The new Mercedes-Benz GLE SUV may have many remarkable features, but it will be remembered for only one: this Benz bounces. Yup.
First, you have to buy the “E-active body control” feature, which will probably cost about $10,000 as an option on top of the most-expensive trim level. Prices are not yet announced because the GLE won’t be sold in Canada until next summer, but they’ve already been revealed in Europe and the feature there costs about €7,000 ($10,566).
It uses the SUV’s powerful 48-volt electric system to adjust each individual shock absorber by up to 12 centimetres in length; you can tip the truck sideways or forward or backward or whatever you like. It will also send power to the shocks so that they jump like a low-rider, rapidly extending and contracting all four together up to six cm for up to 30 seconds. This is intended to help the GLE get unstuck in extreme sandy conditions.
Nobody’s fooled, though. Even the engineers here knew nobody’s about to get stuck in sand, but everybody’s about to do a little dance in city traffic. “It’s up to the driver how it’s used and when it’s needed,” said one, with a small smile, “and I’m sure it will be needed much more at the traffic lights than in the desert.”
Those same shock absorbers can also be set to tilt the SUV at speed into a curve, leaning to one side as a motorcycle might in order to smooth out the corner. The Mercedes will lean at a maximum angle of just 2.8 degrees, however, while the bike would be more than 10 times that. This is not a “sporty” feature but intended to make the ride more comfortable, with less potential for nausea in the back seat. (In practice, one engineer admitted that his daughter frequently suffers from car-sickness and the leaning feature seems to have no effect on her. But it’s still pretty cool.)
If you can see beyond the shock absorbers, though, the newly redesigned GLE is still a remarkably capable mid-sized SUV. It will be expensive, of course – the current 2019 edition starts at $66,100 – but that’s unlikely to deter Mercedes buyers.
- Base price/As tested: N/A ($66,100-$82,000 for current generation 2019 models)
- Engine: 1,991 cc turbocharged inline-four; 2,999 cc turbocharged inline-six with 48-volt ISG system
- Transmission/Drive: Nine-speed automatic/All-wheel
- Fuel economy (litres/100 km): n/a
- Alternatives: BMW X5, Audi Q7, Porsche Cayenne, Cadillac Escalade, Lincoln Navigator
The new GLE is attractive for an SUV, but so is the old GLE. This model is larger, however, with a wheelbase that stretched by eight centimetres. It doesn’t really look that much larger because there are shorter overhangs at both front and rear, but there’s enough space inside now for an optional third row of seating.
Again, the current GLE is pretty darn nice inside, but the new GLE is brought thoroughly up to date with pretty much everything Mercedes could think of to include. “It’s the latest and greatest,” says Andres Zygan, the chief engineer for Mercedes-Benz SUVs. “It includes features not even in the S-Class.” There are massage settings for the front seats that are designed to relieve sore muscles, and even a setting that almost imperceptibly moves the seat cushion and back, to change pressure points during the drive. “Yes, you could do the same thing by shifting in your seat,” says Gudrun Schonherr, who helped develop the active comfort systems, “but now you don’t need to, because the seat will do it for you.”
For now, there are two engines available for Canada, a two-litre turbo four-cylinder and a three-litre turbo six-cylinder, and they’re both plenty quick enough, good for acceleration from 0-100 km/h in 7.1 and 5.7 seconds, respectively. There will surely be AMG variants coming after another year or so.
The inline six is the truly clever engine. It’s matched with the 48-volt technology, so that its 362 hp and 369 lbs.-ft. of torque can be boosted if needed by an extra 21 hp and 184 lbs.-ft. of torque. That’s a lot. Mercedes calls this “EQ Boost technology,” and it’s really a mild hybrid system that helps reduce fuel consumption.
OMG – where to start? If somebody can think of it, the new GLE probably has it. Semi-autonomous driving and being probably the safest vehicle on the road is only the beginning.
There’s a digital assistant that can be summoned to activate features by saying “Hey Mercedes!”, and a woman’s voice will ask what you want, just like Siri or Alexa. (Fortunately, this can be switched off. It activated every time I mentioned “Mercedes” in conversation with my passenger, and in many countries, Mercedes is a common name for a woman.) It will learn your accent, which is a good thing because it wasn’t very smart at picking up on what I was actually asking for.
Another clever feature is the augmented reality navigation, in which the large central display screen switches from just a map, to a split map with a camera display of the road ahead, with directions overlaid on the image. Very clever. Probably too clever, because it was fascinating to watch when I should have been looking through the windshield.
The larger wheelbase means there’s now more cargo space (up to 2,055 litres with the rear seats flat), with additional leg room and head room in the second row. The rear opening is wider by more than seven cm, and if you want, the rear can be easily dropped by four cm for easier loading. That’s on all models, before you start playing with the individual shock adjustments of the fully-equipped version.
The verdict: 8
A fabulous vehicle and the premium SUV to beat, if you can afford it. It would be a 9 if the “Hey Mercedes” feature worked better, and if I could read the extra-large and useful heads-up display on the windshield through the polarized lenses of my sunglasses.
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