluated a GLE 450 with a base price of $61,150, including the $995 destination charge. It was equipped with extra-cost paint, the Exterior Lighting Package, illuminated running boards, 21-inch AMG wheels, the AMG Night Package, and an AirMatic adaptive air suspension. 

Inside, the test vehicle included the Premium Package, AMG Line Interior, premium Nappa leather, natural grain wood interior trim, and MB-Tex dashboard and door trim. Comfort upgrades included memory for the front passenger’s seat settings, the Air Balance Package, the Warmth & Comfort Package, the Acoustic Comfort Package, 4-zone automatic climate control, ventilated front seats, heated second-row seats, heated and cooled cupholders, and power second-row side window shades. 

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE 450 Lunar Blue AMG Night Package Front View

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

Additionally, the test vehicle had a panoramic glass roof, a surround-view camera, a traffic sign recognition system, and rear side airbags. The price came to $84,390, including the $995 destination charge.

What Owners Say… - Find the best Mercedes-Benz deals!

Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the redesigned Mercedes GLE, it is helpful to understand who buys this upper midsize premium SUV, and what they like most and least about their vehicles.

According to J.D. Power data, 61% of Mercedes GLE owners are male (vs. 63% for the segment), and the median age of a GLE owner is 59 years (vs. 56).

Owners say their favorite things about the GLE are (in descending order) the exterior styling, interior design, driving feel, feeling of safety, and driving comfort. Specifically, these five things about the vehicle rank highest in comparison to the upper midsize premium SUV segment:

  • Fuel economy/driving range
  • Attractiveness of screens/displays
  • Rear seat comfort
  • Ability to hold personal items
  • Ability to carry everything

Owners indicate their least favorite things about the GLE are (in descending order) the getting in and out, setting up and starting, powertrain, infotainment, and fuel economy. Specifically, these five things about the vehicle rank lowest in comparison to the upper midsize premium SUV segment:

  • Power of engine/motor
  • Smoothness of engine/motor
  • Sound of engine/motor
  • Exterior styling
  • Operating vehicle remotely

In the J.D Power 2020 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study, the GLE ranked 6th (in a tie with the Cadillac XT6) out of nine upper midsize premium SUVs.

What Our Expert Says… - Find the best Mercedes-Benz deals!

In the sections that follow, our expert provides his own perceptions about how the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE measures up in each of the 10 categories that comprise the APEAL Study.

Exterior

Aside from the oversized Mercedes emblem in its grille, what has remained a defining design cue for this SUV is its fast C-pillar and wrap-around rear window glass. Every iteration of the ML and GLE has included this stylistic element.

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE 450 Lunar Blue AMG Wheels Rear View

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

With its 2020 redesign, the GLE adopts the latest Mercedes look, which is clean, simply adorned, and proportionally balanced. In short, the new GLE looks terrific, and in my opinion is the first ML/GLE in history that I can describe in that way.

The test car had oversized 21-inch AMG multi-spoke wheels and an AMG Line Night Package with body color lower trim, a fancy grille, and gloss-black detailing. I prefer the GLE with standard styling and 21-inch 5-spoke wheels.

Interior

Mercedes is firing on all cylinders with regard to interior design. Open the door and the GLE’s cabin looks and feels special even in standard format. 

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE 450 Interior Dashboard

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

No doubt, the dual 12.3-inch instrumentation and infotainment system displays go a long way toward creating a luxurious ambience, but quality materials and classy detailing like the vent designs, the piano key climate controls, and the ambient cabin lighting also contribute.

Unfortunately, the test car’s interior easily creaked under pressure, such as when bracing a leg against the door panel or center console. And the shiny plastic steering column trim looks really out of place in a pricey SUV like this one.

Because largely redundant infotainment system controls take up so much space on the center console, there’s not as much room as there could be in terms of practical everyday storage. At least the transmission controls are on a stalk mounted to the steering wheel, placing them well out of the way.

Other storage areas are reasonably sized, such as the center bin under the armrest, the glove compartment, and the bins in the lower door panels, which are shaped to also serve as cupholders. I don’t recommend that, however. My daughter placed a caffeine-free coffee drink in the left rear one, it somehow tipped over, leaked through the bottom of the door panel and into the door jam, and seeped into the illuminated door sill plate, tinting the “Mercedes-Benz” letters brown.

