Review: 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE 350
Entry-level, but far from basic.
THE PROS & CONS
- What’s Good: Excellent interior design and quality of materials.
- What’s Bad: Disproportionately awkward to park.
We hear so much these days about high-powered performance SUVs that are as capable of slicing up a racetrack as they are of lumbering down a dirt road. But let’s be frank: not only do many people not need that kind of capability, some don’t even want it.
Fortunately, there are products out there that don’t overlook the more pragmatic drivers among us, and the Mercedes-Benz GLE is a great example. Even in this entry-level 350 grade, which starts at $64,000, the quality of the materials and included technologies come across as top-notch. Getting the most out of the GLE doesn’t necessarily require moving up into more powerful models so much as carefully ensuring that the right one for you is properly equipped to match your personal needs and wants.
Knowing Your Priorities
The GLE 350 is fitted with the smallest engine in the model’s range, a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder being offered for the first time in North America that produces 255 hp and 273 lb-ft between 1,800 to 4,000 rpm, matched with a nine-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive. Those numbers look good on paper, and the turbo’s early torque does add a pleasant layer of responsiveness once you’re rolling. But in practice, its 4,695-pound (2,130 kg) weight is a lot to drag around, and the end result is that the power in the 350 is best described as good enough. That said, it’s the people who don’t mind one way or another that this is geared toward, and they’ll be served by this engine just fine.
What is likely worth the upgrade is the optional $2,450 air suspension. This test unit doesn’t have it equipped, and the standard suspension has a bouncy quality to it that’s prone to a minor amount of body roll. This isn’t the trick suspension that you might have seen “dancing” at an auto show a couple of years ago, though, and that might be worth considering the upgrade to the 450 over, even more so than the increased power output brought on by that model’s inline six-cylinder engine.
While it’s safe to assume choosing this engine brings some significant fuel savings over the life of the vehicle, it’s not possible to say for sure because neither Natural Resources Canada nor Mercedes-Benz has formally published figures as of yet. My final figure over a week of testing was a not-bad-but-not-great 13.6 L/100 km, though that was through some nasty winter conditions while dealing with plenty of traffic.
A Real Beauty
Despite being the most affordable grade, the GLE 350 doesn’t skimp at all on quality of materials. Its liberal use of open-pore wood and leather upholstery makes for one of the nicest interiors I’ve seen in an SUV, and the optional panoramic sunroof floods it all with light. That said, it should be noted that this specific unit has a pretty nasty fit and finish error on the back of the centre console that breaks the illusion somewhat.
Its also nice not to be nickel-and-dimed on things like heated front seats and a heated steering wheel, although opting for the gorgeous wood finish in this test unit deletes the latter feature. With the way the GLE is priced, there’s a lower-cost Premium Plus package ($1,200) that adds rapid-heating front seats, heated front armrests and upper door panels, and heated second-row seats, which is a nice in-between step to have available if you don’t feel the need to go all the way to the $2,600 Comfort package with its ventilated and massaging front seats.
Oddly, while the GLE’s size doesn’t stand out to me as a concern in most aspects, I do find it disproportionately difficult to park. It’s possible that the 360-degree camera included in the Technology package, which is not equipped on this test unit, would help with that ($2,700, and also includes a head-up display and adaptive LED front lighting with automatic high beams). As it stands, I find myself adjusting and second-guessing when backing into parking spaces more often with this car than I typically do.
Getting Familiar with MBUX
The Mercedes-Benz GLE comes with the MBUX infotainment system, the brand’s latest with its combined fully digital gauge cluster and 12.3-inch touchscreen display, which can also be controlled through the dial and touchpad input on the centre console.
Generally speaking, I’m a big fan of this system and consider it to be a significant step in the right direction. However, I did find a few more frustrations after spending more time with it this time around. For example, there was one day when it was snowing, and the flakes were making the parking sensors go crazy. So, I decided to enlist Mercedes’s help.
“Hey, Mercedes.” (You can never say her name when you don’t want her attention, by the way. She’s always listening.)
“How can I help you?”
“Disable the parking sensors.”
Now, unhelpfully, she doesn’t respond by saying, “I can’t help you with that,” or “I didn’t understand.” She just repeats the question: “How can I help you?”
Being human, I assume she didn’t hear me properly the first time, so I ask the same question again.
And she repeats again: “How can I help you?”
Ugh, never mind. I’ll do it myself.
Kinks like these will get worked out of the system over time. For now, they’re sort of annoying, though no more annoying than dealing with any other infotainment system’s quirks. What’s more annoying is that the parking sensors turn back on every time you cycle the car, so you need to remember to turn them off again before you set out, even into the same snowstorm. That would drive me nuts all winter long.
These quibbles aside, the Mercedes-Benz GLE prioritizes the right elements for a vehicle in its class. When ideally equipped, its mix of upscale materials and available comfort features make it one of the more appealing options for buyers seeking a comfortable and spacious SUV for a family of four.
2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE 350
BODY STYLE: Mid-size SUV
CONFIGURATION: Front-engine, all-wheel drive
POWER: 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder (255 hp, 273 lb-ft @ 1,800 to 4,000 rpm)
TRANSMISSION: 9-speed automatic
FUEL ECONOMY: (L/100km) TBD
PRICE: $70,800 as tested, freight and PDI not included
WEBSITE: 2020 GLE SUV