Mercedes-Benz GLE SUV Revealed – First Look
Updated Mercedes ML Gets a New Name and Face
Mercedes-Benz revealed the updated ML-Class today, and with the facelift comes a new name: The SUV formerly known as ML is now called the GLE. Bringing the SUV into line with Benz’s new naming convention, (where “GL-” represents the brand’s mainstream SUVs and “-E” represents the vehicle’s basis on the E-Class model line), the GLE also gets some updates over the ML-Class.
Subtle, New StylingMost obviously, the GLE’s new face matches that of its brother, the already-revealed GLE Coupe hatchback. Falling into line with the Mercedes-Benz’s design schemes, the headlights match the contours of the grille, which features a prominent three-pointed star, inset against two horizontal chrome bars. New LED lighting elements front and rear further the connection with modern Mercedes vehicles, and new bumpers give the SUV a fresher, more contemporary look.
The Mercedes-AMG GLE63 and GLE63 S turn up the wick on the standard model’s already-aggressive styling. AMG’s signature “A-wing” front bumper complements additional side and rear spoilers for a stable, hunkered-down appearance. The front grille receives a single horizontal chrome bar, giving it a gaping, aggressive design that matches the rest of the car.
Overall styling changes are modest; the SUV is still immediately recognizable as the ML’s logical successor. That vehicle’s signature rear quarter window treatment and general silhouette are intact in the GLE. That’s not a bad thing, however, as one of the world’s first midsize luxury SUVs is still incredibly popular with buyers.
Plugged In for the First TimeUnder the skin, the changes are somewhat more apparent. Although still available as the GLE350, GLE400, and GLE300d (nee ML350, ML400, and ML250 BlueTEC), the GLE/ML will be given a plug-in hybrid option for the first time, the GLE550e. 4Matic all-wheel drive is standard on all GLE models except the GLE350, which is available in rear-wheel drive as standard.
In the GLE550e, a direct-injected twin-turbocharged 3.0L V-6 (shared with the GLE400) combines with an electric motor for a total output of 436 hp and 479 lb-ft of torque. E-Mode electric range sits at 18.6 miles, although once the battery is depleted, a hybrid drive mode will help the GLE550e get better fuel economy in most situations. Other drive modes include E-Save, which preserves the battery’s current state of charge for later use, and Charge. The hybrid drive module is fully integrated within the seven-speed automatic transmission, shared across the GLE lineup. That said, the GLE400 will receive a nine-speeder midway through model year 2016.
Rough-Road ReadyThe other mechanical update on the Mercedes-Benz GLE is available on the GLE300d. An optional off-road reduction gear and inter-axle differential lock should endow the diesel with respectable off-road performance. Those who mourned the death of the first-generation body-on-frame ML-Class should be satisfied with the new one’s rugged mechanicals. As on the 2015 ML250 BlueTEC, the 2.1L turbodiesel I-4 in the GLE300d produces 201 hp and an impressive 369 lb-ft of torque. We’d expect the GLE diesel to match or beat its predecessor’s EPA fuel economy ratings of 22/29 mpg city/highway.
AMG Enhanced With New SLike their ML63 AMG forefather, the Mercedes-AMG GLE63 and GLE63 S feature a 5.5L twin-turbo V-8. The “standard” GLE63 makes more power than the ML63, at 550 hp versus 518 hp, and the GLE63 S improves on that even further, with 577 hp. The GLE63 produces the same 516 lb-ft of torque as the ML63, with the S making 561 twist units.
Instead of the seven-speed conventional automatic transmission shared by the rest of the GLE model range, the GLE63 gets AMG’s Speedshift MCT seven-speed multi-clutch transmission. The AMG will also feature more dynamic settings for its transfer case than the standard GLE, and AMG-exclusive drive mode settings help enhance its on-road performance and handling.
Newly Standard Equipment, New InteriorInterior upgrades appear on all GLE models as well, with a substantially larger center media display. Like on other new Mercedes, the screen stands out slightly from the instrument panel. New leather options and interior trim finishes keep the materials looking fresh and modern, while additional standard equipment such as collision prevention, crosswind mitigation, and Dynamic Select drive mode controls keep the GLE competitive with the similarly equipped BMW X5 and Acura MDX.
Is It Enough To Beat Its Tough Competition?We have no reason to doubt that Mercedes loyalists will find lots to like about the GLE-Class. Its new naming scheme aside, this is arguably the same fine SUV that has driven customers into Mercedes showrooms since production started in 1997, albeit updated for the times. However, winning over “free-agent” SUV buyers will be ever more difficult for the GLE, as the Acura MDX, Lexus RX, and Audi Q7 are receiving significant improvements and redesigns in the near future. Even premium-segment upstarts like Jeep and Volvo are getting in on the luxury-SUV game, so the GLE’s competition is tougher and more desirable than ever.
Will the GLE’s improvements over the ML-Class be enough to keep the competitors at bay? We’ll find out in the next few months, as the GLE will be revealed at the New York International Auto Show in April, with sales to begin in August.