2023 Mercedes GLE

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When the Lexus RX came out way back in 1998 (as a new ’99 model) it had the advantage of being the first luxury crossover SUV. No one else had anything like it. 

Now everyone else does 

Mercedes has the GLE Class, which competes with the latest iteration of the RX as well as a plethora of other mid-sized luxury crossovers, including the BMW X5, the Acura MDX and the Porsche Cayenne. In italics to emphasize the fact that even Porsche sells crossovers now.

So what’s different about the GLE? 

What It Is

The GLE is Mercedes’ mid-size crossover. It seats five – or seven – depending on the configuration. It’s available with either rear wheel drive or all-wheel drive. It’s also available with an inline six cylinder engine/mild hybrid drivetrain that almost matches the gas mileage of the standard turbocharged four cylinder engine – while outgunning it by 107 horsepower.

Base price for the rear-drive GLE350 is $57,700. Opting for the 4Matic all-wheel-drive system bumps the MSRP up to $60,200. The GLE450 – with the six cylinder engine/mild hybrid drivetrain and 4Matic all-wheel-drive – stickers for $66,450.

There are also three high-performance variants of the GLE.

The first is the $76,950 AMG 53 – which gets a much stronger (429 horsepower) version of the six/mild hybrid drivetrain, plus high-capacity brakes, 20 inch AMG wheels and a top-of-the-line Burmester audio system with voice command capability.

The next is the $83,850 GLE 580 – which comes standard with a turbocharged V8 (and 483 horsepower).

The third is the $120,000 GLE 63 – which centers on a 603 horsepower version of the turbocharged V8, 21 inch wheels and most of the features that are optional on other GLE trims – with the exception of the third row, which isn’t available with this highest-performance iteration of the GLE.

What’s New

2023 is a carryover year, with few changes vs. last year other than some new paint colors available this year. It is likely next year will see some updates as the current GLE is now three years old.

What’s Good

Base price is several thousand dollars lower than that of the BMW X5 ($61,600).

Available third row.

Extremely smooth ride – and engine (if you get the optional six).

What’s Not So Good

Base price is ten thousand dollars higher than that of the Lexus RX ($47,400).

Less athletic feeling than Acura MDX and BMW X5.

V8 is for the rich only.

Under The Hood

As is true of practically every new vehicle, the GLE’s standard engine is a 2.0 liter four cylinder engine. It is the same engine that comes standard in several other other Mercedes models, including the current E-Class sedan.

Interestingly, Mercedes still styles the GLE so equipped the GLE 350 – italics added – in memory of the 3.5 liter V6 that used to be standard in Mercedes’ mid-sized crossover (as well as the E-sedan). But that was in the Before Time – before the federal government’s fuel efficiency (and carbon dioxide “emissions”) regulations effectively forced the transition to four cylinder engines – even in $50,000-plus luxury cars and crossovers.

Anyhow the 2.0 liter engine makes 255 horsepower, is paired with a nine-speed automatic and (your pick) rear-wheel-drive or 4Matic all-wheel-drive. The rear-drive iteration gets to 60 in about 7 seconds and gets 19 miles-per-gallon in city driving and 27 on the highway.

The optional engine – and drivetrain – is where things get more interesting. The GLE450 does have a six – but it’s inline, like the X5’s – and it’s paired with a mild-hybrid setup that delivers nearly same MPGs ( 20 city, 25 highway with AWD) as the base 2.0 engine along with much more forceful acceleration capability.

This one gets to 60 in about 5 seconds.

That might not be quick enough. In which case, you can move up to the 429 horsepower version, which still manages 18 city, 22 highway, while also getting to 60 in the mid-fours.

If you desire something unique enough – something that’s getting as hard to find in a new anything as a cigarette lighter flickering at a rock concert – there’s the V8s.

Either of them.

Just having one of them puts the GLE so-equipped into a category all its own. One that used to be much more common, when it was expected that luxury cars come with a six – at the least – and almost always offered a V8. Many no longer do. So here’s to you, Mercedes – for offering two. The 483 horsepower version (in the GLE 580) is meant to be more of a cruiser – while the 603 horsepower version (in the AMG GLE 63) is the bruiser.

Zero to 60 in about 3 seconds. Less than half the time it takes for the 2.0-powered GLE350 to make the same run.

Irrespective of which GLE you’re looking at, all of them can tow at least a small trailer. The standard (with the 2.0 liter engine) 6,000 lb. rating being sufficient – with margin – for that. With the six/mild-hybrid drivetrain (or the V8s) you can pull up to 7,700 lbs. – comparable to the capability of a current mid-sized truck.

It’s also 500 pounds of margin more than the BMW X5’s 7,200 lb. maximum.

On The Road

The GLE is actually luxurious. Not just luxury-branded.

It has the kind of ride – very soft, very quiet – that luxury vehicles used to have before they transitioned into luxury-sport vehicles. This is complemented – in the GLE 450 – by the electric-car smoothness of the six cylinder engine/mild-hybrid drivetrain. It’s literally a two-fer in that the six, by itself, is one of the smoothest-idling (and revving) engines you can buy – because it is an inline six. They idle with less – essentially no noticeable – vibration and because they do not need heavy counterbalancing to cancel out vibration, they rev as freely as an electric motor.

