Opinionated at any speed . . . Silvio Calabi

Mercedes-Benz GLE450 4MATIC

Tue, 05/16/2023 - 4:00am

Mercedes-Benz’s latest version of its GLE sport-ute has it all except for . . . well, more on this later. For now, let’s focus on what it does have, which is all the yacht-club aspects of Mercedes-Benz ownership: The understated, subtly gleaming presence that says I have arrived; a luxurious, finely detailed cabin that keeps at bay the grime and clamor of ordinary life; and a virtual on-board assistant standing by to help. Viewed this way, $75,000 or so doesn’t seem like an awful price to pay, does it?

It’s only May, but this is a model-year 2024 vehicle. However, it’s not a ground-up re-do that the maker couldn’t wait to show off, but rather a comprehensive refresh of this line, which now offers a plug-in hybrid GLE450e. The rest of the family includes a “basic” turbocharged 4-cylinder GLE350, our mid-range GLE450 and a GLE580, and of course a long menu of options ranging from seat heaters to an interactive air suspension.

(The 510HP GLE580 can be ordered with a trick off-road and trailer package that should add significantly to the utility side of the sport-utility mix; and on the sport side, there’s a fire-breathing GLE53, which rolls under the Mercedes-AMG banner. There is also a family of GLE four-door coupes, with the sort of sloping roof that used to be called a fastback.)

Alongside the plug-in hybrid, all 2024 GLEs benefit from mild hybridization, thanks to an Integrated Starter Generator. An iSG not only starts the gas engine, it also provides some electric boost and, when it’s not providing motive power, acts as a generator to recharge the vehicle’s 48-volt battery. The ISG also handles the fuel-saving automatic stop-start function.

Back in the day, a “450” badge on a Merc indicated a 4.5-liter V-8 engine. But when fuel-efficiency and then de-carbonization became paramount, V-8 engines began to be replaced by lighter, more efficient and economical 6- and 4-cylinder engines. Especially since many of these offered the same or even more power as the V-8s they replaced, carmakers kept the old badges—450, 550, etc.—so we didn’t think we were getting shortchanged with mere 250s or 300s.

In place of a V-8, then, which M-B still stuffs into the GLE580 and GLE53, our GLE450 is powered by a turbocharged inline Six good for 375 horsepower and 369 torques. It provides plenty of snap and also (thanks in part to the ISG) can squeeze out close to 40 miles per gallon under the right conditions. Overall, however, we averaged about 26 MPG. The automatic transmission offers nine forward speeds and shift paddles behind the steering wheel.

Until recently, I balked at using voice commands while driving—I felt silly talking to my car. But Siri (on my phone) and Alexa (at home) slowly won me over, and then “Hey Mercedes” became my savior when I drove M-B’s terrifying all-electric EQS dreadnought last December. Whenever I was at a loss, which was often, at least at first, I’d say, “Hey, Mercedes . . . set the maximum charge to 100 percent!” and she would get right on it, saving me a search through the owner’s manual. My friend “Mercedes” inhabits this new GLE too.

She’s easy to communicate with because she now “lives” in an updated version of M-B’s proprietary MBUX infotainment system. Gen-2 MBUX feels like it’s just a step away from turning the GLE into a more biddable version of HAL, and it offers very nearly too much adjustability. As well, both the driver’s and the central computer screens can be configured in three display styles (Classic, Sporty and Discreet) and four modes (Navigation, Assistance, Service, Off-Road).

For 2024, even the steering wheel has been upgraded, with fingertip sliders to control functions such as the volume of the sound system. They take some getting used to, especially for drivers who like precise, click-by-click rotary knob adjustments. Once again, I suspect I am telegraphing my age.

What is it that the GLE450 lacks? In a word, attitude. The sort of firmly planted, feedback-heavy, slightly over-caffeinated driving experience that I still subconsciously expect from a Mercedes-Benz wearing a “450” badge.  In Comfort mode, the GLE450 feels like it was designed expressly for the US market . . . which it probably was. To compensate somewhat, I drove around for a week in Sport mode, but this torpedoes the gas mileage. In truth, the GLE450 probably acquits itself admirably at autobahn speeds; tip-toeing around town, it just doesn’t feel like it. And I miss that.

Next week: Hyundai Palisade