Gadget-packed 2019 Mercedes-Benz GLE SUV pushes high-tech offroading
Mercedes-Benz has updated its upscale, outdoorsy GLE SUV with a barrage of high-tech goodies, including suspension that leans into corners, an intelligent, voice controlled user interface system that learns your habits, and some fascinating new driver assist ideas.
Hot on the heels of the all-electric EQC we saw last week comes another gadget-laden 4WD Merc riding the fine line between round-town luxury and serious off-road mud flinging. The 2019 GLE gets its first major refresh since the badge was launched back in 2015, and it's quite an overhaul.
The GLE 450 4MATIC will launch with a new inline 6-cylinder petrol engine, making 367 horsepower and 500 Nm (369 lb-ft) of torque. But, like many vehicles coming onto the market, it's got built-in 48-volt electrical systems. These don't replace the traditional 12-volt systems that run things like the power windows, displays and lighting, but augment the car with a range of extra abilities.
One of these new powers is an electric "EQ Boost" that throws an extra 22 horsepower (and more importantly, an extra 250 Nm (184 lb-ft) on top of the combustion engine's output – but only for short bursts.
This powerful new electrical system also runs the air-con, the integrated starter/generator and the water pump, as well as the GLE's very cool hydro-pneumatic active suspension, which we'll get to in a minute.
There will be further engine variants announced in the coming months, including diesel and plug-in hybrid engines, but all variants will use the same 9G-TRONIC automatic transmission and an all-wheel-drive system.
If you really wanna get crazy with it, the GLE can be optioned with an off-road transfer case giving you a reduction gear set and an automatic diff-locking system that can vary between 0-100 percent when you're out rock-hopping in your luxury SUV.
In addition to emergency braking, lane keeping assist, adaptive cruise with automatic speed limit switching, active steering assist, and whatever else you might expect from a modern tech-packed battleship like this, the GLE adds a few new assist features we haven't seen before.
When you're belting along a freeway with adaptive cruise enabled, the car uses live traffic information streams to identify where there might be a traffic jam ahead. If you're coming up on something that looks suspicious, the car will slow itself from autobahn speeds down to 100 km/h (62 mph), a speed from which Mercedes is confident the car can pull up to a complete stop in time to avoid crashing into a queue of stopped cars.
Once in stopped traffic, the GLE will crawl along of its own accord, relieving drivers of the need to ride the pedals, or indeed even the steering wheel, to the point where it'll start pulling over to the side to let emergency vehicles through (as is required by law in certain areas), as you come to a stop, nudging you over to the edge of the outside lane marker without crossing it. If there's no lane markings, it'll follow whatever the guy in front of you is doing.
Another interesting touch is the "turning-off function" inherent to the GLE's active brake assist package. When you indicate to turn across traffic, the car starts scanning the oncoming traffic lanes with long-range radar and stereo cameras to see if there's anything coming you might have missed. It'll auto-brake you to a stop if you're still on your own side of the road and it thinks you won't make it safely.
There's also some new intelligence built into the MBUX user interface system in the dash, to help you maneuver a trailer in reverse. Using an articulation sensor on the tow ball, it can automatically perform a series of moves like parallel parking and backing into driveways, while showing the trailer's orientation and projected path from a number of different angles on the screen. Very nice.
The MBUX multimedia system
Like the EQC, the GLE is kitted out with Mercedes' latest and greatest user experience system (MBUX) to control settings, navigation, connectivity and entertainment. That entails two large 12.3-inch wide screens next to each other, with four different display moods to choose from, and a combination of button, touch, gesture and voice controls. Gesture and touch controls are seat-specific; the car knows whether it's the driver or the passenger asking for the seat massage function, for example.
We're suckers for a nice display, and from the press photos we've got, this thing looks super cool. And its range of abilities is out of the ordinary as well, with extended off-road information displays, automatic setting of ergonomics based on your body size, superimposed house numbers and signs on your video displays, and a feature called "Energizing Coach" that we like to imagine will give you pep talks if you're starting to look a little dozey.
The voice control system recognizes natural language queries and commands. It's activated by saying "Hey, Mercedes," which might cause some confusion if one of your kids goes by that name.
The MBUX system's trump card, though, is artificial intelligence. It'll take note of everything you do in the car, from predicting where you're driving given your habits, and checking ahead to see if it can suggest a quicker way if there's unusual traffic, to prompting you to call your mum, if that's something you often do on a Tuesday morning after dropping the kids off. All this predictive stuff is handled via quiet suggestion – I've noticed you normally switch to Classic FM for the news around this time, madam, would you like me to do that for you?
There's a lot to talk about on this car, but one killer feature made possible by the 48-volt electrical system built in is the GLE's E-Active suspension, which Mercedes claims is the world's most intelligent SUV suspension.
This hydro-pneumatic system is able to take active control of not only the damping at each wheel, but the spring tension as well. And, because it's electrically actuated, it works in reverse too, using bump forces to generate power to increase its own efficiency.
When you hit the gas, most cars have a tendency to squat. The E-Active body control system balances this out by raising the rear. Likewise, it tilts the car backwards under braking. And as the car's cameras scan the roads ahead, the suspension's "curve inclination" feature leans the car into corners much like a motorcycle, counteracting body roll, making life a lot more comfortable in the cabin and perhaps helping the sick bags stay empty in the back seats on twisty roads. Mercedes claims your passengers will feel "practically no centrifugal force" – a bold statement, a worthy goal and something we'd love to try out.
Naturally, like many active systems now, the GLE's suspension takes in topographical information about upcoming bumps and ruts from the car's front cameras and sensors, and prepares the suspension to deal with them as elegantly as possible.
It gets cooler: the car can rock itself back and forth if you find yourself bogged down, or if you just want to look like you're having a better time than you are. And you can use the touch screen to raise and lower individual wheels if you feel it'll help you get over tough terrain.
The GLE will get its first public outing in a few weeks at the Mondial de l'Automobile in Paris. Pricing will be announced in a few months' time and it'll hit showroom floors in the USA and Europe in "early 2019," with China following a little later.
Check out a video below, or jump into the photo gallery – we've included a lot more photos than usual, because the Mercedes-Benz media team has assembled some absolutely cracking shots of the GLE out in the wild.