2021 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class SUV

2021 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class SUV Review: Refining A Proven Recipe

by Cobus F. Potgieter

Mercedes' midsize crossover SUV was first launched in 1997 under the ML nameplate, before being rebranded as GLE-Class SUV in 2015. The 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class SUV range now comprises four models, ranging in price from $54,750 to $78,900, excluding the AMG performance models, which receive their own review. Buyers get a choice between three different powertrains, as well as either RWD or AWD, depending on trim. These multifaceted SUVs go up against capable rivals in the form of the BMW X5 and Audi Q7, but stand apart for their impeccable interior quality and refined ride. However, not every configuration is a winner, so you'll want to choose wisely if you have your heart set on a Tri-Star SUV.

Read in this review:

2021 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class SUV Changes: 🚙What’s the difference vs 2020 Mercedes GLE-Class SUV?

Very little has changed for 2021 since a brand-new generation was introduced just a year ago. Nevertheless, the list of standard equipment has been updating, adding SiriusXM satellite radio, 64-color ambient lighting, and a charging pad for wirelessly charging your mobile phone - all previously extra-cost options. Furthermore, Mercedes has made its parking-damage detection system standard, too. In terms of options, the MBUX Interior Assistant and a head-up display are now both available as standalone extras for the first time.

Pros and Cons

  • Excellent quality and materials
  • Slick MBUX infotainment system
  • Air suspension delivers great right quality and handling
  • Entry-level rear-wheel-drive model available
  • Can go off-road when properly specced
  • Good range of engines
  • Tight third row
  • Poor ride and body control on standard suspension
  • Extras push the price up
  • MBUX can be complicated to master at first
  • Subpar expected reliability

Best Deals on GLE-Class SUV

2021 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class SUV Trims

See trim levels and configurations:

Trim Engine Transmission Drivetrain Price (MSRP)
GLE 350 SUV
2.0L Turbo Inline-4 Gas
9-Speed Automatic
Rear-Wheel Drive
$54,750
GLE 350 4MATIC SUV
2.0L Turbo Inline-4 Gas
9-Speed Automatic
All-Wheel Drive
$57,250
GLE 450 4MATIC SUV
3.0L Turbo Inline-6 Gas
9-Speed Automatic
All-Wheel Drive
$62,500
GLE 580 4MATIC SUV
4.0L Twin-Turbo V8 Gas
9-Speed Automatic
All-Wheel Drive
$78,900

Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class SUV Exterior

The Mercedes-Benz GLE looks smart with its dynamic frontal styling, the sloping body-color C-pillar that has now become a GLE trademark, and horizontal taillights that follow the latest Mercedes fashion. To most eyes and ours, it's an elegant and good-looking SUV. The GLE 350 and 450 models ride on twin five-spoke 19-inch alloy wheels, while the GLE 580 gets 20-inch AMG twin five-spoke wheels. Models with 19-inch wheels can be upgraded to 20 or 21 inches at extra cost, although some of the AMG wheel options require that you specify the AMG Line Exterior Package and/or Night Package. Some of the 22-inch wheel options require the AirMatic suspension and are, as a result, not available on the GLE 350, which does not offer this option. LED daytime running lights and all-LED headlights and rear lights are standard on all models, as are roof rails and a powered tilting/sliding sunroof.

2021 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class SUV Front View Mercedes-Benz
2021 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class SUV Rear View Mercedes-Benz
2021 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class SUV Front Angle View Mercedes-Benz
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Dimensions

Comparing the dimensions of the mid-range six-cylinder models, the GLE 450 4Matic is 194.3 inches long, exactly the same as the BMW X5 xDrive40i, but shorter than the Audi Q7 Premium Plus 55 TFSI's 199.3 inches. It has a 117.9-inch wheelbase and stands 70.7 inches tall, with a width of 76.7 inches without the side mirrors. Curb weights on the GLE vary from 4,608 pounds for the GLE 350 RWD to 5,280 lbs for the GLE 580. This is heavier than both the X5 and Q7 with similar specs equipped.

