The Mercedes-Benz GLE mixes high class with high output for a highly compelling crossover. But is it better to buy new or used?
The GLE is Mercedes-Benz’s mid-size luxury crossover, matching up against the likes of the BMW X5 and the Genesis GV80. Like the rest of the brand’s lineup, the GLE leverages a first-class interior, state-of-the-art technology, and a generous selection of powertrains that culminate in uber-power AMG V8s. For a balance of refinement and performance, there are few better choices on the market than the GLE.
Naturally, one of the first questions to answer when considering the Mercedes-Benz GLE is whether to buy it new or used. For such a comparison we’ve chosen the current 2021 model and the 2016 model. Technically speaking, the GLE was a “new” model in 2016 evolving from the M-Class thanks to broad revisions to Mercedes’ naming conventions. A new generation of GLE kicked off with the 2019 model year bringing major updates to the exterior styling and even more significant changes inside the cabin, including exciting new tech. Jump ahead to today’s GLE and things are much the same, with minor upgrades along the way.
For those readers familiar with Mercedes, the long list of available powertrains with come as no surprise. The 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE starts off with the GLE 350 featuring a naturally-aspirated V6 making 302 horsepower and 275 lb.-ft. of torque and getting 18 city and 24 highway in RWD or 17/22 with AWD. Then there’s the GLE 300d and its 2.1L twin-turbo inline-four making 201 horsepower and 369 lb.-ft. of torque. Fuel economy is the real attraction here at 22 city and 29 highway mpg. The GLE 400 carries a twin-turbo V6 that puts out 329 horsepower and 354 lb.-ft. of torque and gets 18 city and 22 highway mpg. These first three all come equipped with a nine-speed automatic transmission.
Next are the AMGs. The GLE AMG 63 is powered by a 5.5L twin-turbo V8 making 550 horsepower and 516 lb.-ft. of torque. The AMG 63 S tunes the same engine to 577 horsepower and 561 lb.-ft. Both get the same 13 city/17 highway mpg rating. If that’s too inefficient there’s also the GLE 550e with a plug-in hybrid powertrain of a 3.0L twin-turbo V6 and an electric motor producing 436 horsepower and 479 lb.-ft. The plug-in hybrid offers up to 19 miles of electric only range before the gas engine kicks in. These options all come with a seven-speed automatic transmission.
Things are no less complex for the contemporary 2021 GLE. The GLE 350 starts with a base 2.0L turbocharged inline-four making 255 horsepower and 273 lb.-ft. of torque. It comes in rear-wheel or all-wheel drive and gets 19 city/26 highway mpg. The GLE 450 ups things to a 3.0L turbo and supercharged inline-6 with a mild-hybrid “EQ” boost to achieve 362 horsepower and 369 lb.-ft. of torque. The GLE 550 features a 4.0L twin-turbo V8 with EQ boost good for 483 horsepower and 516 lb.-ft. of torque. Fuel economy dips to 18 city/22 highway mpg.
The AMG 53 (also available in Coupe form) comes with a 3.0L turbo and supercharged inline-six with EQ boost capable of 429 horsepower and 384 lb.-ft. of torque. Gas mileage is a respectable 18/22 mpg. The top-ranging AMG 63 S carries a 4.0L twin-turbo V8 with EQ boost making 603 horsepower and 627 lb.-ft. of torque. Fuel economy suffers, coming in at 15 city and 19 highway mpg.
With all those powertrain options, the 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE offers a wide range of driving experiences. The diesel option ties the plug-in hybrid at 29 highway mpg respectively, but the latter’s offer of 19 miles of all-electric driving is even more enticing. For those looking for excessive amounts of acceleration in their SUV, there’s the AMG models and their V8s. Nesting in between is the GLE 400 which is perhaps the best balance of efficiency and power (and price). The 2016 GLE’s suspension is forgiving around corners with limited body roll and a plush ride around town and on the highway. Straight line speed is good, even in the lower trims, but steering feel is somewhat disconnected including in the AMG versions.
Like the 2016, the 2021 GLE has an engine to suit most needs, minus the plug-in hybrid option. And similarly, the GLE 350 or GLE 450 can provide enough grunt for most buyers while the AMG versions add extra power, bigger brakes, a stiffer chassis, and suspension upgrades. Zero to 60 times range from 7.0 seconds for the 350 to 3.7 seconds for the AMG 63 S. Even with all the AMG goodies, the GLE isn’t as thrilling a drive as the BMW X5 or Porsche Cayenne. The straight-line speed is there, but the sensation of speed is lacking. The GLE is the ultimate in capable highway cruising, with a smooth and pleasant ride and more than ample power in reserve.
