Mercedes-Benz has shelved the nearly 20-year old M-Class moniker. For 2016, the company’s mid-size SUV has been rechristened GLE-Class, which is not to be confused with the GLE Coupe.
Set to debut next week at the New York Motor Show, the GLE stands out from the outgoing M thanks to a comprehensively redesigned front fascia that borrows styling cues from the afformentioned BMW X6-fighting GLE Coupe that was presented earlier this year at the Detroit Motor Show. The off-roader gains sharper headlights with integrated daytime running lights, more upright twin-slat radiator grille, revamped lower bumper, and more muscular-looking hood with two power domes.
Inside, the GLE benefits from a larger, more user-friendly screen that runs Mercedes’ COMAND infotainment system and a sportier three-spoke steering wheel. New interior colors such as porcelain, espresso brown and ginger beige add an extra touch of elegance to the cockpit.
The GLE is Mercedes’ first regular-production plug-in hybrid SUV. Positioned near the top of the lineup, the GLE550e 4MATIC is powered by a gasoline-electric drivetrain consisting of a 329-horsepower direct-injected V6 engine and a compact electric motor that makes 114 ponies. Together, the two power sources send 436 horsepower and a massive 479 foot-pounds of torque to all four wheels via a hybrid-specific seven-speed automatic transmission.
Built into the gearbox, the motor draws electricity from a 8.8-kWh lithium-ion battery pack. The pack can be fully charged in about two hours when plugged into a wallbox charger.
A switch located on the center console lets the driver choose one of four driving modes called Hybrid, E-Save, Charge and E-Mode, respectively. Hybrid uses both power sources to deliver the best possible blend of performance and fuel efficiency, E-Save shuts off the electric motor in order to keep the battery’s full charge for a later time and Charge tops up the pack on-the-go. In E-Mode, the GLE can drive on electricity alone for over 18 miles at speeds of up to 81 mph.
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Hybrid aside, the M’s engines carry over to the GLE with only minor modifications. The GLE400 4MATIC (formerly called ML400) uses a twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 mill rated at 329 horsepower and 354 foot-pounds of torque, and the GLE350 (née ML350) is powered by a direct-injected V6 tuned to generate 302 ponies and 273 lb-ft. of twist. Both models can tow up to 7,700 pounds when properly equipped.
The GLE300d replaces the ML250 BlueTEC. Power comes from a 2.1-liter four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine that pumps out 201 hp at 3,800 rpm and a stout 369 lb-ft. of torque between 1,600 and 1,800 rpm. The oil-burner shifts through a seven-speed automatic that can be paired with an off-road-focused reduction gear and an inter-axle differential lock.
Sports car on stilts
Mercedes’ newly-formed Mercedes-AMG sub-brand has taken the outgoing ML63 and turned the dial up to 11. The familiar 5.5-liter V8 remains but the GLE63 4MATIC now packs 550 horsepower, over 30 ponies more than the ML63, and 516 lb-ft. of torque. Finally, the new-for-2016 GLE63 S 4MATIC rounds out the lineup with an evolution of the V8 whose output has been bumped to 577 horsepower and 561 foot-pounds of torque. These figures allow it to reach 60 mph from a stop in just 4.2 seconds – nearly on par with the 2016 C63 – before topping out at 155 mph.
The AMG siblings feature thoroughly upgraded brakes and a sport-tuned suspension. Additionally, both models come standard with an Active Curve System that uses active anti-roll bars on both axles to keep body roll in check both on and off the track.
The 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class will go on sale across the nation in the coming months. Pricing information will be published closer to its launch.