2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class First Look
The SUV Formerly Known as ML
Let's be clear right from the start: The new 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE is not to be confused with the GLE Coupe. The GLE Coupe is a fastback SUV that's completely new to the brand. The GLE is essentially the new ML-Class, complete with a fresh look, extra goodies, two new variants, and, of course, a shiny new GLE badge denoting the name change.
From a styling standpoint, it's almost as if the GLE Coupe and ML had a baby. The GLE looks like a perfect 50/50 combination of the two, taking after the GLE Coupe in the front with the same thick-slatted chrome grille, pinned-back headlights, and lower bumper. The nose is also soft and round like the GLE Coupe's, but once you start moving your eyes toward the SUV's rear, all you'll see is the ML. Styling cues taken from its predecessor include its slab-sided tailgate and the signature wraparound rear-quarter window behind the C-pillar. Although the GLE keeps the ML's boxier proportions, it manages to look sleeker, and that could be because dimensions have changed slightly. The GLE is barely longer, now measuring an even 190.0 inches instead of 189.1 inches. It's also a bit thicker at 76.0 inches versus 75.8 inches and a bit taller at 72.0 inches instead of 70.7 inches. As for the wheelbase, it's been stretched from 114.8 inches to 121.0 inches, which should increase passenger room.
Opening the doors reveals a cabin that's completely dominated by GLE Coupe influences. You'll find the same touchscreen that's partially integrated into the dash and sandwiched between the air vents, and the same arrangement of the buttons and controls right below it. The Mercedes COMAND controller sticks around with the same touchpad fitted right above it, and a variety of new colors for the upholstery and wood trim elements make the GLE look more premium than its predecessor. It also feels more premium, with new standard features including crosswind assist and collision prevention assist plus. As always, the more advanced features such as blind-spot assist, active lane keeping, automatic liftgate, and 360-degree rear camera are optional.
Now that all that's out of the way, we can talk about the GLE variants, starting with the brand-spanking-new GLE550e 4Matic. The brand's first SUV plug-in hybrid ever, the GLE550e is powered by a direct-injection V-6 that works with an electric motor to produce a net output of 436 hp and 479 lb-ft of torque. The hybrid's electric energy is stored within a 8.8-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery that helps the SUV travel up to 81 mph on electricity alone. As for range, Mercedes says the GLE550e 4Matic can travel up to 18.6 miles on EV mode. Once power is depleted, a full charge should take around two hours when using a 220-volt power outlet. As on most plug-in hybrids, the GLE550e offers four driving modes: Hybrid, E-mode, E-save, and Charge.
The successor to the ML63 AMG, the Mercedes-AMG GLE63 4Matic, also qualifies as a new model since it received an extra dose of power and spawned a racier GLE63 AMG S model. Although the ML63 AMG's 5.5-liter, twin-turbo V-8 stays put here, it's been uprated from 518 hp to 550 hp in the GLE63 4Matic. Torque remains the same at 516 lb-ft. As for the AMG S model, that swift SUV has a whopping 577 hp and 561 lb-ft of torque. Both AMG models feature the usual AMG treatment complete with blacked-out elements, extra carbon fiber, Alcantara, sport seats, and red accents.
All other variants are pretty much the same with carryover engines. The ML250 BlueTec becomes the GLE300d and is powered by the same 2.1-liter, twin-turbo I-4 diesel that puts out 201 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque. Fuel economy numbers should be different, though, considering the diesel model is now available with an off-road reduction gear and inter-axel differential lock, which Mercedes says should increase efficiency in addition to the new torque converter added to the transmission. For reference, the ML250 BlueTec achieves an EPA-rated 22/29/25 mpg city/highway/combined, so expect the GLE300d to improve those numbers. The ML350 (4Matic) becomes the GLE350 (4Matic), keeping the same 3.5-liter V-6 that makes 302-hp and 273 lb-ft of torque, and the GLE400 4Matic replaces the ML400 with the same 3.0-liter, twin-turbo V-6 that puts out 329 hp and 354 lb-ft. No matter which engine buyers decide to go with, it will come attached to the familiar seven-speed automatic. Word is that the GLE400 will eventually get a nine-speed, but that might not come until the 2017 model year.
Depending on which model is chosen, systems such as Airmatic air suspension, active curve, and agility control are either standard or optional. As usual, the Eco start-stop function, a multifunction steering wheel, 7.0-inch touchscreen, and dynamic select controller are standard across the board.
Although the new naming scheme might confuse buyers at first, we're sure they'll quickly get used to the GLE-Class because it's a lot like the best-selling ML-Class, but better. And if you're wondering about pricing and fuel economy, you'll have to wait until closer to the GLE's August 2015 launch.