Where does the time go? It feels like only yesterday that the world was awash in awe at the introduction of the Mercedes-Benz ML320. At the time, it was a radical departure from the norm – a curvaceous SUV designed for conquering the asphalt rather than the Serengeti. Needless to say, it was a hit, and soon afterward competitors followed suit with mall crawlers of their own. Today, the ML320 still survives, albeit in spirit. Its name has been put away in favor of the GLE moniker, but all the attributes of the original are still present and accounted for: the purposeful looks, the soft-roader hardware, and the ability to tow and haul an impressive amount of weight.

Best Value

In typical Mercedes fashion, the GLE-Class is offered with a full range of powertrains, spanning from the comparatively tepid GLE 400 to the rip-roaring GLE 63 S. Bad cars these are not. But the delicate equilibrium of features, performance, and price isn't found in the bookends of the lineup – it's nestled somewhere in the middle of the shelf. In the GLE's case, that would be the AMG 43. It's 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged V6 is the same as that found on the base model, but the wizards in the AMG department worked their magic on it and coaxed out enough additional power to cut the zero-to-60 mph time down to 5.6 seconds. Besides the extra dollop of performance, the AMG GLE 43 also comes with luxuries like heated front seats, an eight-inch color touchscreen with navigation, and a 13-speaker/830-watt Harmon Kardon sound system. Here's our GLE after the factory commences final assembly:

  • Model:2019 Mercedes-Benz AMG GLE 43
  • Engine: 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged V6
  • Output:385 hp / 384 lb-ft
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic
  • Drivetrain:All-wheel drive
  • MPG:17 City / 22 Hwy
  • Options: None
  • Base Price:$68,745 (including the $995 destination charge)
  • Best Value Price:$68,745

Performance

Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class

Not too many SUVs offer the breadth of performance that the GLE-Class boasts. With three different AMG offerings, there's more performance to be wrung out of this ritzy Benz SUV than some bona fide performance cars.

On the sane side of things, there's a 3.0-liter twin-turbo powerplant that makes 329 horsepower and 354 pound-feet of torque. It's a strong engine that pulls the SUV with a smoothness that mimics a larger displacement engine. It manages to run to 60 mph in 5.9 seconds, far outpacing the old base engine that held down the affordable end of the GLE lineup last year. The nine-speed automatic transmission that routs power to all four wheels is sharp and crisp in its operation, and seems to work well in each of the various driving modes available via the GLE's drive mode selector.

The first of the AMG-branded models starts off with the AMG GLE 43. Consider it AMG-lite: rather than go whole-hog with a hand-built V8, it uses a slightly massaged version of the 3.0-liter motor found in the base model. Power is brought up to a respectable 385 hp and 384 lb-ft of torque, and the zero-to-60 time loses a few tenths of a second as a result. Compared to the regular GLE, everything seems slightly more dialed in. Steering, handling, engine response, the works – all of it feels like there's a dusting of something special. It's nothing blatant, and easily missed. But have no doubt about it, there's still enough of the AMG magic here to let the 43 merit it's AMG badging.

There's no concern about the use of the AMG moniker when it comes to the mighty AMG GLE 63 and AMG GLE 63 S. Both models use a handcrafted V8 displacing 5.5 liters; it makes 550 horses in the 63 and 577 in the 63 S. The zero-to-60 time for both models is a speedy 4.2 seconds. There's not too many SUVs that can thump their chests with this kind of authority. It takes a lot of money to get behind the wheel of one of these, but wheeling it around a few back roads is enough to try to justify splurging on it.

On all models, handling is commendable for what is a top-heavy, high-riding vehicle. An optional active-curve suspension brings in active anti-sway bars that stiffen the suspension in corners, giving the big SUV a flatter and more predictable demeanor when the road twists and turns. Exploiting the various drive settings also works to make the GLE a better performer in the handling department. When the road is straight, the GLE cruises serenely, absorbing bumps and road imperfections without fuss.

Style

It's worth noting here that the GLE SUV isn't the only flavor of GLE available to buyers. For the more flamboyant, there's a GLE Coupe on hand – it still has four doors, but a drastically swooping roofline subs in for the formal profile of the standard model. Some might find it attractive; we think it looks like a squatting toad. There's something forced about a truck trying so hard to look stylish. The SUV has a regal stance to it, thanks to its adherence to traditional proportions. The coupe throws this out the window for nothing more than the sake of being trendy, and it's disappointing. We imagine down the road Mercedes will shamefacedly look back at the GLE Coupe in much the same a way a 20-something looks back on their rebellious teenage years and wonders why in the world they acted the way they did.

Whether or not you're in the ungainly coupe or the reserved SUV, the interiors exude an elegant air that has become a hallmark of late-model Mercedes vehicles. Fine materials, impeccable fit and finish, and aesthetic as well as ergonomic sense prevail throughout the cabin. It doesn't matter if it's a base GLE 400 or an AMG GLE 63 S – the innards will be worthy of the price tag. Notable standard features include heated seats, an eight-inch color touchscreen with navigation, a 13-speaker sound system, and three years of Mercedes-Benz cloud services.

Seating is comfortable both front and back, with good support and ample cushion. With the Coupe, there's a dearth of head room in the back – another penalty stemming from form over function. Standard models are much better for rear-seat comfort, especially taller folks.

The Best and Worst Things

Power, performance, and a rich interior make the GLE-Class a strong choice in the mid-size SUV marketplace.

On the other hand, mediocre fuel economy and a dearth of additional standard features as you move up in the GLE lineup are a reason to shop around before committing.

Right For? Wrong For?

Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class

Families who tow and willing to spend on a well-rounded luxury SUV could do much worse than plunk down their cash on a GLE. Big and tall buyers might want something a bit more suitable for larger people, though.

The Bottom Line

The 2019 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class tries to offer something for everyone, and in most ways it succeeds. Its 7,200-pound towing capacity is more than enough for nearly everyone and the powertrains leave you wanting for nothing; even the choice between the rakish coupe and traditional SUV broadens the net that the GLE casts. In short, it's an impressively versatile jack of all trades, and is a prime example of why the world has gravitated toward SUVs. The old ML may have started a major market trend, but it's the GLE-Class that comes close to perfecting it.