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2021 Mercedes-Benz GLE 350 Review: Is the Base Version Worth It?

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Auto123 reviews the 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLE 350.

It was known as the ML. And you may remember that under that name, it made a big impression when it hit the market in 1997 as Mercedes-Benz's first mass-market SUV (not counting the stand-apart G Class, of course).

Perhaps because it was such a pioneer, it was a success from the start. However, the ML also left its mark for another reason: its poor build quality and reliability. Mercedes-Benz, however, ignored the criticism and stuck with its offspring. Since the, the generations that have succeeded one another have seen the model grow in quality and stature.

During its previous redesign, introduced for 2012, the ML entered the big leagues. In 2015, it adopted the new nomenclature still in effect at Mercedes-Benz and became the GLE. Last year, it was redesigned to start the decade in style.

And that's what it does. It did well in the first pandemic year and 2021 promises to be its best sales period in many moons. So what makes it so popular?

Here are my explanations for the GLE’s popularity, and why it is so profitable for the German automaker. Because make no mistake: for Mercedes-Benz, this model is a true cash cow.

2021 Mercedes-Benz GLE 350, profile
Photo: D.Rufiange
2021 Mercedes-Benz GLE 350, profile

A GLE for everyone
This review concerns the 350 version of the GLE, but you should know that there are several variants in the lineup and that each one is aimed at a different buyer. Here, a quick tour of the family to understand the brand’s strategy.

From 255 to 603 horsepower
Within a given lineup, it's common to find different versions of a model, each offering equipment levels appropriate to the variant’s place in the hierarchy. The GLE is no different, but the choices extend to what buyers can get under the hood.

And of those choices, there are four. Yes, four!

It starts with the 350 model and its turbocharged 4-cylinder engine good for 255 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque. Then comes the 450 model and its 3.0L turbocharged 6-cylinder engine, that one capable of 362 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque.

2021 Mercedes-Benz GLE 350, engine
Photo: D.Rufiange
2021 Mercedes-Benz GLE 350, engine

Then come the AMG variants. First, there's the 53, which uses the same engine, but tuned to produce more power. It boasts 429 hp and 384 lb-ft of torque. Finally, with the AMG 63 S variant, a twin-turbocharged 4.0L V8 sits under the hood, pushing the output to 603 hp and 627 lb-ft of torque. A lightweight hybrid system supports each of the AMG engines.

A 9-speed transmission, tuned for more sportiness in the AMG models, is standard throughout, as is 4Matic all-wheel drive.

Which one is more interesting? Honestly, it depends on your tastes and needs. In my humble opinion, the best choice is the 450 variant, powerful enough to do justice to the logo on the front but not completely overpriced like the AMG versions.

And anyway, what would we do with 603 horses on our roads in Canada? The AMG models are tailor-made for Germany and its Autobahn, but on the other hand the company loses nothing by offering them here, especially since the clientele wants them.

For those customers, success is measured in horsepower.

2021 Mercedes-Benz GLE 350, three-quarters rear
Photo: D.Rufiange
2021 Mercedes-Benz GLE 350, three-quarters rear

The 350 model
So what about the entry-level 350? It's not uninteresting, but despite the goodwill and competence of the 4-cylinder engine that drives it, a big luxury SUV saddled with a small-displacement engine isn’t generally a combination that turns my crank. The shift to electric will resolve the issue of such mismatches, but for now, it’s still like bringing a knife to a gunfight.

That, of course, is a matter of opinion. Mine. You might find the marriage to be just fine. If so, good for you. I just think that with the 6-cylinder under the hood, the 450 version is more compelling. And the price difference? The 350 model starts at $69,990, while the 450 model starts at about $77,000.

With AMG products, we're on another level – but so are the prices, with the GLE models going for about $92,000 and $133,000 respectively.

Here’s my second argument for why I would choose the GLE 450 over the 350. Let's take the following two examples. While both vehicles benefit from 4Matic all-wheel drive, its settings are more varied with the 450 model. Specifically, torque can be distributed in 50/50 proportion (front and rear) with the GLE 350. With the 450, it can go from 0 to 100 percent at each axle.

In addition, the optional E-Active Body Control system can be selected to manage the firmness of the springs and shocks, as well as the height of the suspension at each wheel. This changes everything when it comes to handling.

There are many examples of this. Let's just say that if you want to build a GLE that's just right, you have more choices with the 450 model, and that's not to mention the fact that it's a better deal.

2021 Mercedes-Benz GLE 350, interior
Photo: D.Rufiange
2021 Mercedes-Benz GLE 350, interior

As for the driving experience, you'll have guessed that it varies greatly from one GLE to another. With the 350, the emphasis is on comfort and that's what you should look for. Performance is decent, but forget about any notion of sportiness; handling is more soft than firm. Once again, this brings us back to the choices of a properly equipped 450 version.

As for life on board, it's perfect. Quality, soundproofing, comfort – finding fault in any of those areas is a real challenge. As for the equipment, you have to make choices, or compromises, with the 350 model.

By the way, regarding the question of options, know that with Mercedes-Benz, as with German luxury automakers, the quantity of add-ons offered is staggering. As are their prices.

Consider your needs before you buy; your wallet will be better off.

And consider as well the maintenance costs beyond the manufacturer's warranty. Leasing should be a priority if your budget is not unlimited.

2021 Mercedes-Benz GLE 350, front grille
Photo: D.Rufiange
2021 Mercedes-Benz GLE 350, front grille

Conclusion
The GLE is still a good deal, but in the short term. I wouldn't commit to a very long term with this vehicle. Its excellent resale value means that you can take advantage of reasonable monthly payments (reasonable in the context of the category), but, again, everything will depend on your choices.

Because once you start ticking items on the options list, an the bill can and will go up very quickly.

We like

The choice offered to consumers
Build and finish quality
MBUX multimedia system and interior design

We like less

Price of the option packages
The 350 version is a bit bare-bones
Slightly lazy ride (350 version)

The competition

Acura MDX
Audi Q7
BMW X5
Cadillac XT5
Genesis GV80
Land Rover Defender 110
Lincoln Nautilus
Porsche Cayenne

2021 Mercedes-Benz GLE 350, rear
Photo: D.Rufiange
2021 Mercedes-Benz GLE 350, rear

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Photos:D.Rufiange
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