While the performance hasn’t changed all that much in five years’ time, the generational leap forward in the GLE’s interior is readily appreciable. The 2016 GLE is certainly a nice place to be. Material quality is great, the seats are ultra-comfortable, and the ride serene and unperturbed. Space is generous in the front and second row. The optional third row, however, is fairly cramped and best left to kids and pets. Rear headroom takes a ding in the coupe version, but thus is the price of high style.
The two biggest changes from the 2016 to the 2021 are in overall design (a major leap forward) and in infotainment (another big leap forward). In fact, the latter influences the former with the old center stack and relatively puny screen of just eight inches, being replaced with a broad sweep of two 12.3-inch displays, once for the 2021 GLE’s digital gauge cluster and the other the infotainment touchscreen. The old COMMAND software and navigation knob have been replaced by Mercedes-Benz’s industry leading MBUX system and a redundant combination of touchscreen, touchpad, steering wheel controls, and voice command.
Sleeker, more stylish, and with better tech, the 2021 GLE feels lightyears ahead of the 2016, as good as that earlier version still is. One area that the new GLE lags behind? Cargo, which is runs 33.3 cu.-ft. behind the second row and 74.9 cu.-ft. in total versus the 2016 model with an even more generous 38.7 cu.-ft. and 80.3 cu.-ft. in total.
The 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE comes in five trims, each with its own corresponding drivetrain. The base GLE 350 comes equipped with an 8-inch infotainment screen, Bluetooth, HD radio, CD player, fog lights, power lift gate, synthetic leather upholstery, and heated front seats. The GLE 300d gets the high efficiency diesel engine and 4MATIC all-wheel drive. The GLE 400 features a twin-turbo V6, a 14-speaker Harmon Kardon stereo, 20-inch wheels, real leather upholstery, and ventilated front seats. The GLE 550e is the plug-in hybrid version and features all the same options as the GLE 400, minus the ventilated seats (odd, but true). The AMG 63 and 63 S feature the 5.5L twin-turbo V8 and add items like real leather, an AIRMATIC suspension, and AMG brake and steering upgrades.
The 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLE also comes in five trims. The base GLE 350 starts with a 2.0L inline-four, a pair of 12.3-inch digital screens (one for gauges, the other for infotainment), Bluetooth, navigation, dual-zone climate control, synthetic leather upholstery (real leather is optional), and heated front seats. Standard safety tech includes blind spot detection, automatic emergency braking, forward collision warning, front and rear parking sensors, rearview camera, driver attention monitoring, and pedestrian detection. Options include third-row seating, all-wheel drive, a 13-speaker Burmester stereo, a heads-up display, panoramic sunroof, and quad-zone automatic climate control.
The GLE 450 upgrades to a 3.0L inline-six, adaptive air suspension, sport exhaust, and soft-close doors. The GLE 580 adds real leather upholstery and a 4.0L V8. The AMG 53 and 63 S add a 3.0L turbo inline-six and a 4.0L twin-turbo V8 respectively as well as a 13-speaker Burmester stereo, sport exhaust, air suspension, options for 22-inch wheels, a 25-speaker Burmester sound system, and high-performance brakes.
Even with used car prices (all car prices really) at historic highs and depreciation rates correspondingly low, there remains a gigantic chasm between the high and low ends of this luxury vehicle comparison. Both the 2016 and 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLE are fast, capable, comfortable, and technologically advanced. Yes, the new one is nicer, but you’ll probably question whether that incremental, yet appreciable difference is worth a mountain of extra dough.
At the bottom end, we have the 2016 GLE 350 which can be had for between $30,000 and $40,000 depending on mileage, condition, and options. The top range 2016 GLE AMG 63 S comes in at a reasonable $60,000 to $70,000. Compare that to the new 2021 GLE AMG 63 S and its price tag (again depending on options) of between $140,000 and $170,000. Yep, that fives year difference equals around $80,000 to $100,000. The 2021 GLE 350? That starts between $60,000 and $70,000, just like the 2016 AMG 63 S.
To answer which is the better buy, you’ve got to answer two questions for yourself. How much do I want that AMG motor? And: Do I still need to afford putting my kids through college? If you want the engine and kids that don’t resent you, go with the used 2016 Mercedes-Benz BLE AMG 63 S. If you don’t care for the extra horsepower, the new 2021 GLE 350, for roughly the same price, is an extra level of swanky. And if you’re really want to burn through $150,000 on sporty SUV, consider some of these other options from our list of the best driving SUVs of 2021.