The doesn’t look too crazy. It’s a crisp redesign that looks broad and big-tired, in the style of the original ML55 AMG or the more agro BMW X5s. (And indeed, the 315-width rear tires are huge for something that’s non-AMG.) But under the skin, this is the craziest, most tech-forward internal-combustion car I’ve driven in a long time.
It’s full of surprises, the GLE 450. You’re on cruise control, doing 60 mph in a 55 zone, when the limit drops to 45 mph. And the car just slows automatically to adjust. You get tired of looking at the heads-up display but aren’t sure which menu turns it off, so you just say, “Hey Mercedes, turn off the heads-up display.” It silently disappears. You put a destination in the nav system and when you come to the first turn, the screen shifts to a live camera feed with the turn arrow floating over the road, like Pokemon Go meets Waze.
And I haven’t even mentioned the suspension. The suspension is bonkers.
I was going to make a list of 10 details to tell you about the GLE, but it went to 12. And that’s only because I cut myself off before I could get into the fact that you can control the pattern of the heat dispersion in the front seats, or that, according to Benz, the headlights produce “the maximum light intensity permitted by law,” or that the car can read your Garmin fitness tracker and adjust the interior lighting and seat massage settings according to your stress level. Seriously.
Most people don’t read their owner’s manuals, but I think you should probably enroll in a semester long course on how to use your GLE 450.
The Augmented Reality Navigation
Finally, a reason to use the car’s navigation system instead of cutting straight to your favored phone app: augmented reality. It works great.
Even with a clever app like Waze, you’re interpreting a map on the fly as you drive. Is that a hard right, or do I bear right? The GLE makes navigation basically idiot-proof by switching to a live camera feed from the front of the car when you come to a turn. There’s the road in front of you, with a big blue arrow floating over it telling you that, yes, it’s a hard right.
The Ridiculous Suspension
Spring and damping rates can be individually controlled at each wheel on the fly. A stereo camera called Road Surface Scan looks ahead and reads the road, so the suspension knows what’s coming. The ride is preternaturally smooth; I think we can say right now this is the smoothest-riding car you can buy. But it also handles great, because an active system doesn’t have the usual ride-handling compromises (stiff antiroll bars aren’t a problem, because there are no antiroll bars). The GLE 450 even lean into corners, which is so disconcerting that the Curve mode made me mildly queasy. Your inner ear expects the car to lean outward, so when it leans in like a downhill skier your vestibular system says "Whaaa?" At least, mine did.
Oh, and if you get stuck in sand or mud, the GLE can bounce itself out. Or, if you’re on a trail and need a little more clearance at one corner, you can manually raise or lower each wheel individually. Who needs Dr. Dre hitting the switches when you’ve got Doctor Zee?
The Straight Six—With an Electric Motor
The GLE 450 is one of the first homes for Benz’s new 3.0-liter inline six, which here makes 362 horsepower. But that’s not all! The straight-six uses a 48-volt system and a small electric motor (21 horsepower) for added torque and energy recovery. Thanks to the 48-volt power, the engine has no accessory belts on the front—the water pump and air conditioning compressor are electric. The system can even harvest energy from the suspension motion.
Benz quotes 0-60 at 5.5 seconds and it feels at least that quick. Wait’ll they AMG this thing.
The Steering Wheel That Adjusts From 4’9” to 7’3"
And it works! Pretty much. You’ll probably want to do some fine tuning, but this gets it pretty close.
It Has a Fragrance Dispenser
And you can adjust the intensity of that fragrance. Or turn it off. I’m not sure which one was loaded into the car I drove, but it was masculine and woodsy and evoked the casual serenity of shopping for nice sweaters at Banana Republic.
The White Gloves and Green Safety Vest for Changing a Tire
Years from now, sellers of used GLE 450s will brag that their car still has the white gloves and safety vest.
You Talk To It—And It’s a Pretty Good Listener
Mercedes has its own version of Siri or Alexa, and it works. When I felt like turning off the gigantic high-res heads-up display, I didn’t immediately know how to do that via the buttons on the console. So I just said, “Hey Mercedes, turn off heads-up display.” And it vanished. Nice.
Never Mind Heated Seats
It has heated interior panels—the armrest and side of the door—so that you may never experience the slightest chill.
The Seats Can Give You a Workout
Or, they constantly shape-shift so you don’t get sore. “Seat kinetics” slowly changes the shape of the seat as you drive so that you’re never stuck in one posture for too long. Or you can challenge the seats to a workout, with the seat pushing against, say, your right shoulder and you resisting. It’s your mobile trainer, Hans.
You Can Get Creative With the Interior Lights
Yeah, club GLE smells fresh and looks dope. Cue up the “Purple Sky” theme when you’re playing Prince. Or you can have all the colors cycle through, constantly changing, man.
It Knows the Speed Limit and Adjusts Accordingly
As you transition between speed limit zones, the GLE will slow down to match the new limit. You can manually speed it back up again, of course. But that feature could save you from blundering into a speed trap.
It Has Plenty of USB Ports (USB-C, Anyway)
USB-C ports are the future, it seems. And for once, a car is ahead of my devices. My iPhone 8 Plus uses a regular old USB cord. I got around that by using the wireless charger and Bluetooth. If you need to, you can get an adapter. Or maybe your next phone will be USB-C, which can support faster charging and more data.
Luxury cars ought to be out front on technology, but that’s not always how it works. That’s definitely the case with the GLE 450, though. If it were electric they could call it a 2025 model. For now, we’ll settle for 2020.