AMG heat, coupe-body fashion among updates for 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLE

2021 Mercedes-Benz GLE

What changes will make the 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLE different?

Filling out the lineup following this midsize premium crossover’s complete model-year 2020 redesign. The GLE will get at least one higher-performance model and will be joined by all-new versions of the related GLE Coupe.

Larger and more luxurious than its 2012-2019 predecessor, today’s fourth generation GLE launched for 2020 in a traditional squared-off body style Mercedes-Benz calls the GLE SUV. That “two-box” profile gains the sporty Mercedes-AMG GLE53 model for 2021 and could get an even more potent GLE63 edition, too.

The GLE SUV will also be joined by the redesigned fastback-roofline GLE Coupe, which will adopt its all-new underskin architecture. The SUV will again accommodate up to seven passengers with an optional third-row seat. The Coupe, which sells in far fewer numbers, will remain strictly a five-seater.

Note that driving impressions and other subjective conclusions in this review are based on test drives of the 2020 GLE SUV. In areas where the ’21 might be different, we will reserve judgment.

Should I wait for the 2021 model or buy a 2020?

Wait if you crave the sporty touch of the German automaker’s AMG factory-performance tuners. Mercedes has already confirmed the addition of the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE53 with a 429-horsepower turbocharged six-cylinder engine, unique trim, and specific powertrain and suspension tuning. It could also add a 500-plus-horsepower twin-turbo-V-8 AMG GLE 63 model.

An electrified GLE is also on the horizon. Mercedes could well revive a plug-in-hybrid version of SUV and could do it for model-year 2021. At the same time, it’s also reportedly working on a pure-electric GLE derivative, tentatively called the EQGLE and expected around model-year 2023.

Also wait for the 2021 GLE if you want the newest iteration of the GLE Coupe. Like its SUV cousin, this four-door fastback will benefit from the added refinement and roominess of the German automaker’s newest midsize-crossover understructure, part of a versatile platform it calls Modular High Architecture (MHA). The redesigned Coupe, however, will again give up some passenger and cargo space to the boxier SUV body style. And it’ll continue to concentrate on pricy, high-powered offerings.

Buy a 2020 GLE if you’re satisfied with a roster already broad in price and performance. The SUV line’s core offerings will carry over for model-year ’21 with no notable changes. Returning will be the turbocharged four-cylinder GLE350 available with rear-wheel drive or Mercedes’ 4Matic all-wheel drive (AWD). Also back will be the turbo six-cylinder GLE450 and the twin-turbo-V-8 GLE580, both with 4Matic standard.

Mercedes is likely to position the 2021 GLE Coupe as a boutique choice available only in AMG-flavors and with 4Matic. Expect the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE53 to share its SUV counterpart’s powertrain and to be accompanied by a twin-turbo-V-8 Mercedes-AMG63 S with some 600 horsepower.

The GLE traces its roots to model-year 1998 and introduction of the M-Class. The original M-Class helped inaugurate the premium-midsize-crossover segment, a class that now includes offerings from virtually every upscale brand and has attracted even the likes of exotic Lamborghini and, soon, Aston Martin and Ferrari. Mercedes renamed the M-Class the GLE for model-year 2016, at the same time introducing the Coupe, which used the SUV’s underpinnings but grafted on the trendy but less practical four-door-fastback body.

Slotting between the GLC compact crossover and the full-size GLS, the GLE has been a cornerstone of Mercedes’ U.S. lineup and a solid seller. It finished third in sales in the premium-midsize-crossover segment as recently as 2017. Demand has fallen, though, under stiffer competition and inventories disrupted by the rollout of the redesigned 2020 GLE. Through the first quarter of 2019, sales were down a troubling 42 percent and the GLE was in ninth place, behind the Volvo XC90 and just ahead of the Range Rover Sport.

Will the styling be different?