  • Length 194.3 in
  • Wheelbase 117.9 in
  • Height 70.7 in
  • Max Width 76.7 in
  • Front Width 65.6 in
  • Rear Width 66.4 in
  • Curb Weight 4,608.0 lbs

Exterior Colors

In the US, the Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class SUV is offered in Black and Polar White as the only no-cost, non-metallic paint finishes. Metallic paints cost $720, with seven options on offer:: Obsidian Black, Iridium Silver, Mojave Silver, Lunar Blue, Brilliant Blue, Emerald Green, and Selenite Grey. The designo Cardinal Red ($1,080) and Diamond White ($1,515) metallic options are more expensive but definitely make a statement. We think the GLE looks quite menacing in an understated way in the smoky, dark-silver Selenite Grey metallic, especially on 21-inch multi-spoke AMG wheels.

  • Obsidian Black Metallic
  • Iridium Silver Metallic
  • Emerald Green Metallic
  • Brilliant Blue Metallic
  • Selenite Grey Metallic
  • Mojave Silver Metallic
  • Lunar Blue Metallic
  • designo Cardinal Red Metallic, Build Out: 11/16/20
  • designo Cardinal Red Metallic
  • designo Diamond White Bright
  • Black
  • Polar White
  • designo Diamond White Bright, Build Out: 11/16/20, *PRICE TO FOLLOW*

Mercedes GLE-Class Performance

The GLE is offered with three engine choices, all paired with a nine-speed automatic transmission. The entry-level GLE 350's turbocharged 2.0L four-cylinder engine develops 255 horsepower and can complete the 0-60-mph sprint in seven seconds in RWD guise and 7.1 seconds with AWD. The GLE 450 4Matic's 3.0-liter inline-six with EQ Boost mild-hybrid assistance offers 362 hp and completes the 0-60 sprint in 5.5 seconds. Both the GLE 350 and 450 models are limited to 130 mph. The GLE 580's twin-turbo 4.0-liter V8 with EQ Boost develops 483 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque, good enough for a 4.9-second sprint time and a higher top speed of 155 mph. The 3.0-liter turbocharged engines of the GLE's key competitors both develop less power, but this matters little because the lighter BMW X5 is faster to 60 mph at 5.3 seconds. The heavier Audi Q7 is slowest at 5.7 seconds. Towing capacities for the GLE vary from 5,950 pounds for the RWD GLE 350 up to 7,700 lbs for the 450 4Matic. The top-tier GLE 580 has not been rated.

2021 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class SUV Front View Driving Mercedes-Benz
2021 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class SUV Top View Mercedes-Benz
2021 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class SUV Engine Bay Mercedes-Benz

Engine and Transmission

The base 2.0-liter gas engine in the GLE 350 does without hybrid assistance and produces 255 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque, which is transmitted to the road via a nine-speed torque-converter automatic transmission common to all GLE models. This model is available in RWD or 4Matic AWD. Performance is adequate and the engine is acceptably refined, if not extended. The GLE 450 is a significant step up with a 3.0-liter gas engine supplemented by a 21-hp/184-lb-ft EQ Boost hybrid-assistance system. Its 362 hp and 369 lb-ft are delivered in a creamy smooth fashion and it's much more refined than the four-pot.

The most expensive GLE 580 is the only non-AMG GLE with a V8 - a 4.0-liter with 483 hp and 516 lb-ft, also with EQ Boost. It offers a stirring soundtrack and performance, but the GLE 450 is the performance/economy king in the range and arguably the best combination of all the models' attributes. The EQ Boost system ensures instant response without lag and returns gas mileage that narrowly beats even the GLE 350. We would look no farther than the GLE 450 with its supremely smooth and punchy inline-six.

