It's been just over 20 years since the original M-Class found its way into suburban garages and family lives across America. Mercedes-Benz is now redrawing what's called the GLE and upping the ante in an increasingly competitive market. Up against the X5, Cayenne and Q7, this is just a first step. There are more GLEs to come, including AMG and Mercedes-Maybach versions. Choices of power include 4, 6, 8 and hybrid engines. And the tech is ever more tightly integrated with the driver and passenger experience.
What's the new look, the overall change coming for the GLE?
Press photos show the 2020 Mercedes GLE in the city, in the wild and on the display floor and in all cases two style elements are clear: the distinct, aggressive grille and the clean, swept roofline. It's more coherent than in the past and makes a great first impression, then draws the eye across, over, and off the back. Stronger lighting designs in front and a more lightweight taillight presentation create a similar effect. The Sport and AMG options craft an even more dynamic look.
What will the driver experience be like?
There are so many package and powertrain options that buyers can tailor their ride significantly. What has the trade talking, though, is an air-spring suspension with electronic control that can do some neat tricks, especially in off-road mode. For example, it can lift a single wheel or make the GLE hop a bit to get unstuck. While the traditional suspension is comfortable, this new technology can respond to driving styles more creatively. As one reviewer noted, it can even adjust body roll to lean into corners, should one want to try that.
How will the driver and passengers connect with the technology?
To store a favorite setting, drivers and passengers make a "V" with their fingers using the new gesture control. There's also the new MBUX connection which came out first on the A-class which has been used as an introductory platform for a lot of technology. There are plenty of places to charge the team's electronic gear and both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard for device connectivity. There's plenty of 12.3-inch screen space (two of them) with a more horizontal cockpit appearance, and an optional head-up display is available. Behind the scenes, telematics applications are underway as MBUX starts to connect with other vehicles and roadway equipment for future road and traffic information sharing. Of course, the driver assistance features and active safety systems are becoming a standard part of daily driving.
How will it handle? City, highway, country roads?
As mentioned, there are some new suspension surprises which for the moment are unique to the GLE: the E-Active system. The big picture: a very effective AWD system plus hydraulic suspension provides enjoyable off-road driving and creates some great handling for a vehicle this size, even cornering surprisingly well. Leaving the city apartment, taking the highway to the countryside, driving windy country roads and fording a stream or two along the way, drivers will probably enjoy every bit of the trip.
Is this a vehicle for challenging terrain?
More ground clearance and the new suspension which is stealing the attention from the rest of the GLE's changes both contribute to a resounding "yes." There's a video out there of a new GLE stuck pretty solidly in deep sand. Between the skilled driver and the bouncing of the hydraulic suspension, it's out of there in minutes. For general off-road driving, the GLE adapts fluidly to keep the ride as easy as possible and provides manageable handling to suit the terrain.
What are the powertrain options?
The first models to roll out of the Alabama plant will have a choice of 255-hp turbocharged inline-four and a turbocharged inline-six with electric enhancement for 362+21 horsepower. The former is listed at 7.0 seconds to 60 mph, the latter 5.5 seconds. Initial production will have 4Matic AWD and a nine-speed automatic transmission. Once they're rolling, look forward to a six-cylinder with an electric supercharger and a V-8 twin-turbo plus plug-in hybrids.
What about the models with AMG trim and Maybach influence?
It's when the GLS gets updates in the style of the GLE that the Maybach upgrades will get mixed in, apparently, and perhaps that will go further. For the GLE of 2020, AMG won't just be the styling influences that some Mercedes-Benz lines are getting, but full mechanical upgrades: the GLE53 and GLE63 will have a supercharged six and twin-turbo V-8, respectively, and likely a plug-in hybrid as well.
How spacious will the interior be? There's now third-row seating, right?
Yes, the wheelbase gained about three inches, and other fundamental geometry changes to the GLE were made to support three-row seating and a bit more breathing room. The third row is not going to be a favorite for full-sized adult passengers, but it will provide more space for long rides.