2018 Mercedes-Benz GLE: pacesetter or placeholder?

2018 Mercedes-Benz GLE

2018 Mercedes-Benz GLE

2018 Mercedes-Benz GLE Buying Advice

This is the best SUV for you if you’re interested in a standout premium-midsize crossover with an impressively broad range of models, lots of available convenience and safety features, solid overall performance – and don’t mind that an all-new GLE is just over the horizon.

More muscle for the “junior” AMG version and deletion of a midrange trim level are the main model-year 2018 changes as Mercedes prepares to begin a new GLE design generation for model-year 2019. The GLE continues for 2018 with two body styles – a squared-off wagon and a fastback iteration Mercedes calls the GLE Coupe. Both have four doors, seat five, and offer a range of six- and eight-cylinder engines, with the wagon also available as a plug-in hybrid.

Slotted in Mercedes crossover lineup between the compact GLC and the full-size, seven-seat GLS, today’s GLE was last redesigned for model-year 2012. That makes it one of the oldest crossovers in a segment that includes such rivals as the Lexus RX, Acura MDX, BMX X5, Porsche Cayenne, and Tesla Model X. Still, demand remains strong. This is Mercedes’ most popular crossover and ranks second in sales only to the Lexus in the premium-midsize class. Helping sustain interest was a thorough model-year 2016 refresh in which it shed its M-Class moniker and was renamed the GLE.

Mercedes offers the 2018 wagon as the V-6 GLE350 and the plug-in-hybrid GLE550e. It drops the V-6 GLE400, which fit between the two in price and power. The automaker also reprises three higher-performance versions of the wagon, the V-6 AMG GLE43, and the V-8 AMG GLE63 and AMG GLE63 S. The GLE Coupe – which was inspired by BMW’s fastback X6 take on the X5 – continues in AMG GLE43 and GLE63 S form.

For 2018, both the GLE43 wagon and GLE43 Coupe gain 23 horsepower, for 385 total, but retain “junior” AMG status to the 500-plus-horsepower AMG63 models. The GLE350 is again available in a choice of rear-wheel drive or with Mercedes’ 4Matic all-wheel-drive (AWD) system. All other models come standard with 4Matic.

Put on hold for model-year 2017 and unlikely to be revived is the diesel-powered GLE300d wagon. It was suspended pending an EPA review of Mercedes’ diesel-emissions practices, but demand for diesels in general has collapsed in the wake of Volkswagen’s pollution-system-cheating scandal.

Should you buy a 2018 or wait for the ’19?

Buying a 2018 GLE wagon gets you a vehicle in the final year of its design generation. Its engineering, looks, even powertrains will become dated to varying degrees when the all-new 2019 model bows. Even so, a 2018 GLE is a desirable crossover, underpinned by Mercedes quality and prestige. Safety ratings are top-notch, provided you add optional driver assist systems to those already standard. Make peace with the GLE wagon’s last-of-a-generation status and you could save big on model-year clearance sales as dealers prep for the 2019s.

Higher prices, a slightly awkward body shape, and compromised rear-passenger and cargo volume help keep GLE Coupe sales a fraction of those of the GLE wagons. With availability limited to two flashy AMG performance models, which start at $71,495 and $112,855, these are specialty items for extroverts able to indulge in a hot-rod crossover.

Expected for model-year 2019 is an all-new design generation of the wagon. A redesigned Coupe follows for model-year ’20. Wait for them if you want the latest styling, Mercedes’ freshest engineering, and likely more efficient engines. The ’19 GLE will be one of the first vehicles to use the automaker’s new Modular High Architecture (MHA) substructure. Designed to be lighter, stronger, and more versatile than the current platform, MHA will give the GLE a longer wheelbase (the distance between front and rear axles) for expanded cabin space. Spy photos of fourth-generation GLE prototypes suggest a sleeker body with a lower roofline and beefed-up wheel arches.

Mercedes’ is preparing to launch an inline-six-cylinder engine to replace some of its V-6s. A naturally aspirated version could well be the new GLE’s base powerplant. Enhanced-performance AMG models will return, though Mercedes is reportedly planning a new AMG53 family of vehicles with turbocharged versions of the inline six boosted by battery-electric assist. Expect well more than 400 horsepower. In some model lines, presence of an AMG53 may supplant AMG43 and AMG63 trims. The MHA platform will more easily accommodate electrified propulsion, so expect the return of a GLE hybrid and addition of a plug-in hybrid, too. The latest in luxury, safety, and connectivity will be on hand, as well, with particular emphasis on self-driving capability.