  • Engines
    2.0L Turbo Inline-4 Gas, 3.0L Turbo Inline-6 Gas, 4.0L Twin-Turbo V8 Gas
  • Transmission
    9-Speed Automatic
  • Drivetrains
    AWD, RWD

Handling and Driving Impressions

This is the most important part of choosing and speccing your Merc SUV. The base GLE 350 is disliked by many people because it is only available with the standard suspension, which has been slated in almost every GLE-Class review for its poor ride quality and suspension control on broken surfaces. It is enough to spoil the car for some people. The adjustable AirMatic air suspension available on the GLE 450 and standard on the GLE 580 is a must-have to address some of the base GLE's ride/handling foibles.

AirMatic transforms the vehicle into a pleasing SUV to pilot and is good value at $1,710, complete with Mercedes' ADS Plus adaptive-damping technology. It's perhaps a little too floaty in its most comfortable setting, but its adaptive nature ensures that the GLE is not all at sea when a corner arrives and won't list like a fishing trawler in a gale when some handling prowess is required. However, like some air-suspension systems, abrupt bumps can catch it off guard. If your budget only stretches as far as the GLE 350 and you only ride on billiard-smooth roads, perhaps you could live with the standard suspension, but try both before you buy.

GLE-Class SUV Gas Mileage

One would expect the entry-level 2.0-liter to be the most economical GLE in the range, but this is not the case, because it is also the only GLE not to benefit from the fuel-saving EQ Boost mild-hybrid tech. City/highway/combined fuel economy is a respectable 19/26/22 mpg for both the RWD and 4Matic GLE 350 models, but the GLE 450 edges it out with figures of 21/26/23 mpg, despite far superior performance and better refinement. It's a deeply impressive performance/economy blend and narrowly beats even the lighter X5 xDrive40i's 21/25/23 mpg. The Q7 puts in a poor showing with 18/23/20 mpg. Predictably, the GLE 580 fares considerably worse than its siblings, with 17/22/19 mpg. A generous 22.5-gallon gas tank will get a GLE 450 as far as 585 miles on the highway before it runs dry and over 515 miles on the combined cycle.

  • Fuel Tank Capacity
    22.5 Gallons
  • Fuel Economy
    City/Hwy: 19/26 mpg
* 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class GLE 350 RWD SUV

Mercedes-Benz GLE Interior

In common with other Mercedes models, the GLE's interior is very modern and stylish, with the ambient lighting offering any ambiance you desire. Some people might lament the absence of the trademark round air vents found in some other models, but the expansive twin 12.3-inch full-color displays - one a digital gauge cluster and the other the MBUX touchscreen - redresses the imbalance most emphatically. Build quality and materials are generally excellent, although prodding and poking may elicit the odd creak or groan from the trim. The first two rows are comfortable and spacious but the middle row doesn't recline or slide. The optional ($2,100) third row is fine for children. Up front, power heated seats are standard, as well as dual-zone climate control, double sun visors, wireless phone charging, and a retractable luggage cover.

2021 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class SUV Steering Wheel Mercedes-Benz
2021 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class SUV Dashboard Mercedes-Benz
2021 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class SUV Seat Controls Mercedes-Benz
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Seating and Interior Space

Seating comfort is excellent and space is plentiful in the first two rows. Ventilation can be added at extra cost to the front seats and heating to the second row. The ride height and good visibility mean an excellent view out, although there are some blinds spots to the rear. Like the X5 and Q7, the optional third row is somewhat cramped and only really suitable for people of small stature or children. It is great for occasional use on the school run or for carpooling, but not for long distances. It's also a hassle to clamber into the third row through the rear doors.

  • Seating capacity
    5-seater
  • Front Leg Room 40.3 in
  • Front Head Room 40.5 in
  • Rear Leg Room 40.9 in
  • Rear Head Room 39.6 in

