2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class first drive review: Outrunning dinosaurs

by admin November 20, 2018 at 11:28 pm

On Isla Sorna, the fictional island setting for the “The Lost World: Jurassic Park,” dinosaurs vaulted millions of years into the future and chewed up camouflaged Mercedes-Benz M-Class SUVs.

The 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE I find myself hustling through empty ranch roads outside of San Antonio on a damp fall morning is certainly no dinosaur. It’s more jacked-up E-Class wagon than trucky mud-plugger, an image Mercedes once tried to cultivate for its mid-size crossover SUV.

CHECK OUT: 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE first look: Luxury family crossover, emphasis on luxury

The night before my drive, I asked Robert Lesnick, the Slovenian designer who oversaw the 2020 GLE’s exterior, how he would transform the 2019 model into a dinosaur-chaser like the old ML320. With stoicism he clearly learned from the Germans, he ruffled his brow and replied, “How could we improve upon perfection?”

The quality-deficient original was far from perfect, but it put a tony, high-riding Mercedes SUV in showrooms well before Lexus, Audi, and BMW.

I’m more convinced about Lesnick’s confidence when it comes to the GLE.

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class

This highly evolved crossover takes the E-Class sedan’s absorbent suspension and luxurious interior and elevates them, both figuratively and literally. Mercedes hasn’t announced pricing for the 2020 GLE, but it’s hard to imagine one costing less than $60,000 by the time the first models hit dealer lots next spring.

The GLE will hit the road initially in GLE350 and GLE450 configurations, with numbers attached to their swoopy tailgates that have nothing to do with their 255-horsepower 2.0-liter turbo-4 and 362-hp 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-6 engines. Either is capable of outgunning a stegosaurus, although the 350’s motor runs out of grunt for comfortable high-speed highway passing. In both, a 9-speed automatic transmission shuttles power to all four wheels. A rear-drive GLE350 for sun belters will follow next summer.

The transmission matches best to the 450. The 350 occasionally fumbles between gears at lower speeds. In Sport mode accessed via a dainty rocker switch, Mercedes pipes in reasonably convincing sporty rumble, but the engines are otherwise muffled so well that tire and wind noise are the biggest aural offenders.  

The GLE450’s turbocharged inline-6 is paired to a 48-volt mild hybrid system that adds power and should save fuel. EPA fuel-economy ratings aren’t yet available, but the trip computer said that my test car averaged nearly 30 mpg in mixed driving. A similar drive in a GLE350 returned roughly the same number.

Where the GLE makes its biggest strides is in the way its new air suspension gobbles up bumpy roads. A coil springs suspension is standard on the GLE350, but the only models Mercedes had on offer were fitted with the air springs.

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