Helping kick off a new generation of crossovers – MHA will also underpin the redesigned 2020 GLS and GLE Coupe – the next-gen GLE obviously merits Mercedes’ full attention. Wait for its rollout and you’ll be taking advantage of this formidable automaker’s most-up-to-the-minute capabilities.

Changes


Styling: No change, aside from introduction of an AMG Performance Studio Package for the GLE43 Coupe. The $3,300 option includes the black-out-trim $650 Night Package and adds orange-colored accents to the 21-inch AMG wheels and front bumper, plus orange piping on the seats and carpets. Also new for the GLE43 Coupe and GLE63 and GLE 63 S wagons is natural-grain Ash or Popular wood cabin trim at no additional cost.

Otherwise, the GLE350 and GLE550e wagons return emphasizing understated sophistication in base form but looking more aggressive with the $2,900 AMG Line option, which includes an AMG grille, wheels, and aero body addenda. AMG GLE43 versions of both body styles come with the AMG grille and larger front air intakes, while GLE63 editions have even bolder fasciae, plus red brake calipers.

Paint color choices are unchanged, with any shade other than basic black or white again costing $720-$1550 extra. The exception is on GLE63 models, where most colors are available at no extra charge and the two optional hues cost $360 and $795. Available in a variety of spoke styles and finishes that include matte black, wheel size and design is again a model-grade differentiator. GLE350 and GLE55e models come with 19-inch alloys and offer 20s as a $750 option. The GLE43 and GLE63 models come with 20-inch AMG wheels standard and offer 21s with high-performance summer tires for $1,000. The GLE63 S Coupe gives you a choice of 21s or 22s at no extra charge.

Inside, all versions of the 2018 GLE look and feel decidedly upscale although their cabin design, with its angular forms, is outdated compared with Mercedes’ newer, rounded themes. Expect the more modern look with the 2019 redesign, which may well integrate the central infotainment screen into the dashbaord, as on the redesigned 2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class cars. The current GLE line attaches its 8-inch-diameter infotainment screen as tablet-like display atop the center of the instrument panel.

All versions of the ’18 GLE come standard with choices of real wood or aluminum cabin trim. GLE350 and GLE43 models have M-B Tex leatherette upholstery; leather is available for $1,620, plusher nappa leather for up to $2,990, depending on model. Leather is standard on the GLE550e. Nappa leather is included on the GLE63 and GLE63 S. Opulent “designo” packages, at $4,200-$4,900, depending on model, upgrade further with diamond-quilt nappa leather on seats and doors, nappa leather on the dashboard, and a microsuede headliner.

These are quiet, solid crossovers that feel built to last. Interior materials are sturdy and nicely finished. All seats boast long-distance support. Massaging multi-contour front buckets are optional at $1,100. The GLE350 and GLE550e are available with the AMG Line interior that includes sport-bolstered front seats and a sport steering wheel; the cost is $350 on the GLE350 and $1,000 on the leather-upholstered GLE550e.

Accept a little shoulder contact and a fifth passenger can fit in the middle-rear position, but the more common scenario has four adults riding in roomy comfort. The Coupe’s humpy roof actually provides a smidge more front headroom than in the wagon. But its sloped rear roofline cuts rear headroom nearly an inch, risking scalp brushing for taller back seaters, and its tapered doors complicate entry and exit. The wagon’s blocker profile gives it better-than-class-average cargo volume, at 38.2 cubic feet behind the 60/40 split/folding rear seat and 80.3 with the seatbacks folded. In the fastback Coupe, volume shrinks to 23 and 60.7 cubic feet, respectively. A power liftgate is standard.

Mechanical: The only change is more oomph for the AMG GLE43 wagon and AMG GLE43 Coupe. Their twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V-6 is tweaked to 385 horsepower, a gain of 23, though torque remains 384 pound-feet. Good for 0-60 mph in an impressive 5.6 seconds, these models wear an AMG designation, signifying tuning honed by Mercedes’ AMG performance team. Those hop-ups are comprehensive, including special suspension calibrations and a 4Matic system with a more pronounced rear-drive bias than in the GLE350 and GLE550e. The GLE43s are the only GLEs with a nine-speed automatic transmission instead of a seven-speed automatic, and it’s enhanced for quicker, more responsive shifting.