GLE Interior Colors and Materials

The upholstery is MB-Tex imitation leather, though real leather is standard on the GLE 580. On the GLE 350 and 450, the MB-Tex can be had in Black, Espresso Brown/Black, and Macchiato Beige/Black combinations. The Black MB-Tex/Dinamica combination can only be had with the $400 AMG Line Interior. Upgrading to leather costs $1,620 and requires the front-seat-memory function at an additional $350. Two leather combinations are available: Black and Macchiato Beige / Black. Black Nappa leather costs $2,990 and requires both the $350 memory-seat function and $400 AMG Line Interior; Black Exclusive Nappa leather requires the seat-memory function only. The GLE 580's standard upholstery is either Black or Macchiato Beige/Black leather, but no-cost MB-Tex/Dinamica - or the $1,370 Nappa leather option - can be had instead and compels the $400 AMG Line Interior. The Black Exclusive Nappa leather can be had without the AMG interior. In terms of dash and door trim, all GLEs offer the same options. Standard, no-cost trims comprise Grey Linden wood and Aluminium with a longitudinal grain. For $160, either of two wood trims can be specified: Natural Grain Grey Oak or Natural Grain Brown Walnut. The Metal Weave trim costs $600, and an extra $859 is added to the bill when you opt for the designo wood trims in either of the two styles: Natural Grain Black Flamed Ash and Brown Linden 'Flowing Lines'.

Mercedes-Benz GLE Trunk and Cargo Space

There is very little space for luggage behind the third row in a mid-size SUV, which is why their use as seven-seaters is at best occasional and for short trips only. They can be used on long road trips with lots of luggage when the third row is folded down and, in this configuration, the GLE offers a class-competitive 33.3 cubic feet of space. This compares well with the X5's 33.9 cu ft and the slightly larger Q7's 35.7 cu ft. The third row splits 50/50 and the second row, 40/20/40. With the rear seats folded flat, there is a generous 74.9 cubes of space. There are lots of places to store oddments and put drinks in the interior with multiple cubbies and door pockets.

2021 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class SUV Third Row Seats Mercedes-Benz
2021 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class SUV Maximum Cargo Space Mercedes-Benz
2021 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class SUV Maximum Cargo Space 1 Mercedes-Benz

GLE-Class SUV Infotainment and Features

Features

The GLE is fairly comprehensively equipped and standard features include powered and heated front seats, a powered tailgate, a SmartKey with hands-free access and go (including remote starting), an electric tilting/sliding sunroof, double sun visors, a power-adjustable tilting and telescoping steering wheel with Touch Control Buttons, 64-color ambient lighting, a garage-door opener, a wireless phone-charging pad, and power-folding door mirrors. The standard safety suite comprises Mercedes Pre-Safe, brake assist, parking-damage detection, Mercedes eCall emergency-call services, seven airbags, a backup camera, LED headlights, attention assist, and blind spot assistance. The GLE 580 has a standard household-style 115-volt power outlet, too.

Infotainment

The Mercedes-Benz MBUX infotainment system is well stocked and is controlled via a 12.3-inch touchscreen, a touchpad controller, a voice-command feature that understands natural language, and 'Hey, Mercedes' keyword recognition. Included in MBUX are navigation, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Bluetooth connectivity. Catering to both the driver and other passengers are five USB-C ports, and another two are added if a third row is equipped. In front of the driver is a digital gauge cluster that also measures 12.3 inches. The steering wheel is equipped with Mercedes' Touch Control Buttons and the sound system features audio streaming and has eight speakers, a FrontBass system, SiriusXM satellite radio with a six-month all-access trial, and HD Radio. A Burmester surround-sound audio system with 13 speakers is standard on the GLE 580 and is optionally available on the other two trims, along with many other extras, such as a head-up display and a Wi-Fi hotspot.

Mercedes GLE-Class SUV Problems and Reliability

The GLE has been trouble-prone and for the 2021 model, there have already been five recalls. Reasons for this include the electronic stability control pulling to one side during activation, dashboard trim impairing passenger-airbag deployment, failed illumination on interior switches, and the ever-problematic eCall system that fails or gives emergency responders the wrong location - a common Mercedes failing. Its overall J.D. Power score is 75/100 and its quality and reliability score 69. The last time the Audi Q7 was rated in 2019, its overall score was 77, while the 2021 BMW X5 beats both with a rating of 80. The standard Mercedes warranty is not great, covering the car for four years or 50,000 basic miles. Warranty and maintenance extensions cost extra.

