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.
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.