The 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLE is priced from $69,900 in Canada, $54,750 in the US.
The GLE is the older-money choice among premium midsize luxury SUVs.
The Mercedes-Benz GLE seriously outsells the BMW X5 in Canada.
It really seems to me like the Mercedes-Benz GLE (aka M and ML) has been around forever. The fact is that it’s been a go-to option in the densely packed premium midsize luxury SUV segment since its introduction some 25 years ago.
This category is one that can make or break a luxury automaker. For many brands such as Audi, Acura, BMW, Lexus, Jaguar, Benz, and few others, two- and three-row midsize SUVs represent the bulk of their sales. And though the Mercedes-Benz GLE and BMW X5 may not be the biggest sellers in the segment, that honour belongs to the Lexus RX, they are arguably the more desirable of the lot if mostly for the prestige associated to the brands.
Prestigious and subtle
The Mercedes-Benz GLE is one of the categories originators launching in early 1997, nearly two years ahead of the BMW X5. Its ever-present status could help explain why the GLE has outsold the BMW by more than 40% so far in 2021. Another factor is its regal old-world-like elegance.
The current 4th generation GLE is the most visually sorted of iterations of the SUV. Benz designers have managed to keep the vehicle’s imposing stature introduced with the 3rd generation but have blended in softer lines and surfaces. The GLE’s styling appeals to buyers interested in subtlety over ostentatious design, leaving the logo on the front grille to do most of the talking.
The tested GLE 350’s only visual shortcoming is that it’s black, at least in my opinion. One highlight is the optional Sport package which adds AMG body styling and 20-inch AMG 5-twin spoke aero wheels.
Welcoming technology and luxury
Subtlety, elegance, and grace also carry into the 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLE’s cabin. A wide-angle view of the GLE’s dashboard reveals fuss-less surfaces, simple design, and craftsmanship. Here too, this approach could possibly explain why the GLE outsells the X5. The latter’s busier center console could be a turn-off for older purchasers.
As standard, the 2021 GLE is fitted with twin 12.3-inch displays, the Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX) system with navigation, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and far more. The two screens are perfectly integrated into their surroundings and accessing the menus is a simple matter of using the touchpad or directly via the touchscreen. Despite the relatively sparse dashboard, interfacing with the GLE is anything but intimidating. It’s also extremely comfortable and welcoming for all occupants. There’s plenty of room for everyone and everything.
One gets the impression that living with the Mercedes-Benz GLE will be good. Be it because of the brand or the built-in quality, the senses are practically soothed once onboard. And once underway, the GLE 350 again keeps it uncomplicated.
I was quite happy about reviewing a GLE 350 if mostly because we near as never get to try out based engines and lower trims. The 350 in the name refers to the turbocharged 2.0-litre 4-cylinder engine which provides 255 horsepower and 273 lb.-ft. or torque. I’ll admit that I expected far less from the 2.0T but the reality is that it responds wonderfully in real-world circumstances. Although the GLE tips the scale at over 4,700lbs, it moves.
The included 9G-TRONIC 9-speed automatic transmission and 4MATIC AWD system easily put the power to good use. Pushed hard enough, the GLE 350 will reach 100km/h in 7.1 seconds and, when ready, it will tow up to 6,000lbs. Lastly, in mixed driving, this premium SUV will consume roughly 10L/100km.
If for some the power figure is a compromise, the ride quality is unaffected. In fact, the GLE 350 is as refined and smooth as one would expect a Mercedes-Benz to be. Included are adaptive dampers which deliver a truly relaxed driving experience. The optional air suspension would literally raise the GLE’s ride comfort but even without, the comfort level is impressive.
All controls including steering and brakes feel like gentle extensions of the driver. Most functions can be adjusted via the DYNAMIC SELECT multimode drive program selector and the best way to experience the GLE is through the tailored Individual mode.
A Mercedes-Benz GLE feels right
The GLE’s Canadian base price is roughly $8,000 less than the entry-level BMW X5. Though this may be an argument in the Benz’s favour, realistically, very few people buy one of these vehicles. The GLE is desirable for the Mercedes-Benz name and the fact that it’s prestigious and comfortable enough for everyday use.
If, like me, you prefer a little more driver involvement, the BMW X5 will deliver. For everyone else, there’s the 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLE or, alternatively, the Lexus RX.