The 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE53 will differ from its SUV brethren with some subtle aero bodywork, specific 20-inch wheels, and unique interior appointments, including an AMG Performance steering wheel and AMG-design seats with red stitching. The 2021 Coupe will evolve but will retain a roofline that tapers to create a sort of hatchback counterpart to the SUV’s more conventional wagon-type liftgate. From the middle roof pillars forward, the Coupe will share the SUV’s basic shape, although with a more aggressive grille and front fascia, in keeping with the AMG influence.

The 2021 Coupe will also share the MHA platform used by redesigned GLE SUV. It made already-rigid structure even stouter and, vitally, lengthened the wheelbase 3.1 inches. Stretching that distance between the front and rear axles helped expand passenger space, most critically by adding rear legroom.

Expect the 2021 Coupe’s body to again be slightly longer than the SUV’s, which grew a substantive 5.2 inches with the ’20 redesign. The ’21 SUV will continue to capitalize on those larger dimensions with exceptional comfort and space in the first two seating rows. The redesigned Coupe, however, is likely to again sacrifice much of the SUV’s top-hat-worthy rear seating on the altar of slope-roof styling. Expect roughly an inch less rear headroom, tighter back doorways, and roughly a third less cargo volume, too.

Returning as an option for the 2021 GLE SUV (including the GLE53) will be a two-passenger third-row bench seat. Priced around $2,100, the option will include power operation for the second-row outer seatbacks to ease third-row entry and exit, plus two Type C USB ports for rearmost riders. With its thinner padding and severely curtailed foot space, consider the third row an occasional-use kid carrier.

By contrast, the GLE’s elegant driving environment cuts few corners. Dominating the dashboard is a 12.3-inch-wide touchscreen, an uninterrupted expanse that contains the main instrument cluster and extends right to encompass the infotainment display, including mapping for the standard imbedded navigation system. It’s a hi-def digital wonder, customizable and pin-sharp. But the dramatically horizontal orientation might strike some as a bit stale against portrait-orientation displays from Tesla and Volvo, and now even from Subaru and Ram truck.

You interact with the Mercedes-Benz User Experience’s myriad features via voice commands, screen pokes, and a center-console controller. Plan on lots of trial and error – or a serious tutorial – to become comfortably acclimated. And if you or a passenger casually mentions “Mercedes” in conversation, be prepared for the system it to light up and ask what you want. Saying the word triggers the automaker’s self-referential corollary to “Hey, Siri,” and you’ll learn to utter it judiciously.

Decor-wise, there’s little to criticize. Every cabin detail is contemporary in shape and scale, every surface feels substantial to the touch. High-gloss wood or aluminum trim is standard; metal-weave and woods in natural-grain and open-pore finishes are optional. Heated, ventilated, and multi-way massaging front seats are available (so are heated front armrests and center-console surfaces). Get out the checkbook, however, if you desire an alternative to MB-Tex, the automaker’s quite convincing alterative to leather upholstery. Expect to pay around $1,600 for the genuine article, or around $3,000 for buttery-er Nappa hides.

Any mechanical changes?

Not for the carryover models, but AMG’s presence will turn up the wick. And the possible introduction of a plug-in hybrid would reinstate a model offered by the previous-gen GLE.

The 2021 GLE350 will reprise a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine of 255 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque. The GLE450’s turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six-cylinder will again have 362 horsepower and 369 pound-feet. The twin-turbo 4.0-liter V-8 in the GLE580 will return at 483 horsepower and 516 pound-feet. The 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE53 SUV and Coupe will use a version of the turbo 3.0-liter inline-six rated at 429 horsepower and 384 pound-feet of torque.

The GLC63 S Coupe’s twin-turbo V-8 would link to a seven-speed automatic transmission. If Mercedes decides to expand the GLE SUV performance envelope beyond the GLE53, it could add a counterpart to the Mercedes-AMG63 S Coupe or a slightly less hyper 63 model that wouldn’t merit the “S” designation.