But the GLE43s don’t qualify for the full AMG status accorded the GLE63 and GLE63 S. Those “senior” AMG models get further drivetrain upgrades highlighted by a hand-built twin-turbo 5.5-liter V-8 rated at 550 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque in the GLE63 and 577 and 561, respectively, in the GLE 63 S. Zero-60 in these models arrives in 4.2 seconds or less, putting them in league with the 570-horsepower Porsche Cayenne Turbo and 567-horse BMW X5 M.

As exciting as the AMG vehicles are, the majority of GLE sales go to the GLE350, with most buyers choosing 4Matic. The GLE350 returns with a naturally aspirated 3.5-liter V-6 rated at 302 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque. Smooth and willing, 0-60 takes 7.5 seconds. It’s a fine basic engine for in all but the most demanding drivers, although it isn’t as punchy as the discontinued GLE400’s 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged V-6, which had 329 horsepower, 354 pound-feet of torque, and did 0-60 in 6.0 seconds.

The 2018 GLE550e continues to augment its twin-turbo 3.0 V-6 with an electric motor for a net 436 horsepower and 479 pound-feet of torque. It can travel solely on battery power for about 10 miles on an initial plug-in charge, after which it operates like a conventional hybrid, with sensors optimizing gas and electric power for best performance and economy and battery recharging via regenerative braking and coasting. At some 5,460 pounds, the GLE55e is the heaviest GLE model but acceleration is impressive, at just 5.3 seconds 0-60. As in the GLE350 4Matic, its AWD system monitors for tire slip, maximizing traction by continually sending power to the wheels – or even the one wheel — with the best grip.

Every GLE delivers a terrific blend of ride and handling, with the GLE350 and GLE550e emphasizing comfort and the AMG models dialing up road manners at some sacrifice to bump absorption, especially with the 21- and 22-inch tires. An air suspension, optional at $1,610 on GLE350 and GLE550e models, adjusts to the road surface and driving conditions, lowering automatically at high speeds and driver-adjustable for more ground clearance at low speeds. AMG versions come with their own performance-tuned adjustable air suspension. All but the GLE63 versions are available with Mercedes’ surprisingly effective Active Curve System, a $2,910 option with electrohydraulic stabilizers that tighten to reduce body lean in turns or relax to cushion the ride.


Features: No changes of note, although we’re disappointed Mercedes didn’t move to include as standard on the GLE350 and GLE550e driver aids expected at this price range. These encompass blind-spot detection for the GLE350 and automatic lane-maintaining steering and a rearview camera for both. These features are standard on the GLE AMG models but are available on the GLE350 and GLE550e mostly as part of costly options packages.

On the upside, every ’18 GLE continues with standard forward-collision alert and autonomous emergency braking, which can slow the crossover or even bring it to a stop to avoid a frontal collision with another vehicle. GLEs equipped with all these systems — as standard or optional — as well as with the available steering-linked LED headlamps, should retain coveted Top Safety Pick+ status from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

Standard on all 2018 GLE models are heated front seats, pushbutton ignition and remote start, a rearview camera, auto-dimming inside and outside mirrors, and power folding side mirrors that project the Mercedes-Benz star logo onto the pavement when you open the front doors. Beginning with the GLE500e, standard features include blind-spot detection and a system that warns if you inadvertently wander from your traffic lane but does not provide steering correction.

Charging extra for desirable features – critical and frivolous – is a philosophy Mercedes shares with other German automakers. Rival brands from Japan, the U.S., Britain, and Sweden tend to include more safety and luxury equipment as standard on most if not all their model grades in this segment. In addition to options discussed earlier in this review, Mercedes groups key features into prominent packages for the GLE350, GLE550e, and GLE43 models.

The Premium 1 Package ($3,050, but standard on the GLE63 models) adds keyless locking and unlocking and, for the GLE350, the blind-spot and lane-wander alerts. It also adds Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, which is otherwise a $350 stand-alone option. That integration gives you access to display cell-based map apps on the dashboard screen. For real-time GPS guidance where there’s no cell signal, you’ll need the imbedded navigation system that’s also part of the Premium 1 package.