Warranty

  • Basic:
    4 Years \ 50,000 Miles
  • Drivetrain:
    4 Years \ 50,000 Miles
  • Corrosion:
    4 Years \ 50,000 Miles
  • Roadside Assistance:
    4 Years \ 50,000 Miles

2021 Mercedes GLE Safety

The 2021 GLE-Class received the full five stars for driver and passenger safety, as well as overall, from the NHTSA. The IIHS also awarded the 2021 GLE its Top Safety Pick+ award, with a top rating of Good in all six categories. This is a top-tier safety result from both the major safety bodies in the USA and welcome peace of mind for safety-minded families.

Mercedes-Benz GLE Key Safety Features

Safety features fitted as standard to the 2021 GLE include a backup camera, stability control, PDC, park assist, seven airbags, Attention Assist, the Mercedes eCall emergency-call service, adaptive brakes and active brake assist, LED headlights, blind spot assist, and Mercedes Pre-Safe. Additional driver-assistance features cost extra and are best ordered as a bundle in the $1,950 Driver Assistance Package Plus. This adds a host of extra features including, but not limited to, active emergency stop and brake assist (with cross-traffic alert), evasive and active steering assist, lane keeping and lane change assist, and active blind spot assist.

Verdict: 🏁Is the 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class SUV a good car?

Yes, but good may not be good enough in the cut-throat midsize SUV class. It has some stand-out features that make it a worthy contender, not least the punchy and economical drivetrain of the sweet-spot GLE 450 and the feature-rich MBUX infotainment system. But the range as a whole is a mixed bag and there are too many pitfalls. It is a shame that Mercedes did not go to more trouble getting the suspension tuning spot-on for the US market because, under certain circumstances, the standard suspension is downright disappointing. The air suspension papers over some of the flaws, but it's not perfect either. Quality and reliability are below average too.

Opt for the right spec, choose the right model, and don't splurge on the extras, and the GLE can meet all your needs with a truly striking and comfortable interior, decent 5+2 seating if you specify the third row, top-notch tech, and the cachet that goes with the badge on the grille. As a range, it offers more variety than its rivals too, with a lower starting point than the X5 and a faster performance model than the Q7.

🚘What's the new Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class’s Price?

The new Mercedes GLE-Class' price of $54,750 is for the GLE 350 RWD, the base model of the range. The only distinguishing feature the GLE 350 4Matic has over the base car is the AWD system that attracts a $2,500 premium - it is offered for sale at $57,250. The GLE 450 is superb value with an MSRP of $62,500 and runs the GLE 580 too close for the latter to justify its $78,900 price tag. These are base prices and excludes the $1,050 destination charge, optional extras, or additional charges and taxes. A GLE 450 with the $1,375 Premium Package, $1,710 AirMatic suspension, $1,950 Driver Assistance Package Plus, and pretty $750 20-inch twin five-spoke alloys weighs in at $69,335, destination charge included. It's what we would have.

2021 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class SUV Models

There are four trims in the 2021 Mercedes GLE range, namely GLE 350, GLE 350 4Matic, GLE 450 4Matic, and GLE 580 4Matic. They all have nine-speed automatic transmissions, the same MBUX infotainment system and twin 12.3-inch displays. The differences come in the form of their wheels, engines, seat upholstery, and available optional equipment.

There is not much of a difference between the bottom three trims of the GLE range, with the GLE 350, GLE 350 4Matic, and GLE 450 4Matic all being similarly equipped, with the same safety and luxury features, MB-Tex imitation leather upholstery, and 19-inch wheels. The base GLE 350 is defined not only by its less refined and powerful 255-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, but also the absence of EQ Boost and the non-availability of AirMatic suspension.

The GLE 450 solves these problems with its 362-hp inline-six being the most refined engine in the range, with better fuel economy than the 350. EQ Boost is standard and AirMatic air suspension optionally available.

The GLE 580 is a step up with its V8, standard leather, 20-inch wheels, a 115-Volt power plug, and AirMatic air suspension, but at a substantial premium. It's uncomfortably close to the X5 M50i in price, but not ability. It's not the one to have. At that price level, a GLS 450 makes more sense.

