Anyone who buys a Mercedes GLE SUV instead of the luxury pinnacle GLS can be forgiven. The midsize GLE is a big step up from the compact GLC crossover, while the gap from GLE to full-size GLS—the S-Class of SUVs—is not as gaping.
I last drove the GLE 450 during judging for the 2020 MotorTrend SUV of the Year award. At that time, it was evident that Mercedes continued its tradition of paying impeccable attention to detail with appropriately luxurious materials. As a result, the GLE 450 exudes a truly premium aura.
It was time to revisit the SUV to see if that first impression still rings true. So, I spent some time with a 2020 Mercedes GLE 450 4Matic—meaning all-wheel drive—in addition to the 3.0-liter turbocharged I-6 engine that generates 362 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque and is mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission. It also has an integrated starter generator known as EQ Boost to create a fuel-saving mild-hybrid system.
Once parked, I pondered whether the interior is befitting of the $82,485 sticker price. The base price is $62,145, but this particular model’s price tag included $1,620 for two-tone black and Tartufo (rich mocha-like brown) leather and $160 for natural grain grey oak wood trim as part of the paint and upholstery package.
Let’s start with those. The colors do feel warm and decadent, and the wood is striking, so if you have the money to pamper yourself, this is a good way to do so. The upholstery has contrast stitching as well, and the seats are a nice mix of firm support and comfort.
The color palette and material mix continues on the dash and doors but adds some MB-Tex (Mercedes’ high-quality fake leather) on the dash and doors. It is a $700 pop for the upper dash and door trim.
The four rectangular vents across the center of the dash are classy, functional, and trademark Mercedes. They are set in the oak trim and rimmed in bright metal, matching the row of switchgear in a row below.
Overhead is a black fabric headliner. It is soft enough but does not go full-lux with Alcantara like some top-level luxury vehicles do. The panoramic sunroof is a $1,000 option.
Further setting the mood are the pinstripes of mood lighting that snake along surfaces, running along the dash and halfway across the doors. They also run along the grab handles that flank the center console and the lights also find their way into the footwells.
You can get a rotation of colors that change every few seconds creating a mood, for example, by going from red to purple to pink to blue. The brightness can also be adjusted. And when you change the cabin temperature, the light will turn red indicating more heat; blue if you are cooling things down.
Those grab handles—in leather with contrast stitching and wood trim between them—are a personal favorite design feature. An extra $180 ensures the cupholders housed there are both heated and cooled.
Do The Seats Heat, Cool And Massage?
The long list of optional equipment includes $350 so the front passenger has a power seat; no date should have to resort to manual adjustment. For an extra $1,050, the Warmth and Comfort package adds fast-heating front seats and cozy heated front armrests and door panels.
Need to cool those seats too? The $2,100 Energizing Comfort Package Plus ups the ante with ventilated massaging seats. There are a number of excellent massage patterns to choose from with names like “wave massage,” “mobilizing massage,” and “classic massage.” Or opt for “seat kinetics” that keeps driver’s circulation stimulated with periodic small jabs of movements to the seat cushion and backrest.
The GLE has the basic Mercedes steering wheel with lots of controls at your fingertips, and the spindly gear shifter stalk attached that feels like the cheapest element, arguably, in the entire vehicle. The extra $250 for the heated steering is totally worth it if you live in the north or the mountains.
How Big Is That Touchscreen?
What’s better than a 12.3-inch screen? Two of them. One is the widescreen digital instrument cluster and the second, a touchscreen, is right beside it. While they are in fact separate, they present as a single, horizontal screen stretching across much of the vehicle. The graphics are sophisticated and crisp.
The MBUX infotainment system is compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The $1,600 Technology Package includes the MBUX augmented video for navigation, which uses the front camera to overlay street images on the map with street names and guiding arrows to make the directions easier to follow. The package also adds a head-up display, and the MBUX interior assistant will recognize the proximity of a finger on the underside of the rearview mirror and automatically turn on the reading light.
The car perks up whenever you say ‘Mercedes.” Simply say “Hey, Mercedes” to initiate a voice command. It sounds great in theory but can be annoying. The car-that-cannot-be-named in regular conversation will interrupt you, anxious to please. Similarly, because the car reacts to hand gestures, keep your hands on the wheel unless you mean to make something happen.
To stay connected, the $1,000 Premium Package bundles satellite radio with power outlets, accessory adapters, wireless charging, and the 64-color ambient lighting with illuminated door sills. A pet peeve: Mercedes only uses USB-C ports even though most phones and devices still use a regular USB, which is larger. It means most regular cords won’t work without an adapter. There are two ports for the front seat and two more for the second row.
Our model included the $850 Burmester surround sound system. In the excellent acoustics of the well-damped cabin, the sound is premium.
Second Row Not For Second-Class Passengers
The second row is really designed for two people; no regular person fits in the middle, and the space is better used by pulling down the fold-down leather armrest and cupholder. The back of the front seats are a combination of leather and plastic with handy mesh cargo nets.
There are two vents in the center console to change the direction of the air flow in back, but temperature is controlled from the front seat. The unit has a small plastic ledge that a small phone fits onto poorly and an oversized phone might not rest very securely. In a strange nod, there is a tray seemingly for coins. Who carries coins anymore? There are two more USB outlets; again they are USB-C.
To protect rear passengers’ privacy, the SUV has power side-window blinds, a $580 option.
The doors are soft-close (automatically cinching tight after you close them just enough for the latch to catch) and have a substantial feel to them, befitting the car’s price point. But I would not pay $650 for the illuminated running boards. It’s not the illumination I object to; it’s the running boards themselves that can make it harder to get in. This feature is almost untenable on the smaller GLC, where the vehicle is not high enough to need the help and the boards are wide enough that they are an obstruction. In the larger GLE, the running boards are more useful but still straddle the line between helpful and hindrance.
Ample Cargo Area
The cargo area is expansive with metal plates to protect the sill while loading and black carpet throughout. There is a mesh net on one side for storage, in this case a first-aid kit and ice scraper. A retractable cargo cover does the trick but is not extraordinary like the BMW’s cover that rolls back automatically and disappears into the floor between the second and third rows. On the GLE, the liftgate raises extremely high and did not recoil as it approached the top of the garage. Folding down the second-row seats is a manual operation.
Overall, the interior of this five-passenger SUV largely mirrors what you would find in the larger, more luxurious, and more expensive GLS. Many of the creature comforts are optional, so you can add as many or few as you want or can afford. A bare bones base model will still delight, but the extra goodies will pamper and spoil.