It May Be the Nicest Luxury SUV on the Road
Trim Tested: GLE 450 4Matic 2-Row SUV
Price as Tested: $79,915 (including destination charge)
What We Like: Elegant design; strong 6-cylinder mild-hybrid engine; cool tech
What We Don’t: Expensive
Mercedes’ midsize SUV has one of the nicest interiors in the class and a strong engine lineup. However, our midtier GLE 450 test car, with options, was $80,000. Even in the rough-and-tumble world of 2022 car pricing, that’s expensive. Is the GLE 450 worth it, compared with its rivals? We took a summer road trip up the East Coast to answer that question.
There’s nothing like a few hours in a car to shake out flaws in its design and build. Spoiler alert – the GLE didn’t have any. Over the course of a week, the GLE reminded us why it is one of the segment’s top choices.
How It Drives
The test car was a GLE 450, one step up from the base GLE 350. Opting for the 450 adds $5,000 to a base GLE. In this rarified segment, a $5,000 premium for an engine this good is a bargain. Compared with the GLE 350, the 450 has 107 more horsepower and 2 more cylinders. The additional power is noticeable on the highway, but the extra cylinders made the biggest difference. Upgrading from a 4-cylinder to an inline-6 makes the GLE much smoother. The engine vibrated so little it was hard to remember it was on.
The GLE 450 has a mild hybrid system – an integrated starter-generator that allows the SUV to coast without burning gas and charge the battery while braking. Thanks to this system, the GLE can sit with its engine off and all of its systems running for longer than a normal vehicle. The electric motor also adds 21 horsepower under hard acceleration. The hybrid technology helps the GLE 450 get the same fuel economy on the highway as the less-powerful GLE 350, and even better fuel economy when driven in the city.
While the GLE 450 is quick in a straight line, it isn’t on curving roads. The BMW X5 still wears that crown. No matter, though, because the GLE is more luxurious and comfortable than the X5 and costs less. Our test vehicle was equipped with the Airmatic suspension, which allows for adjustable firmness and ride height. The ride was indeed smooth, although it sometimes felt bouncy going over dips in the road at high speed.
Interior Comfort & Quality
Loaded as it was with $16,000 worth of options, our GLE was not representative of a standard-issue model. Among the more appealing options were the heated and ventilated front seats, the panoramic sunroof, and the sound-deadening Acoustic Comfort Package.
The prevailing theme inside was rugged opulence. Rugged touches included the large handles on the center console and the boxy air vents on the dashboard. Black leather upholstery extended from the seats to the dashboard. Expensive-looking metal switches and LED mood lighting added sleekness. The natural-grain brown walnut trim was simply gorgeous, especially paired with the delicate perforations in the silver Burmester speaker covers.
There was ample space in the first and second rows of the GLE, and the seats were all-day comfortable. Cargo space was generous behind the second row and easy to access with the power liftgate and electronically lowered air suspension.
Technology & Usability
Mercedes’ MBUX infotainment system can be overwhelming at first glance. It uses two 12.3-inch-wide screens (one in front of the driver and one in the center of the dash), each with its own set of steering wheel controls. The center screen also has a touchpad (like you’d find on a laptop) and touchscreen controls.
Once I learned the ins and outs of the system, I enjoyed the beautiful graphics and the sheer number of functions. Important controls such as climate and audio get hard buttons that sit outside the touchscreen.
Our test car was equipped with the Driver Assistance Package, which included adaptive cruise control with automated steering, automated lane changing, and stop-and-go traffic assistance. Paired with the automatic parallel parking system, the tech in the GLE could drive the vehicle unaided for very short spurts (although neither I nor Mercedes would recommend doing that). There are plenty of high-tech safety aids ready to step in should things go wrong on the road, including automatic emergency braking, lane keep assist, blind spot monitoring, and evasive steering assist.