All 2021 GLEs except the 350 will share Mercedes’ EQ Boost technology, which teams a 48-volt electrical system with an integrated electric starter-generator. EQ Boost can juice-up acceleration by briefly adding an extra 21 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. It also benefits fuel economy by enabling coasting with the engine off.

All these GLEs will have a nine-speed automatic transmission, as well as driver-selectable switching to customize the powertrain and suspension through comfort, sport, and economy modes. All ’21 Mercedes-AMG GLE powertrains will get specific performance calibrations and steering, suspension and running gear tuned for maximum handling.

The GLE350 will return with a choice of rear-wheel drive or 4Matic AWD; all other 2021 GLEs will come standard with 4Matic. With relatively modest ground clearance of around 7 inches, these aren’t off-roaders. 4Matic instead varies power front-to-rear automatically as sensors determine the best mix for light-duty off-pavement excursions, dry or slippery streets, and the driver’s actions. All but the GLE350 should again be available with Mercedes’ E-Active Body Control, which automatically adjusts suspension firmness and can scan the road ahead, counteract body lean in curves, even rock the crossover to free itself from deep snow or loamy ruts.

Another possible modely-year-’21 addition would be a plug-in hybrid, perhaps labeled the GLE550e 4Matic. Available only in the SUV body style, it would likely team a twin-turbo V-6 with electric-motor power for around 440 net horsepower. Able to connect with the residential or commercial grid for an initial charge, it’d likely be able to travel around 12 miles emissions free on electricity alone before automatically reverting to conventional-hybrid mode in which it’s on onboard battery pack is recharged via energy captured during coasting and braking.

No 2021 GLE will feel slow, with even the GLE350s doing 0-60 mph in a relatively lively 7 seconds. The higher-powered models cut that to under 5.5 seconds – as would a plug-in hybrid. Still, the powertrains default to fuel-saving algorithms, so you must be liberal with throttle application during takeoffs and in merging and passing maneuvers to take full advantage of the power on hand. The extra thrust of EQ Boost integrates seamlessly.

On the road, any ’21 GLE will feel ingot-solid, if a bit ponderous in quick changes of direction. These are after all fairly large vehicles, the lightest of which tips the scales at some 4,700 pounds. You need to commit to a driver-selectable Sport mode to exploit the sophisticated chassis and quell wayward body motions that otherwise accompany even mildly aggressive maneuvers.

Selecting a Sport mode, though, hurts ride quality, so stick with the standard 19-inch wheels and tires (20s for the AMG models and likely the GLE580) if you want bumps and ruts to pass with minimal intrusion. Lower-profile tires on wheels with diameters up to 21 inches will again be available, but they can turn the ride brittle, even jarring, so think twice before succumbing to their allure.

Will fuel economy improve?

Not for the returning models, which will again be more fuel efficient than the AMG entries. If there’s a plug-in hybrid, it’ll lead the lineup for mileage.

Expect EPA ratings for the 2021 GLE350 of 19/27/23 mpg city/highway/combined with rear-wheel drive and 19/26/22 with 4Matic AWD. Look for ratings of 19/24/21 mpg for the ’21 GLE450 4Matic and around 17/22/20 for the GLE580 4Matic and 18/23/20 for the Mercedes-AMG GLE53. The GLE63 versions should rate around 15/19/16 mpg city/highway/combined.

If there’s a plug-in hybrid, look for EPA ratings around 39/50/43 MPG-e, or equivalent fuel consumption when running on electricity alone. That would dip to around 21/24/22 mpg when operating as a conventional hybrid after the 12 miles or so of pure-electric range is depleted.

Premium-grade 91-octane gasoline should remain a requirement for all 2021 GLE models.

Will there be new features?

Other than the elevated performance gizmos associated with the Mercedes-AMG models, the 2021 GLE line probably won’t add features to an already exhaustive list of comfort, convenience, and luxury amenities.

Safety features standard across the board will again include autonomous emergency braking that can automatically stop the GLE to mitigate a frontal collision with another vehicle, object, pedestrian, or bicyclist. Blind-spot warning will also be included. These are today’s very basic safety systems, however.

