It’s been about 20 years since Mercedes launched its first SUV designed to not just be an off-roader, but a street-friendly family wagon. The M-Class was an early entrant into what is now an avalanche of crossovers from the German luxury brand. Today, Mercedes offers seven crossovers and SUVs. But only the GLE-Class can really be called a direct descendant of the original M-Class.
Over the course of its lifetime, the M-Class became the ML, and just a few years ago, adopted the GLE name to put it in line with Mercedes-Benz’s brand-wide naming conventions. Considering the history of the M-Class/GLE-Class, the redesign of the crossover is significant, even more so given the fact that the GLE hadn’t been significantly changed since the 2011 model year. The end result is sumptuous, spacious and comfortable.
The GLE 450 features Benz’s new turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six, which makes 362 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque. As you’d expect, the GLE 450’s six-cylinder feels stronger at the low end than the 350’s four, and the power carries right through the rev band. You’ll want to wring it out, too, because the engine packs a raspy, snarling intake and exhaust that’s more sports car than family car.
Regardless of engine, each car is mated to the same nine-speed automatic that uses a clutch pack in place of the torque converter, and that’s a good thing. It operates with velvety smoothness in each driving mode, and it picks gears very smartly. In comfort mode, it short shifts to keep the revs down, and doesn’t worry about banging through gears too quickly. But in sport mode, the gearbox happily brings shift speeds right up to sports car levels.
GLE 350 models come standard with rear-wheel drive, and the 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system is optional. The GLE 450 only comes with all-wheel drive.
The GLE 350’s standard suspension setup features conventional shocks and steel springs, and an adjustable air suspension is available as an option.
That was the only technical hiccup we found with the infotainment, but then there’s the issue of just how complex the whole system is. There are menus upon menus, and they are tucked away in all directions. Scroll left, right, up or down, you’ll find more menus. It’s not always blatantly obvious where these menus are hiding. This can be really distracting if you’re looking for a less common adjustment like the sound equalizer.
Pricing and fuel economy have yet to be released, so as to how it compares with the competition such as the BMW X5 and Lexus RX, we can’t say. But Mercedes provides a seriously compelling option in every other aspect. It provides a driving experience that truly feels luxurious. The GLE glides along, keeping its occupants stable and serene, cosseted in the most opulent and comfortable interior in the segment. So if lavish trimmings and a calm driving experience are your thing, the GLE-Class is king.