Getting In and Out

Getting into and out of the GLE is easy, and since the test vehicle did not have the optional third-row seat I was unable to test entry and exit for that row. Interestingly, when you upgrade to 7-passenger capacity, the outboard second-row seats feature 6-way power adjustment.

The second-row seat is a 40/20/40-split design, which is handy when a family of four takes a ski trip. After raising the power tailgate, you’ll find a wide opening, a flat load floor, and 33.3 cubic feet of cargo space. Fold the back seat down, and the GLE can carry up to 74.9 cubic feet of cargo.

Setting Up and Starting

Get into a Mercedes-Benz GLE, press the engine start button, and you might be overwhelmed by the dual digital displays and unfamiliar controls. 

For example, the transmission controls are on the steering column where the wipers are usually placed, the seat controls are on the door panel instead of the lower portion of the seat base, the steering wheel controls have touch-sensing pads for swiping and scrolling, and the infotainment controls on the center console take some acclimation.

Here’s the good news: if you’re not a technophobe, you’ll get the hang of everything in fairly short order, though you’ll regularly face some trial-and-error with certain functions. 

The bad news is that it takes a long time to personalize the GLE’s wide range of owner selected settings. And honestly, even after spending the time to do so, it’s possible you might overlook something. Once you’re all set up, however, you won’t need to mess with things much.

Note that GLE owners have shared with J.D. Power some dissatisfaction with this SUV’s engine sound and smoothness. Most likely, this feedback comes from people who drive the GLE 350, which has a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine. The GLE 450 test vehicle’s engine sounded good when started up.

Infotainment System

Mercedes is absolutely killing it with its infotainment technology. Called Mercedes Benz User Experience (MBUX), it includes a natural voice recognition system with artificial intelligence that is among the best in the automotive industry. And while MBUX represents complex technology, Mercedes has simplified it to the point where it’s easy to understand and use.

In the GLE, MBUX includes a 12.3-inch touchscreen display with beautiful graphics and quick response to inputs. Navigation is standard with free map updates for the first three years of ownership, and MBUX benefits from over-the-air updates. Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and three free years of Mercedes Me Connect services are standard, and a Wi-Fi hotspot is available. With the Premium Package, the GLE has Near Field Communication smartphone pairing and wireless charging.

The system’s center console controls take up lots of real estate and, aside from using the volume controls, I didn’t touch them on purpose. Accidentally, on a couple of occasions while using the volume control, I mistakenly brushed or pushed on the center touchpad, producing unwanted and unintended changes on the infotainment display. 

Mercedes would be wise to eliminate these center console controls. For the most part, they are redundant. They also lack topographical reference points, which means you need to down and away from the road to use them. Better to free up space on the console for additional storage.

Keeping You Safe

Every 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE is equipped with emergency call service for the lifetime of the vehicle. Plus, the GLE 450 comes with forward collision warning with pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, blind-spot warning with door-exit warning, and a driver monitoring system. It also has Mercedes Pre-Safe, which prepares the cabin and its occupants for an imminent collision, as well as Pre-Safe Sound, which is a unique feature designed to protect your inner ear from the loud sound of a crash.

In addition to these features, Mercedes offers a comprehensive Driver Assistance Package Plus which installs 14 additional advanced driving assistance systems on the SUV. The test car did not have this upgrade, but previous experience using the contents of this package demonstrates that it works exceptionally well. Of particular interest, Active Emergency Stop Assist and Pre-Safe Impulse Side are class-leading technologies.

The test vehicle did have standard intelligent LED wide-beam headlights with adaptive high-beam assist, and they were amazing. Semi-autonomous parking assistance is also standard on the GLE, the technology steering, braking, and shifting in order to place the SUV in a parallel or perpendicular parking space under the driver’s supervision.

In crash testing conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the GLE earns a Top Safety Pick+ rating when equipped with the Driver Assistance Package Plus. Even without the upgrade package, crash protection is top-notch. 

Powertrain

Serving as the entry point to the GLE lineup, as well as the lease special, the GLE 350 has a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine making 255 horsepower and 273 lb.-ft. of torque. Those are respectable numbers, but the GLE 350 weighs a minimum of 4,608 pounds. This might explain why owners rate the powertrain unfavorably.

If you move up to the GLE 450, you’ll be happier. It’s got a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline 6-cylinder supplemented by a 48-volt lithium-ion battery and an Integrated Starter Generator (ISG). Called EQ Boost by Mercedes, this mild-hybrid powertrain makes 362 horsepower between 5,500 rpm and 6,100 rpm, and 369 lb.-ft. of torque from 1,600 rpm to 4,500 rpm. A sport-tuned exhaust system is standard.

