CHATHAM, Mass. – Mercedes-Benz lists 12 different SUVs on its consumer website, from the subcompact GLA to the uber-premium/luxury Mercedes-Maybach GLS. I recently spent a week in a 2024 Mercedes-Benz GLE 450 4MATIC, the latest iteration of the company’s original American SUV, the ML320 which was introduced in 1997 as a 1998 model.
For the sake of transparency, I leased a 2003 ML 500 for three years, the facelifted, mid-(first) generation of the mid-size SUV with a 5-liter V8 engine producing 288 horsepower and 325 pounds-feet of torque. In its day, the ML 500 was a standout SUV, but it pales in comparison to the vehicles Mercedes-Benz is now producing at its Vance, Ala. factory like the GLE 450.
Mild hybrid powertrain motivates the GLE 450
All four versions of the (non-AMG) GLE are electrified for 2024 with the GLE 350, GLE 450 and GLE 580 featuring a mild hybrid, while the GLE 450e is a plug-in hybrid capable of pure electric driving when the vehicle’s computers decide it is the most efficient way to travel.
The GLE 450’s mild hybrid starts with a 3-liter, inline six-cylinder turbocharged gasoline-fueled engine which has an output of 375 horsepower and 369 pounds-feet of torque.
Performance gets a boost from the mild-hybrid’s 48-Volt Integrated Starter Generator which assists the combustion engine by adding up to 21 horsepower for short periods of time. It also allows for driving without the combustion engine at certain times (“sailing”) and supplies the battery with power by means of high-efficiency recuperation. By doing so, it makes fuel savings possible that were previously the exclusive domain of high-voltage hybrid technology.
Standard full-time all-wheel-drive (AWD, which Mercedes-Benz calls 4MATIC) takes the power from the nine-speed automatic transmission and apportions it to the wheels on an as needed basis at any particular moment.
The GLE 450 is no slouch from a standstill as it can get to 60 miles per hour in less than 5.5 seconds. This performance is immediately present, without any hint of turbo lag.
Like every Mercedes-Benz I have experienced, the 450 GLE begged to be driven swiftly and I obliged this American-made (the Vance facility was the company’s first outside Germany) SUV with German heritage. The federal Environmental Protection Agency rated the vehicle at 22 miles per gallon in everyday driving (19 urban, 26 highway). Mixing a fair amount of tight, season-inflated, at times stop-and-go Cape Cod traffic, with highway miles, I was able to get 24 mpg throughout my time behind the wheel – impressive for a large mid-size SUV (5,060 pounds, 194.3-inches long, 76.7-inches wide, 70.7-inches high).
AIRMATIC® suspension is the platform’s star attraction
The test GLE 450 came with the optional ($1,710) AIRMATIC® Package, a dynamic air suspension system which responds to unevenness of the road surface. It’s sophisticated sensor system adjusts ride parameters for each wheel individually which not only contributes to continual self-levelling, but also enables automatic lowering at high speeds and also in the sporty DYNAMIC SELECT drive programs.
The lower center of gravity has three advantages: it improves driving stability; it enhances driving dynamics, and it reduces wind resistance and therefore fuel consumption.
By means of level control the driver can also raise the suspension if required – for example to increase ground clearance when driving off the beaten track.
The suspension system works as advertised, smoothing out uneven road surfaces, smoothing out irregularities wherever I came across them. Handling was solid, reassuring; another factor which led to my aggressive driving.
When it came time to bring the GLE to a halt, the power-assisted, anti-lock (ABS) equipped, brake-assist featured brake system was more than up to the job, with ventilated rotors at all four wheels, 14.8 inches up front and 13.6 at the rear.
The AMG (Mercedes-Benz’s performance brand) 20-inch twin five-spoke wheels with black accents – part of the (optional, $3,150) AMG Line Exterior package – wear 275/50R20 109H M+S tires which contribute to the vehicle’s handling prowess.
Chock full of ADAS
Standard on the GLE 450 are advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) like active brake assist; active parking assist with surround-view monitor; blind-spot assist and rearview camera.
The (optional, $1,950) Driver Assistance Package Plus brings with it active distance assist DISTRONIC®; active steering assist; active lane-change assist; active emergency-stop assist; active speed-limit assist; active brake assist with cross-traffic function; evasive-steering assist; active lane-keeping assist; active blind-spot assist; PRE-SAFE PLUS®; (rear-end collision protection); active stop-&-go assist; speed-limit assist, and route-based speed adaptation.
A cabin filled with technology and amenities
There is far too much technology, comfort, convenience and amenities inside the GLE 450 to discuss here. Highlights include dual-zone automatic climate control; power-adjustable, heated, memory-equipped front seats and power-adjustable steering column.
A pair of 12.3-inch screens occupy most of the dash, with the customizable 12.3-inch one behind the steering providing driving information while the 12.3-inch one at the center is the heart of the second-generation MBUX infotainment system which includes navigation and wireless(!) Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity.
The test vehicle also had the (optional, $5,600) Pinnacle Trim with Burmester® Surround Sound System; augmented video for the navigation system; multicontour, ventilated front seats with massage; heated/cooled front cupholders; head-up display, and some additional lighting features.
In addition, the car I drove substituted the (optional, $1,000) panoramic moonroof for the standard sunroof.
Living in luxury
All of the features, both dynamic and comfort/convenience/technology, make living with the 2024 Mercedes-Benz GLE 450 4MATIC a dream. This level of sophistication and engineering excellence comes with a price and this case it was $89,040 which included nearly $20,000 in options, all of which added to the positive experience.
Even at this price it is hard not to like the GLE 450, a tour-de-force in engineering excellence.