But it’s an engine – and because of that, the GLE can go almost 600 miles on a full tank of gas. And because it is hybrid, with a flywheel-mounted generator/starter system, it can seamlessly cycle the six cylinder engine off and on – which is how it can go almost 600 miles on the highway. This is astounding, given it’s also a 4,600 lb., seven passenger SUV with 362 horsepower that can get to 60 in about five seconds. And get back on the road again in less than five minutes.

So it’s a win-win. Power – and range.

Along with something else you do not get with just a motor – and batteries. The six is library quiet when you’re cruising but when you floor it, you know you’ve got an engine rather than something that isn’t.

You’ve also got an alternative – in that many of the GLE’s rivals (like the BMX X5 and the Acura MDX) lean more toward the sporty side of the aisle and are more receptive to sporty driving habits – at the cost of having a firmer ride than this genuinely, exceptionally plush Mercedes. Which plushness is accentuated by plush seats with massagers that make the drive to the spa unnecessary.

Also the ultra-light steering; it’ll remind you (if you’re old enough to remember) of a ’70s Detroit luxury sedan – without the imprecision.

Another aspect of this Benz’s plushness is ease-of-use. Though the GLE has all of the modern stuff – including a large LCD touchscreen dash – it does not require effort to use it. You don’t even have to actually touch anything to get the GLE to do things like turn on those massaging seats or dial up whatever channel you’d like to listen to.

Just ask it to.

The various “advanced driver assistance technologies” – including Automatic Emergency Braking – are present but rarely parent. The Automatic Emergency Braking System, for instance does not come on unless you are actually about to potentially hit something- as opposed to many other such systems, which get very excited if you don’t brake for the shadow that just crossed the road ahead.

And while there is ASS – automatic start-stop – the transitions between off and on are very subtle, made possible by the flywheel starter/generator that spins the engine to life almost instantly and almost without any sensation it is happening – as befitting a luxury vehicle.

At The Curb

The GLE is a mid-sized model – 194.3 inches end to end – but it is capable of carrying up to seven people if the optional third row seat is ordered. That seat is of course chiefly for children and young adults, who can get back there and who fit back there – but having the extra seats is nice when you need to carry a couple more kids than will fit in a two-row SUV.

And if you skip the seats, you have that much more room.

Relative to its primary rival – BMW’s X5 – the numbers are almost identical. The GLE has 33.3 cubic feet of space behind its second and a total of 74.9 cubic feet with the second row down. The BMW has 33.9 cubic feet behind its second row and 72.3 total cubic feet. It is also exactly the same 194.3 inches long overall.

Both have significantly more room for cargo than the original luxury crossover – the Lexus RX – which currently has 29.6 cubic feet behind its second row and just 46.2 cubic feet of total capacity. Also, the Lexus no longer offers a third row – the long-wheelbase version having been dropped. The Lexus also no longer comes standard with a six – as it used to. But it comes only with a four – paired up with a hybrid drivetrain. It gets very good gas mileage – 37 city, 34 highway – but it is much less powerful  – just 246 horsepower.

On the other hand, it is a lot less expensive ($49,000 to start).

Subtle design niceties include a thumbwheel volume control for the audio system – and a simple/functional On/Off button on the left side of the steering wheel column for the heated steering wheel.

Just remember that the stalk on the right side of the steering column is for the transmission – not the windshield wipers. This takes a little getting used to and don’t worry if you accidentally try to turn the wipers on using the stalk that put the transmission into gear (including Park and Reverse). It’s all drive-by-wire and there is a built-in failsafe to prevent any such inadvertences from causing expensive problems.

There are also built-in rather than deploying running boards; these look attractive and will never fail to deploy. You may also like the pair of grab handle rails built into the center console. They look good and they are functionally useful. Similarly the plethora of air vents – including the four large ones built into the center of the dash.

The Rest

While you can still get a V8 in the GLE – and you can get a “coupe” (lowered roofline) version of the GLE (reviewed separately) one thing you cannot get here is the diesel engine that’s available in Europe. American regulations have rendered it almost impossible – and very uneconomical (due to the costs of regulatory compliance) to offer a diesel engine in anything that’s for-sale here.

Also not available here – for now – is the plug in hybrid version that’s available in Europe. However, this one’s likely to become available as the regs favor this set-up.

The Bottom Line

The GLE is Mercedes’ best-selling crossover for a reason. And it’s not because it’s the same as what everyone else is selling.

. . .

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3 COMMENTS

  1. I like that Mercedes still integrates the screen into the dash. I franky hate that cheap ass look of an Ipad glued to the center of the instrument console

    • Hi Alex,

      I agree. The tablet sticking up from the center stack looks generic and cheap. I have to resist the urge to grab it and try to pull it off and throw it out the window. I think that’d make a fun video, eh?

    • That thing doesn’t look very integrated to me. It looks like a wide screen affixed to the dash. I want to hit it with a bat. I suppose “automakers” do this because it’s cheeeeeper. I can’t think of any sane person thinking that this dash looks better than ones years past.

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