Interior:Espresso Brown/Black MB-Tex
As the spiritual successor to the original M-class SUV, the 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLE-class is a rolling technology showpiece that offers a spacious, family-friendly cabin and legit off-road credentials to boot. Three different powertrains are offered, starting with a turbocharged four-cylinder in the GLE350 and graduating to a turbocharged inline-six in the GLE450 and a twin-turbo V-8 in the top-dog GLE580. Myriad extras are available on the GLE-class—including an adjustable air suspension that features a bouncing mode to help the SUV free itself from deep sand or mud—but these options can add up in a hurry. And while most buyers won’t venture too far off the beaten path, it’s a luxury in and of itself to know that you can if you want to. For the everyday driver, the GLE-class’s cabin is spacious, luxurious, and comfortable, while the exterior styling transmits a signal of wealth and status that buyers expect of any car sporting the three-pointed star on its grille.
Entering its second model year after a major redesign, the GLE-class sees only minor changes. Ambient interior lighting, a wireless smartphone charging pad, and SiriusXM satellite radio are all now standard features. Also new this year is a parking damage detection system that notifies the owner via the Mercedes me smartphone app if the GLE is jostled while parked. After driving two of the three available powertrains, we’d suggest sticking with the entry-level turbocharged four-cylinder GLE350 model. Despite the fact that it’s the lowest-powered option, it moves the GLE-class along with enough authority to satisfy most drivers—and returned the best fuel economy in our testing. Since we’re saving our hard-earned dollars by going with the base model, we’d allow ourselves to splurge on the Premium package (Burmester audio system, 360-degree camera, and a 115-volt household-style power outlet) and the Warmth and Comfort package (heated front armrests and upper door panels). We’d also add heated seats in the second row and four-zone automatic climate control, both of which are standalone options.
Models wearing the GLE350 badge are powered by a 255-hp turbocharged four-cylinder engine with either rear- or all-wheel drive (4Matic in Mercedes parlance) and a nine-speed automatic transmission. Stepping up to the GLE450 brings standard all-wheel drive and a 362-hp hybrid powertrain that consists of a turbocharged inline-six and a novel 48-volt electrical system. The 2020 GLE350 required 6.6 seconds to reach 60 mph at our test track, and the six-cylinder GLE450 managed a 5.3-second time. While the souped-up Mercedes-AMG GLE53 (reviewed separately) brings even more heat, the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE580 represents the most powerful and expensive non-AMG model. The 48-volt system combines with a twin-turbo 4.0-liter V-8 to make up to 504 horsepower. Every GLE-class can be outfitted with a cutting-edge air-suspension system that can lean into corners and even wiggle itself loose if the driver gets it stuck in sand or mud. The standard setup is traditional steel springs and anti-roll bars.
Surprisingly, it’s the six-cylinder GLE450 which earns the highest fuel-economy estimates from the EPA at 21/26/23 mpg city/highway/combined. The four-cylinder GLE350 earns ratings of 19/26/22 mpg city/highway/combined, while the GLE580 burns gas at a faster rate and earns ratings of 17/22/19 mpg. On our 75-mph highway fuel-economy test route, an all-wheel-drive GLE350 4Matic returned 25 mpg, and the GLE450 4Matic delivered 23 mpg. The GLE450 goes head to head with the six-cylinder X5 xDrive40i, but the BMW wins in our fuel-economy testing with its 28-mpg result.
Fine materials such as genuine leather, woods, and metals impart a sense of true luxury, but they also add a pretty penny to the bottom line. Not only can the front seats be heated, but the armrests and center-console lid can, too, quickly taking the chill out of a frigid winter morning. The spacious interior can now be outfitted with an optional third row of seats—which in and of itself is a tad snug for adults—and features modern Mercedes technology found in the company’s latest luxury sedans. With the optional third row of seats stowed, we fit 11 carry-on suitcases in the cargo hold. With all seats folded to their flat positions, the GLE-class offers room for up to 26 carry-ons. The rival X5 matches the Mercedes in both metrics, but other competitors such as the more coupe-like Audi Q8 held far fewer.