Who could've predicted the absolute runaway success of luxury SUVs when Mercedes-Benz introduced the first M-Class two decades ago? What started as a testing-the-waters foray into midsize SUV territory, the M-Class -- renamed GLE-Class in 2015 -- is now a cornerstone of premium SUVs as we know them today. For the 2020 model year, Mercedes looks to firmly solidify its place as a benchmark of luxury midsize offerings.
Meet the brand-new GLE-Class, which Mercedes-Benz officially revealed this week ahead of the SUV's Paris Motor Show public debut. When it goes on sale in the US, it'll be offered in GLE350, GLE350 4Matic and GLE450 4Matic models -- with subsequent AMG variants to follow, natch.
The GLE350 uses a 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 engine, good for 255 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque. Both rear- and all-wheel drive versions will use Mercedes' 9G-Tronic 9-speed automatic transmission, and should sprint from a standstill to 60 miles per hour in 7.0 and 7.1 seconds, respectively.
Move up to the GLE450 4Matic and you'll get a 3.0-liter turbocharged I6 engine with Mercedes' mild-hybrid EQ Boost technology. This is essentially the same engine as what's used in the new, with 362 horsepower, 369 pound-feet of torque and an additional 21 horsepower of assist from the EQ Boost starter-generator. The added power pays dividends on performance, Mercedes estimating a 5.5-second 0 to 60 sprint for the GLE450.
The GLE introduces a new 48-volt air suspension called E-Active Body Control, which allows individual control of the spring and damping forces at each wheel. In its official press release, Mercedes says this technology "generate[s] dynamic forces that overlay the air suspension forces and actively support and dampen the vehicle during linear and lateral acceleration or when driving on uneven roads." In other words, the new GLE ought to be a smooth, stable operator. We'll let you know for sure after we get our first sampling of the 2020 GLE models later this year.
Furthermore, the GLE comes equipped with what Mercedes calls a "free-driving mode," which aids in off-roading. Should the GLE get stuck in sand, or perhaps in snow, "the suspension level is quickly and automatically raised and lowered several times, which changes the ground pressure of the tires and therefore improves traction -- the GLE then rocks itself free," the automaker says in its press information.
Mercedes will offer the GLE with a full suite of advanced driver assistance systems, including its latest Distronic adaptive cruise control, active brake assist, active steering assist, blind-spot monitoring and more. The GLE's new party trick is Active Stop-and-Go Assist, which allows the vehicle to take over steering, acceleration and braking duties at speeds up to 37 mph -- kind of like Nissan's ProPilot Assist feature.
The tech onslaught continues inside, where Mercedes' new MBUX interface handles infotainment duties, housed in a pair of 12.3-inch displays. MBUX can be controlled via voice control as well as touch, and commands can be dictated with natural speech, simply by starting a request with, "Hey Mercedes."
We've tested MBUX a couple of times already and find it to be a beautifully high-resolution, easy-to-navigate interface. The "Hey Mercedes" command functionality proved less than perfectearlier this year, but Mercedes said the kinks should be worked out before MBUX hits the US-market primetime later this year.
That MBUX interface is housed in a completely redesigned cabin, with elegant dashboard surfacing and lots of ambient lighting. The new center console has a pair of grab handles on either side of the gear selector (do these remind anyone else of the first-generation Porsche Cayenne?) and the new steering wheel uses the same thumb-bad controls as Mercedes other new models, which control the gauge cluster and infotainment displays.
The GLE grows a bit for 2020, with a 3.1-inch increase in wheelbase. That directly results in a 2.7-inch improvement in rear legroom, and helps make space for an optional third row of seats. The second row also gets optional six-way power adjustability for the two outboard positions, and the middle portion of the 40/20/40 bench can be folded flat while the other two sections remain upright.
Happily, the 2020 GLE doesn't appear gargantuan, despite this increase in size. It's quite handsome, actually, with slim taillamps reminiscent of the new CLS, and wheel sizes ranging from 17 to 22 inches, depending on model and trim.
Official pricing and EPA data won't be available until the GLE launches next year, but expect it to start in the low-to-mid $50,000 range. (A 2018 GLE350, for reference, starts at $52,200.) Expect to see the first round of GLEs hitting US Mercedes showrooms next spring.