Mercedes-Benz dropped off the long-term GLE 450 4Matic in early April, right as the shutdown from the global pandemic was getting underway. There was nowhere to go, and as such by the end of May, the poor, underused Mercedes family hauler had only 1,984 miles on it. An ominous mileage total if there ever was one, as well as one that’s way lower than I’d like to see on the odometer. Solution? Grab a startlingly inexpensive Airbnb just outside of Colorado City, Arizona, (Warren Jeffs country!) just south of the Utah border. Then toss the wife and 3-year-old in the Benz and hit the road for a 2,000-mile road trip, hitting the following breathtaking locales: Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Pink Coral Sand Dunes State Park, and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. How’d the GLE 450 handle a week of hot weather touring through some of the most beautiful places on earth? Keep reading!
If you were to visit your local Mercedes-Benz dealer and test-drive a GLE against the slightly smaller GLC, you might question why you’d need to spend the extra scrilla for the former. Yes, the GLE is bigger, but both are two-row SUVs that can be had with similar levels or power and luxury. Well, imagine your 5-foot-8 wife being able to sit comfortably without the abnormally tall, bored kiddo in the second row being able to reach, let alone kick, the back of her seat. The $11,750 price difference between the two (base price vs. base price) might best be explained in terms of the extra 4.8 inches of wheelbase. Although we (probably) brought too much stuff with us for a weeklong sojourn (you don’t hit the road with a 160-gallon kiddie pool?), the GLE had more than enough space in the back with both rear seats up.
Speaking of our kid, in some vehicles he gets carsick. Usually this is prefaced by the words, “It’s too bumpity,” and then comes the vomit. Usually as I’m pulling over on the side of the freeway/on our poor Audi. I’m happy to report that the optional $8,200 E-Active Body Control, which is a blend of air springs and 48-volt hydraulic dampers, is so smooth that he only complained of one belly ache on the entire trip, and that was after a questionable quesadilla. I mostly left the suspension in Comfort, but on more winding sections I’d slip it into Curve, the mode that uses the GLE’s built-in cameras to look at the road ahead and then level the vehicle accordingly as you drive around a corner. I did use Sport from time to time, but only in passing situations. Off Road mode, too, but only for bouncing the GLE up and down in the Airbnb’s driveway. Because I can.
Let’s spend a paragraph on the front seats, shall we? Heated and cooled and—essential for serious road tripping—massaging. Activating such a key feature could be easier, though. The longer I use Mercedes’ new MBUX infotainment, the more I like its deep, rich functionality. That out of the way, MBUX still hides stuff a layer or three deeper than I’d like. One way around this complexity is gesture control, just like BMW offers on certain models. Rather than digging through four steps to get a massage, I rigged it so that when you stab at the screen with two fingers (like Moe poking Curly in the eyes) the massaging function turns on. I believe out of the 50 or so times I tried this gesture on our trip, it worked twice. My wife’s level of success? Zero. She literally got it to work no times at all. That’s very poor. Sure, you can use the built-in “Hey, Mercedes” voice recognition, but that’s slow, takes too many steps, never actually works the way I want it to, and feels like I’m fighting with my bank. Through the big touchscreen we go.
Let’s make that two paragraphs about the seats. The actual best part of the GLE 450’s seats is Seat Kinetics. What’s that? It’s this excellent little feature that ever so slightly moves your seat every few minutes. A degree of recline, a squeeze of the bolsters, a tiny slide forward, then back—you stop noticing it’s even happening after a bit, especially when combined with massage. The effect, however, is that your body is physically moved every couple of miles, and the result is wonderful. You just don’t feel as cramped, tight, achy, stiff, and beaten as you normally do when you emerge from a several-hundred-mile drive. I cannot recommend Seat Kinetics highly enough.
Mercedes has to make its air conditioning stronger. I’ll preface this by saying I’ve been in meetings in 85-degree rooms where all Americans present are half-stripping and keeling over half-dead while the Germans in the room, dressed smartly in suits, ties, and sweater vests, are not even breaking a sweat. Whenever I mention to meine Deutschen Kollegen that their cars need stronger A/C systems, they tell me that Germans hate cold air blowing in their faces while silently thinking all Americans are fat and crazy. That out of the way, because the GLE 450 has MB’s 3.0-liter inline-six with that 48-volt system, all the accessories are electric. Including the A/C compressor. Add in an all-glass, panoramic roof getting thermally cooked up at 8,000 feet in the American Southwest, and it’s a recipe for way too hot. I think opting your way into the GLE 580 just for the belt-driven air conditioning might be the way to go for those of us in hot climates.
Road Trip Verdict
Overall, the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE 450 4Matic rocked on our family road trip. Summarizing the bad bits, some of the frequently used functions are too buried, the A/C is too weak, and the feature that automatically hits the brakes when you have the smart cruise control on and you enter a new speed limit needs to be fired into the sun. Various people have told me this “feature” is called Route-Based Speed Adaptation, but I’ve turned it off dozens of times—it’s something else, and I hate it. Also, I’d like another 100 horsepower.
Good stuff? The 24-gallon gas tank and the built-in hybrid system mean you’re not stopping for gas as frequently as other 5,438-pound SUVs going 85 mph will have to. Most important, this Benz is quiet, quite comfortable, and fun enough to drive for long stretches at a time. So much so that I look forward to the next family road trip.