The Premium 2 Package costs $5,350 for the GLE350, $2,120 for the GLE43 wagon, and $2,000 for the GLE55e; it’s standard on the GLE63 models. This option includes all the Premium 1 Package safety and connectivity features, plus steering-linked LED headlamps and automatic on-off highbeam headlights. It also adds heated and cooled front cup holders, a rear-seat center armrest passthrough, rear side window sunshades, and interior ambient lighting with illuminated door sills. Like the Premium 1 Package, it includes satellite radio.

Furnishing the most complete suite of safety gear and providing a degree of self-driving, the Premium 3 Package runs $8,230 for the GLE 350, $5,010 for the GLE43, $4,890 for the GLE550e, and $2,890 for the GLE63 and GLE63 S models. It includes all the package 1 and 2 features, plus Mercedes’ Steering Pilot system that self-steers the GLE within lane markings while requiring you touch the steering wheel only periodically. That’s combined with adaptive cruise control to maintain a set distance from traffic ahead, providing a measure of autonomous driving on highways and open roads.

The Premium 3 Package also includes systems that can automatically initiate avoidance action if you begin to change lanes into the path of an unseen vehicle, as well as autonomous braking to mitigate potential collisions with vehicles approaching from the front corners. A 360-degree surround-view camera and semi-autonomous self-parking are part of the Premium 3 Package but are also bundled as a separate $1,290 option.

Among options of a less-safety-critical bent are a panoramic moonroof ($1,000), a power front passenger seat with memory ($365), soft-close doors ($550), a wood and leather steering wheel ($600), heated and cooled front seats ($570), heated rear seats ($580), and a heated steering wheel ($250). Audio upgrades include an $850 Harman/Kardon system and a $5,800 Bang & Olufsen setup. Options exclusive to the GLE63 models include a $1,500 carbon-fiber engine cover and a decibel-boosting $625 AMG performance exhaust system.

Prices

Riding continued demand for all crossovers, 2018 base prices increase slightly, although Mercedes and its dealers are likely to begin offering tempting discounts and incentives on 2018 GLEs to clear inventories ahead of the all-new ’19 versions. Estimated base prices in this review include the manufacturer’s $995 destination fee.

Consider the GLE in the upper echelon of the premium-midsize-crossover segment, along with its European rivals and the Tesla Model X. They’re a clear price tier above such entries as the Acura MDX, Infiniti QX70, Lexus RX, Lincoln MKX.

The 2018 GLE350 starts at $53,195 with rear-drive and $55,695 with 4Matic AWD. Base price is $67,695 for the plug-in hybrid GLE500e.

The Mercedes-AMG GLE43 wagon is priced from $68,754 and the GLE43 Coupe from $71,495. Base price is $103,545 for the AMG GLE63 wagon, $110,695 for the AMG GLE63 S wagon, $112,885 for the GLE 63 S Coupe.

(If you’re curious, the ’17 GLE400 started at $66,575 and the most recently available GLE300d diesel at $54,325; 4Matic was standard on both.)

Fuel Economy

Fuel economy may be of some concern for buyers of “entry level” models in the premium-midsize-crossover segment, but begin to climb the ladder of performance in any lineup in this class and gas mileage becomes a don’t-ask-don’t-tell proposition. Still, it’s comforting that EPA ratings for the 2018 GLE family are generally apace with those of similarly configured rivals.

The 2018 GLE350 rates 18/23/20 mpg city/highway/combined with rear-wheel drive and 18/22/19 with 4Matic AWD. Among the AMG editions, the GLE43 wagon rates 17/23/20 mpg, the GLE43 Coupe 17/22/19, and all GLE63 and GLE63 S models 14/18/15.

The 2018 GLE500e plug-in hybrid rates the gas equivalent of 38/50/43 mpg city/highway/combined while running on battery power alone. The EPA labels this rating mpg-e. Once past the initial 10-mile electric-vehicle (EV) range and the battery charge is depleted, it operates as a conventional hybrid with a rating of 20/23/21 mpg. For comparison, here are mpg-e ratings and EV range for the other plug-in-hybrids in this competitive set: Porsche Cayenne S, 46 mpg-e, 14 miles; BMW X5 xDrive40e, 56 mpg-e, 14 miles; Volvo XC90 AWD PHEV, 54 mpg-e, 14 miles. The conventional-hybrid only Lexus RX450h rates 30 mpg combined.

Release Date

The 2018 Mercedes-Benz GLE went on sale in summer 2017.

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to Carpreview.com 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 HowStuffWorks.com, 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]