A 9-speed automatic transmission delivers the power to all four of the GLE 450’s wheels, and this model’s 4Matic all-wheel-drive system is fully variable, able to transfer up to 100% of the power from the rear wheels to the front wheels. With the GLE 350 4Matic, only half of the power can flow forward for added traction.

The GLE 450 can tow up to 7,700 pounds, and you can choose between Eco, Comfort, Sport, and Individual driving modes. Individual allows you to hand-select a specific combination of dynamic settings that will suit your preferences.

With this powertrain, the GLE 450 is satisfyingly quick. You might even call it fast. And the transmission works exactly as you want it to at all times.

Fuel Economy

During testing, the GLE 450 came close to matching the official EPA rating of 21 mpg in combined driving. On the driving route, it returned 20.3 mpg. Based on this result, and the 22.5-gallon gas tank, you can expect a driving range of more than 455 miles. And even if you leave yourself a cushion of 50 miles, you can travel 405 miles between stops to fill up with premium unleaded.

Driving Comfort

Equipped with rapid-heating front seats, heated armrests and upper door panels, and front-seat ventilation, the test vehicle was mighty comfortable even without the optional massagers. The white and black premium leather was supple, too, and over the course of three hours of driving the GLE proved perfectly supportive. Even refreshing. No doubt, this is due in part to its Air Balance purification and fragrance system.

If you’re assigned to the rear seat, don’t worry. It is remarkably spacious for adults, and the bottom cushion supplies excellent leg support. The backrest is set to a perfect angle, too, and the available 4-zone automatic climate control system limits squabbling between siblings. My own kids were quite impressed with this unexpected extra, as well as the power-operated rear side window shades.

Though the test GLE 450 had the Acoustic Comfort Package, with laminated glass and added sound insulation, the big 21-inch Pirelli P-Zero performance tires still created an unexpected amount of road rumble within the cabin. Also, on rougher and uneven surfaces, the interior emitted slight creaks and small rattles. A heat wave broiled Southern California during our testing, and the climate system spent lots of time blowing hard and loudly, adding to the din.

Driving Feel

Equipped with the optional adaptive air suspension, the test vehicle nevertheless exhibited plenty of pillowy softness with the SUV set to Comfort mode. The rocking and rolling got to be too much, however, so using the programmable Individual driving mode I set the suspension to Sport and chose Comfort for everything else. That resolved the issue.

Given the level of electro-wizardry in the GLE 450, it’s not surprising that its driving dynamics come across as somewhat artificial. When hustling the 5,115-lb. SUV down a mountain grade with smooth blacktop and generously banked corners, it felt like software was working overtime to produce engaging dynamics. And while the huge 21-inch wheels and tires provided good grip, they also howled a bit too much and a bit too early.

Braking is terrific when you’re driving with enthusiasm, but in town the pedal feels grabby and somewhat unpredictable, making it hard to use smoothly. The steering also feels a little heavy and artificial, even in Comfort mode, but there’s no denying that its quick response and the GLE’s tight turning radius help to make the SUV easy to maneuver in parking lots and urban driving situations.

During a brief off-roading jaunt, the GLE 450 performed well, though its low-profile performance tires are less than ideal for such travel.

Final Impressions - Find the best Mercedes-Benz deals!

If you’re buying a Mercedes GLE, take a close look at the GLE 450 model. It costs about $5,000 more than the GLE 350 4Matic, but the EQ Boost powertrain is well worth the added expense in terms of your overall satisfaction. 

Beyond this, the new Mercedes GLE looks good on the outside, looks great on the inside, and is loaded with the latest infotainment and driving assistance technologies. Driving dynamics are dependent on which options you choose, and in daily driving situations the test vehicle proved satisfying. 

If you really want a thrill, though, you’ll want to consider one of the AMG-massaged models, which start at $72,350 plus destination charges.

Christian Wardlaw is a veteran digital automotive journalist with over 25 years of experience test-driving vehicles. In addition to JDPower.com, his work has appeared in numerous new- and used-car buying guides, newspapers, and automotive industry trade journals.

The opinions expressed in this review are the author’s own, not J.D. Power’s.

No portion of these reviews may be reproduced, distributed, publicly displayed, or used for a derivative work without J.D. Power’s written permission. © 2020 J.D. Power

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