You do this job long enough, and you learn certain things are true—generally speaking, of course. Porsche 911s, for instance, are that good, the public underestimates Korean cars, and all else being equal, Italian cars are more fun. Let’s add to this list that vehicles built by Mercedes-Benz are expensive but tend to be worth it. Are these laws carved into stone? Obviously not, but as for Mercedes, it’s true in my experience—a year spent behind the wheel of our long-term 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE450 4Matic backs that up, even if it did ultimately have some mechanical failures.
As I wrote way back at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, I’m not a fan of most SUVs. True, I dream about Toyota Land Cruisers, but only because of what I’ve experienced with them while driving over rocks. Most SUVs—to me—are rolling denials of minivan ownership. Just not my thing. Perhaps this next bit is middle age speaking, but if you’re going to get stuck in an SUV for a year, you’d be happy with a $89,385 Benz GLE450. I know I was, right up until the fancy-pants, bounce-capable E-Active Body Control hydraulic suspension broke, and Mercedes took its midsize SUV home a week early. But I’ll save that part for the end.
Know that before it broke, I spread joy far and wide bouncing the bejeezus out of this poor thing. Ostensibly designed to free a stuck vehicle from the sand, the Benz’s bounce mode got more of a workout entertaining me than doing anything actually useful. My son, who was 3 when I took possession of the GLE450, liked the mode more than I did, perennially demanding that I make the thing “bouncy bounce.” And bounce I did! In our driveway, down our street, through his daycare parking lot, in line to get a Happy Meal, basically everywhere I could when he was in the car. Being honest, I also bounced the poor Benz whenever the mood struck. Which was often. As it happens, E-ABC was a one-year-only ($8,200) option on the GLE. Because of low take rates, Mercedes dropped it for the 2021 model year and beyond. Fret not, as E-ABC is still an option on the larger GLS580 and comes standard on the Maybach GLS600.
What surprised me most about the GLE450 was how solid it was to drive. Not just solid, but actually good to drive. Fun? As close as a 362-hp, 5,400-pound SUV can get to being fun, I suppose. We used the GLE450 as a support vehicle for the 2020 Best Driver’s Car competition, the final iteration of the event. (It has since been replaced by our Performance Vehicle of the Year award.) We were on some wonderful road somewhere north of Bakersfield. I was driving a C8 Chevrolet Corvette—fast—and our photographer Brandon Lim was following me in the GLE. And Brandon was keeping up. Was I driving flat out? Was Brandon? Probably no to the first question and yes to the latter, but still, that’s impressive for a family SUV. When we returned home, the front tires on the Benz were absolutely hosed. I replaced all four with a set of Vredestein winter tires just in time for snow.
I rarely drove the GLE450 in that sort of anger, but I did take it on a series of long road trips where the biggish Benz revealed itself to be a hero. It was as comfortable as any SUV on the market, and certainly more pleasant than its chief rival, the sporty but hard-riding BMW X5. The magic, though, is that the Mercedes is actually sportier than the BMW. Why settle for just one attribute? That may very well be the GLE’s unwritten mission statement: Why settle? You want luxury, performance, technology, capability, utility, and good looks? Does Mercedes have an SUV for you!
The 3.0-liter super- and turbocharged inline-six powerplant is essentially lag-free, another in a long line of wonderful Mercedes engines. The size of the GLE’s package is spot on for a family vehicle, with ample room for humans and their stuff. Little ones can’t even kick the back of the seat when they’re in their child seats. Mercedes’ dense MBUX infotainment suite was even tolerable, even if it took me a few months to find and appreciate all of its features.
But the GLE did break. Up until the morning I fired the SUV up and it told me the E-ABC system failed, not a single thing went wrong with the GLE450 over 18,810 miles of stewardship. It also went into the dealer for one service, which cost $377.01. Among our near- and immediate-term yearlong test vehicles to complete their stay, only a Range Rover Velar plays in the same territory as the GLE; that cost $282.79 for a single service visit over 23,000 miles.
As noted (or bragged about) above [definitely bragged—Ed. ], I used the bouncing sand extraction feature way beyond what Mercedes engineers ever intended the feature’s duty cycle to be. While unfortunate, I wouldn’t consider the E-ABC system’s failure to be a dealbreaker, notwithstanding the fact that now it’s not even possible to get a GLE so equipped. (Fret not: The optional air suspension currently available delivers similar ride quality.) On the contrary, if you have the means and need a great luxury SUV, I—and we—highly recommend the Mercedes-Benz GLE450.
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We Broke the Suspension on Our Yearlong Mercedes-Benz GLE450 and Still Loved It
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