See All 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class SUV Trims and Specs

Additional Packages

As is usually the case with Mercedes, there are many extras and packages to choose from. Some of the cosmetic extras like the AMG Line Exterior with Night Package ($3,650) and illuminated star in the grille ($500) are of doubtful value. The Driver Assistance Package ($1,950) previously discussed is a must-have though, and the Premium Package ($1,375) adds a Burmester surround-sound system, surround-view cameras, and that GLE 580-only 115-volt outlet. The Warmth & Comfort Package ($1,050) with rapid heating for the front seats, armrests, and upper door panels might be useful in cold winters and the Exterior Lighting Package adds intelligent LED headlights with wider beams and Highbeam Assist for a reasonable $900. There is also an Air Balance Package that adds a fragrance system and cabin-air purifier for $350. Lastly, remember that the third row is not standard but rather a $2,100 addition.

🚗What Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class SUV Model Should I Buy?

The base car makes little sense unless you must have 2WD and don't mind the compromised suspension. But why would you want 2WD if the GLE 450 4Matic mild hybrid uses less fuel and offers vastly better performance, plus all-weather ability? Also, AirMatic is not available on the GLE 350. The GLE 580 is the stand-out model thanks to its V8 powertrain, AMG-level performance, AirMatic suspension, and detail trim differences. But it's a lot more expensive than the GLE 450 and much heavier on fuel, without adding enough in terms of spec or performance to justify its price. Our choice for the best Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class model is the GLE 450 specced with AirMatic, the Driver Assistance Package Plus, and the Premium Package.

2021 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class SUV Comparisons

Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class SUV Mercedes-Benz
BMW X5 BMW
CompetitorHorsepowerMPGPrice (MSRP)
Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class SUV255 hp19/26 mpg$54,750
Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class SUV 362 hp19/23 mpg$75,950
BMW X5 335 hp21/26 mpg$59,400
Audi Q7 248 hp20/25 mpg$56,900

2021 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class SUV vs Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class SUV

It might be quite a bit more expensive than the GLE, but one has to ask where the GLS fits into the picture if you're considering a seven-seat GLE. At a starting price of $76,000, the GLS 450 gets the same powertrain as the cheaper GLE 450, but it also offers a far more usable third row and more luxury and equipment than the GLE. It's not exciting to look at, but surprisingly exciting to drive; even the base model has features that cost extra on the GLE, such as ventilated front seats with memory, a standard third row, a Burmester surround-sound system, a surround-view camera system, and an AirMatic suspension that has been properly tuned. It might just be the better choice and is a more resolved car if the budget stretches that far.

See Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class SUV Review

2021 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class SUV vs BMW X5

For superb quality, sharp handling, and excellent performance, the X5 is hard to beat. Importantly, it rides well too, irrespective of suspension choice. However, if you're bent on an entry-level inline-4 option, you'll have to look to the GLE or Q7, because the X5 is not available with anything less than six cylinders. At least a 2WD model is offered, if you prefer that. The steering is not very communicative, but this is hardly a deal-breaker in an SUV. What might be more irritating is a comparative lack of cabin storage. The GLE would rank more highly against the X5 if Mercedes could address its suspension issues. As it stands, the X5 is a better car for about the same money.

See BMW X5 Review

2021 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class SUV vs Audi Q7

For less money than the equivalent GLE, the Q7 presents a compelling argument. It has a slightly bigger third row, a noticeably bigger trunk, and unrivaled interior quality in this class. It handles and rides better than the GLE on average and while no X5, it is more entertaining than a GLE on a twisty road with better suspension calibration. The base 2.0-liter matches the GLE 350 RWD on price and performance but offers quattro AWD as standard. As an overall package, it beats the GLE and exhibits very few weaknesses other than rather poor fuel consumption.

See Audi Q7 Review

Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class SUV Popular Comparisons

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2021 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class SUV Video Review

Check out some informative Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class SUV video reviews below.

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