What was the M-Class (ML350, ML400, etc.) has been renamed GLE for the 2016 model year. This third-generation product was introduced for the 2012 model year, so it is now going into its fourth model year. Besides being renamed, it has been revised for 2016 and the lineup has been expanded to include a sporty new GLE Coupe.
Sounds confusing, but it’s all part of Mercedes-Benz’s decision to give its vehicles unified model designations. Launching the Coupe positions the GLE into closer alignment with BMW’s shapely X5 and X6.
Apart from the addition of the Coupe, the GLE has been refreshed for 2016 with a revised instrument panel and subtle exterior styling. The more pronounced front end displays closer kinship to styling of other Mercedes-Benz models. Cabin appointments have adopted infotainment elements from sedans. New trim options include novel woodgrains and carbon fiber.
The 2016 GLE includes gasoline, hybrid, plug-in hybrid, diesel, and AMG versions. Diesels, formerly dubbed BlueTec, now get a d suffix. Hybrid models get an h, and plug-in hybrids an e.
The GLE300d comes with a 2.1-liter four-cylinder turbodiesel engine rated at 201 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque. A normally aspirated 302-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 goes into the GLE350, with rear- or 4MATIC all-wheel drive.
The all-wheel-drive GLE400 4MATIC gets a 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6, generating 329 horsepower. Each of those engines mates with a 7-speed automatic transmission.
The new GLE550e plug-in hybrid has a 329-horsepower, direct-injected 3.5-liter V6 with a hybrid module, for total output of 436 horsepower. Able to travel up to 19 miles on electricity alone, it has four driving modes. Recharging its 8.8-kwh battery at 220 volts takes about two hours.
AMG GLE63’s 5.5-liter twin-turbo V8 develops 550 horsepower. Acceleration to 60 mph occurs as quickly as 4.2 seconds. Tow ratings for the GLE are as high as 7,700 pounds.
Two powertrains are offered for the GLE Coupe, both with 4MATIC four-wheel drive. The GLE450 AMG 4MATIC Coupe has a twin-turbo V6 rated at 362 horsepower and 384 pound-feet, with a 9-speed automatic. The GLE63 S 4MATIC Coupe gets a 577-horsepower, 5.5-liter V8 engine and 7-speed automatic.
GLE models may be fitted with COMAND connectivity and infotainment, displayed on an 8-inch screen. Harman Kardon and Bang & Olufsen audio systems are on the availability list as well as a rear-seat DVD entertainment system. A Parking package adds parking assist and surround-view cameras.
The 2016 GLE350 ($51,100) has the 302-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 and comes with heated power front seats, a power steering column, auto-dimming mirrors, Dynamic Select modes, keyless start with keypad, and a power liftgate. MB-Tex vinyl seating surfaces are standard, with leather an option. GLE350 4MATIC ($53,600) substitutes all-wheel drive for the standard GLE350 rear-drive layout.
GLE300d 4MATIC ($52,500) gets the 2.1-liter diesel engine and all-wheel drive.
GLE400 4MATIC ($64,600) has a 329-horsepower, 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 and all-wheel drive.
GLE550e a plug-in hybrid with a 329-horsepower V6 engine, battery pack and hybrid module, for 436-horsepower total output.
AMG GLE63 4MATIC ($99,950) unleashes a 550-horsepower V8 engine with 7-speed automatic transmission. AMG editions have their own unique content, including aluminum trim and intensely bolstered, perforated-leather sport seats. AMG GLE63 S 4MATIC ($107,100) gets a 557-horsepower version of the V8 engine.
GLE450 AMG 4MATIC Coupe ($65,100) is equipped with the 362-horsepower, 3.0-liter V6 engine and 9-speed automatic. A Stop/Start feature is included, along with a power liftgate, heated front seats, COMAND navigation, and Attention Assist. AMG GLE63 S 4MATIC Coupe ($109,300) has the 577-horsepower V8 and 7-speed automatic, with all-wheel drive. Nappa leather upholstery 14-way power front seats, and 22-inch wheels are standard.
Safety features include active cruise control with steering assist, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping assist, lane-departure warning, and forward-collision warning with automatic braking.
Mercedes-Benz has given this utility vehicle a more refined feel and look. That includes a more road-oriented, wider stance and a more carlike appearance.
Though its M-Class foundation remains, new front styling for 2016 features a drawn-back air dam and sculpted fenders. Sportier details are evident throughout. Despite being more rounded, the 2016 GLE grille comes across as more imposing. Metal side steps and larger wheels add a dressier tone, while LED lighting sets a modern theme.
The GLE Coupe is a dramatically different interpretation. Instead of remaining largely level past the rear seats, the roofline suggests the arc of a French Curve, meeting a lipped spoiler built into the rear hatch.
Little has changed dramatically inside, though details help align this SUV with other Mercedes-Benz vehicles. Regardless of model, materials and comfort are superb.
Excellent seats are soft and nicely contoured, yet long-haul supportive. The SUV’s second row can accommodate taller adults, though three across won’t be totally comfortable. Rear seatbacks adjust, and when up, the cargo space can yield more than 36 cubic feet.
Revamped sport seats, freestanding infotainment screens, and restyled, somewhat smaller steering wheels help create a sportier ambiance. The COMAND controller is housed in the center console, with its touchpad above. We’re still not fans of screen-based COMAND, which demands too much looking at the screen.
GLE Coupes convey a sportier, lower-slung look, thanks to their downward-arcing roofline. As expected, a price must be paid. Entry is easy enough and front legroom is decent, but headroom is lacking. Backseat space is skimpy. The flat cargo floor is low, but long and wide.
Tight, quiet, isolated is our impression of ride quality for the GLE. The standard suspension not only provides good comfort, but responds well when pushed into corners.
There’s a big difference between modes with the available adaptive damping system and air suspension. Comfort provides a more traditional luxury-car ride, while Sport has a crisper feel, with slightly more harshness. Configured for optimum traction in a given situation, the modes now control chassis, powertrain, steering, suspension settings and engine sounds. AMG models add a Sport-plus mode.
Ride quality in all versions is quiet and refined. Steering tends to require more small adjustments than we’d like in Comfort mode, while the Sport mode feels more easygoing.
Considering its rugged ability, the GLE performs remarkably well on the road. Active anti-roll bars offer even more impressive roadholding, with some sacrifice in ride quality. Versions meant for off-roading get an Offroad-plus package, with a locking differential, reduction gear, plus an extended-range air suspension.
Fuel economy is appealing in the GLE300d, which accelerates from 0-60 mph in an estimated 8.9 seconds. The turbodiesel doesn’t sound as smooth as some might expect from a Mercedes-Benz, but it reaches speed easily, without downshifts.
We rank the gasoline 3.5-liter among the best luxury V6 engines. An evenly spaced powerband makes it feel sprightly from a standing start or when passing.
With its 5.5-liter twin-turbo V-8, the Mercedes-AMG GLE63 reaches 60 mph in as little as 4.2 seconds. The Mercedes-AMG GLE450 4MATIC Coupe has a twin-turbo V6 and 9-speed automatic, which performs flawlessly, but engine noise might be an issue with the GLE450. While the GLE550e offers strong performance, its powertrain doesn’t feel quite as perfectly coordinated.
The GLE comprises such a wide array of models, from the extravagant AMG GLE63, to the efficiency-minded GLE300d. Even on lower-level versions, standard equipment is extensive, including impressive safety features (either standard or optional). The strong, fuel-efficient diesel is a tempting choice.
Driving impressions by Bengt Halvorson, The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.