I was starting to get worried. No, it had nothing to do with the surprisingly difficult off-road trail our prototype 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE 450 was crawling over. We’ll get to that, but suffice to say, the GLE handled it fine. My concern was that I couldn’t find anything wrong with the GLE, even this camo’d-up development mule.
Times like these are when my journalism professors start haunting me. Am I not being critical enough? Not paying close enough attention? No car is perfect, and very few come close. Was this one of them, or was I missing something? I focus harder, looking, listening, and feeling for faults.
Our well-appointed prototypes were fitted with both the fancy dampers and the optional air suspension (steel springs and fixed dampers are standard), which in most cases would’ve been handicapped by the also-fitted sport package with enormous 21-inch wheels staggered 275 and 315 front/rear in Pirelli P Zero SUV performance tires with skinny 45- and 40-section sidewalls. Instead, this big SUV rode like, well, an S-Class. Undulating pavement ceased to exist as the system kept the ride perfectly flat, while potholes and railroad tracks were reduced to small bumps, more noise than impact.
Road scanning is only active in Comfort and Curve Control driving modes, but don’t think everything goes to pot if you select one of the sport or off-road modes. The computer simply relies on individual wheel sensors, yaw sensors, steering angle, throttle/brake position, and more to continuously vary the damping rate for the conditions.
I’d like to tell you even more about the new GLE if you’re still reading, but the terms of my access to these prototypes forbid it. What I can tell you about is what you can see if you look closely enough at the photos. Right away you’ll see the new car adopts Mercedes’ twin-eyebrow LED daytime running lights. Look closer and you can see that beneath the camo the dramatically sloping C-pillar—a calling card going back to the first ML-Class from which the GLE-Class came—is still there.
Given its performance on-road and off, it should be easy to see why I was second-guessing myself. You just don’t expect this breadth of capability from a luxury SUV, or even a mainstream one. Few modern SUVs do this much, period, and fewer do it this well. I’m sure it’s got faults somewhere, and I’m looking forward to trying to find them when production models hit the road in the first half of next year as 2020 models.