To tap Mercedes’ far more extensive array of driver assists will likely again require the Driver Assistance Package Plus, a $2,250 option for model-year 2020. This collection includes systems designed to automatically slow, steer, accelerate, and stop the GLE. Its technology imposes various levels of autonomy to evade other cars, maintain lane discipline, and set distances from traffic ahead, including in stop-and-go congestion. Some of this is predictive – using cloud-based traffic data to anticipate traffic jams, for example. Sensors also respond to vehicles cutting into your path, curves in the road, and crosswinds. They warn you not to open your door if a vehicle, motorcycle, or bicycle is approaching from behind.

It requires some deep interaction with the Mercedes-Benz User Experience and with various dashboard buttons, but thankfully, much of this technology can be mollified or disabled to suit your level of comfort with autonomy. Sometimes you want to safely clip an apex, sometimes you need to steer left to avoid, say, a bicyclist. So top of our list was cancelling the assist that rather violently applies steering and braking at the first hint we were violating the stripes that mark lanes or road edges.

Otherwise, Mercedes will again invite 2021 GLE buyers to indulge, starting with an exterior color other than black or white, for which it’ll charge $720 minimum, up to $1515 for premium hues such as “design Diamond White Bright.” The list of add-ons to our test 2020 GLE450 4Matic SUV is an example of what’s on the menu for model-year 2021. A few options will differ slightly by content and price, depending on the model you choose.

Among options that elevated our tester’s sticker price to $93,590, from it $62,145 base price (including $995 designation fee): the $8,070 E-Active Body Control Package (air suspension with body-lean correction), the $3,250 AMG Line Exterior (special paint, exhaust, trim, and wheels, plus upgraded brakes), and the $2,250 Driver Assistance Package Plus (the safety suite described above).

Our test GLE also included the $2,100 Energizing Package Plus (ventilated, massaging front seats), $1,620 Expresso/Magma Grey leather, the $1,300 MBUX Technology Package (head-up instrument display and augmented navigation video), and the $1,200 power-adjustable second-row bench seat. On the tab as well was $1,100 for extra sound insulation and windows with infrared-reflecting film, the $1,050 Warmth & Comfort Package (rapid heating front seats and armrests), $1,000 for ambient cabin lighting and wireless phone charger, and $1,000 for a panoramic moonroof.

Will 2021 prices be different?

Expect returning models to show some price inflation, while addition of the Mercedes-AMG editions, plus the redesigned Coupes, raise the line-wide average. Base-price estimates here include Mercedes’ destination fee, which was $995 on the 2020 GLE.

Expect the 2021 GLE350 to be priced from about $55,200 with rear-wheel drive and $57,700 with 4Matic AWD. Estimated base prices are $62,700 for the 2021 GLE450 4Matic and $78,300 for the ’21 GLE580 4Matic. Look for the 2021 Mercedes-AMG53 to be priced from around $69,700.

In keeping with their not-off-the-rack positioning, the 2021 GLE Coupes will carry estimated base prices of around $79,000 for the Mercedes-AMG53 and $116,000 for the Mercedes-AMG63 S.

As for the speculative additions to the lineup, figure base prices of around $105,000 for the ’21 Mercedes-AMG GLE63 SUV and around $70,500 for the plug-in-hybrid “GLE550e 4Matic.”

When does it come out?

Expect a 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLE release date in fall 2020, with the Mercedes-AMG models arriving closer to the end of the calendar year.

Best competitors

Acura MDX; Alfa Romeo Kamal; Aston Martin DBX; Audi e-tron, Q7, and Q8; Bently Bentayga, BMX X5 and X6; Jaguar i-Pace, Lamborghini Uris, Land Rover Discovery; Range Rover Sport; Lexus GX and RX; Lincoln Aviator and Nautilus; Porsche Cayenne, Tesla Model X; Volvo XC90

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]