I’m just going to put it out there: real Mercedes-Benz vehicles start at E.
Yes, there are smaller, cheaper ‘A’ cars and ‘C’ cars, think A-Class, CLA, GLA, C-Class and GLC, but the real luxury and prestige in the Mercedes-Benz range starts with cars like the E-Class and this car: the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE450 SUV.
It’s a Benz staple and its popularity saw the GLE almost double the sales tally of the E-Class last year (without delving into the coupe ranges of each). For most buyers, if you’re looking at a GLE, you won’t be interested in the E-Class, but nor will you be missing out on anything it has to offer.
Amid the current three-model GLE range, the petrol-powered GLE450 sits between the four-cylinder diesel 300d and inline-six diesel 400d. Pricing for the GLE450 starts from $117,400 plus options and on-road costs.
As with any prestige car, options can quickly add up. The car you see here came with only five options added, but an extra $27,500 tacked onto its list price – more on those in a sec.
As standard, the GLE450 features Mercedes’s new 3.0-litre twin-turbo inline six-cylinder engine rated at 270kW and 500Nm, a nine-speed torque converter automatic, and 4Matic constant all-wheel drive.
Included in the base package are 20-inch alloy wheels, powered tailgate, adaptive cruise control with speed limiter, surround-view camera, adaptive LED headlights with ‘Multibeam’ selective auto high beam, power-adjustable heated front seats, multi-hue LED interior lighting, and a driver’s head-up display.
Attracting the most attention, however, will be the dual 12.3-inch screens – one as instruments, the other for infotainment – and a combination of touch, voice, console controller or steering wheel button inputs to run smartphone mirroring (both Apple and Android), advanced vehicle settings, ‘Mercedes me Connect’ online services, digital radio, Bluetooth and connected media.
Splurge beyond the base trim and you can add leather trim (in place of faux leather) for $3000, two additional rear seats (seven in total) for $3900, Vision Package (wireless phone charging, 13-speaker premium audio, electric sunroof) for $4200, and Airmatic auto-levelling air suspension for $3400.
In what could be the ultimate extravagance, E-Active Body Control adds road-scanning cameras to read the road ahead and adjust the suspension to accommodate imperfections, ‘free driving’ suspension bounce (to escape sandy conditions), height-adjustable suspension with individual wheel control, and a range of underbody protection to help the GLE survive off-road. Yours for a scant $13,000.
Call me petty, but it does seem strange that for over $100K you still have to add things like real leather trim and wireless charging (as tested), or a memory package for the front seats, front seat cooling, a powered steering column, and tyre pressure monitoring (not fitted here, but all available), but at least the choice is yours, I suppose.
With a move to a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, Mercedes-Benz has positioned itself as a frontrunner amongst other prestige brands who are yet to follow. Services are scheduled every 12 months or 25,000km, with pre-paid maintenance available from $2700 for three years (a $600 saving compared to post-paid service), or $3650 and $5200 respectively for four- or five-year plans.
Certainly on the design front, the GLE fits the bill when you’re seated inside. The newest Mercedes-Benz interior direction is anything but subtle, but it shows off its high-tech inclusions well.
Space is in no way an issue up front, but if you’re particularly long-legged or large of foot, as the driver you’ll notice the centre tunnel eats into foot space slightly. Getting set in the electrically adjusted front seats is easy, but the abundant padding can feel a little high-centred and low-bolstered on longer drives.
Second-row passengers are equally as well looked after in terms of space, although the centre seat doesn’t quite offer the soak-in comfort of outboard positions. Electric adjustment is included with the ability to power-stow the second-row seats from the boot.
If you are planning on ticking the seven-seat option box, keep in mind they’re best kept for occasional use. The manually folded third row doesn’t offer the freedom of space you might expect, but can work on short trips about town. Folded away, there's a minimum of 630L of available space, down a touch on the 690L of the last-generation GLE, but thanks to the new sliding functionality it's possible to bump boot space up to 825L, though second-row seat space takes a hit, of course.
Row three won’t fold without the second row in its most upright position either, so there’s usually some shuffling and re-configuring involved each time you stow or deploy the third row. If you need seven seats more frequently, the longer GLS range (from a more expensive $144,600) is the smarter option.
As for Mercedes’s newest-generation engine, there’s really nothing to gripe about. It’s smooth, quiet and powerful… Impressively so in each instance, actually.
The petrol engine is augmented by a 48-volt ‘mild hybrid’ set-up, which not only works as a scaled-up stop-start system, but is also able to contribute up to 16kW and 250Nm in short stints to reduce the petrol engine’s load.
In practice it means that as the car moves from a standstill at the lights, the engine comes to life so smoothly and quietly that it’s often hard to pick the transition from waiting to running. The GLE simply glides forward gracefully, giving away little of what’s happening under the bonnet.
If I were to point the finger, the engine could be accused of lacking character. It’s rather short on evocative noise, swelling power or anything else that might define a petrol engine, and in the case of a plush family SUV, that’s probably no problem at all.
Certainly there’s some bulk to the GLE450 in built-up areas that’s hard to hide. City streets aren’t always its natural environment, but the insanely high-definition 360-degree camera system takes some of the pain out of parking.
Benz can’t match BMW’s reversing-assistant tech, though (which plays your pull-in moves in reverse to help you pull out of a car park), which would be an appreciated feature. Here’s hoping Benz can find a way to add something similar.
Fuel use is a claimed 9.1 litres per 100km, but even with extended highway driving the GLE only settled to 10.7L/100km. Given the sheer size and weight of the package as a whole, that’s still pretty impressive.
It’s on those highway trips that the GLE far and away makes the most sense. This thing sits reassuringly on the road with unflappable poise, yet absorbs almost every surface imperfection with ease.
The road-scanning camera tech doesn’t quite give you a hovercraft ride, but the kind of stiff-jointed jostling that has long plagued air-suspension systems is almost entirely gone, and rolling dips and round-edged bumps are graciously softened off.
The GLE's curve-control function aims to counter the cornering forces on winding roads to resist the momentum that would otherwise cause body roll. It’s an interesting system.
As soon as you tilt the wheel, say, to the left, the car jiggles itself like a plate of jelly. Because it’s an active system, the right of the car will raise to counteract the centrifugal force applied to the car’s passengers.
Smart as the system might be, it can feel a bit too eager, activating then correcting itself and adding body movement in where the goal is to reduce it.
While it can feel wildly over-reactive on all but the windiest roads, Curve is a separate drive mode, so the system can be turned off for more fluid general driving. Still, it does impressively quell side-to-side roll, especially for something so tall and softly sprung.
Is it worth the $13K spend? It’s certainly flagship tech, but it's hard to see the value.
I’d wager most owners will demonstrate the free driving function to interested friends and coworkers as a novelty a handful of times, before leaving the setting alone – it’s rare to see a GLE on Aussie beaches and bush tracks where it might actually be handy.
Focusing on practicality rather than pose value, the GLE450 is rated to tow up to 2700kg with a 216kg downball limit in standard guise, but can be optioned to haul 3500kg with a 280kg downball limit depending on the genuine accessory towbar fitted (your dealer can provide full details).
Trick suspension options aside, the basic GLE450 is ultimately a thoroughly good prestige family SUV. Well, five-seater anyway – it might be best to leave seven-seat antics to the GLS.
The GLE450 exudes the kind of syrupy smoothness you expect from a car wearing the three-pointed star on its nose. It’s packed with tech that hasn’t yet filtered into mainstream models. It is everything a Mercedes-Benz should be.