The 2019 Mercedes-Benz GLE SUV has been unveiled and it takes the fight straight to the Audi Q7 and the BMW X5, with a raft of new features designed to keep it at the head of the premium midsize category. A new in-line six-cylinder engine and class-leading aerodynamics lead the changes.
If you haven’t kept up over the past few years, Mercedes-Benz changed the naming structure of its SUVs, with the “GL” prefix ahead of the platform the vehicle runs on. Thus, the GLA runs on the A-Class platform, the GLC from the C-Class and in this case the GLE from the E-Class. Thus, there’s no ML anymore – the GLE replaced the ML-Class a little while back.
So, what’s new? There’s an active suspension system called E-ACTIVE BODY CONTROL which uses a 48‑volt system, driving assistance now includes Active Stop-and-Go Assist, there’s a three-row seating option and the MBUX Interior Assistant headlines the new infotainment, which recognises gestures.
New engines and a plug-in hybrid option (coming later) rounds out the changes. Pricing? Well, that hasn’t been released just yet, but rest assured, we’ll keep you updated when we know more.
Let’s look at some of the detail behind the new model, starting with the styling.
Clearly, it’s an evolution of Merc’s SUV design language, but the company claims the GLE “sets a new standard for aerodynamics in the SUV segment.” The GLE has a Cd starting from 0.29, giving it the best aerodynamics in its segment. What’s interesting is the word starting. Clearly various models (and associated spoiler kits) influence that figure.
The new suspension system is said to be the only one on the market where both spring and damping forces are controlled at each individual wheel. It’s a hydro-pneumatic system, combining air suspension with hydraulic control. Merc says that it controls all body movement including roll, pitch and squat.
Some of the safety systems are pretty cool, too. Like the all-electric EQC which was unveiled the other day, the GLE gets “Active Tailback Assist”. It allows the vehicle to recognise a traffic jam ahead and will brake accordingly, and even move over to allow emergency vehicles to get through. All of this is done autonomously.
The all-wheel-drive system is able to split torque anywhere from zero to 100 per cent to any wheel for six and eight-cylinder vehicles, and when combined with the nine-speed auto, there’s a gear for virtually any situation. Four-cylinder models get a 50:50 fixed split.
Allowing even more space inside is the longer wheelbase, which is 80mm up from the previous GLE. This allows for a two or three-row configuration, and with a newly designed interior, the new SUV has more practicality, too.
Clearly, the emphasis is on luxury with a flowing interior design and a flee-floating appearance for the dashboard. But to remind you that this is an off-roader (it’s a cousin of the GLE, remember), it has grab handles on the centre console. You have to wonder how many people will use those…
But the main focus is on improving the interior space. With the extra length in the wheelbase, there’s more legroom (69mm more) and the headroom has been increased by 33mm. Mercedes has also made the A-pillar even more upright giving a more airy feel.
As an option, the second row can be adjusted electrically in six directions. The backrests can be folded 40/20/40 and the fore and aft adjustment are done via a door switch, with up to 100mm total movement possible.
The luggage capacity is a massive 825 liters and when the back seats are folded, you get up to 2055 liters of space. And to ease loading, using a switch in the rear, the air suspension can be lowered by 40mm.
Merc also says that the optional third row can be installed with an “Easy Entry” function to allow access much more easily. We’ll reserve judgement on whether those two rearmost passengers can be adults or need to be little kids.
Under the bonnet is the big news, though. Going back to the future, Mercedes-Benz has fitted the new GLE 450 4MATIC with an in-line six-cylinder turbocharged petrol that produces 270 kW (367 hp) and 500 Nm of torque, with a huge 250 Nm of torque and 16 kW/22 hp available using an over-boost function.
The new engine has been designed without belts at the front, to make it a lot shorter overall. A 48-volt system takes over the role of the belts and powers the water pump and air-conditioning compressor and regenerative systems.
It’ll be a couple of weeks before we get to see the new GLE in the metal, with the new SUV being shown for the first time at the 2018 Paris Motor Show (Mondial de l’Automobile). Look out for it in dealerships from early 2019 in American and European markets, and in spring 2019 for Chinese customers.
Americans will get their first taste of the GLE before anyone else, as it’s produced in Merc’s Tuscaloosa plant in Alabama.