As the 2016 model year began, Mercedes-Benz took its M-Class family SUV, modified the body and interior, and changed its model designation to GLE. Not only the name, but the new front end, brought this luxury utility vehicle in accord with the rest of the lineup.
For 2017, the turbodiesel variant was dropped, but a plug-in hybrid remains, along with a quartet of gasoline engines. The off-road option package also faded away. A rearview camera is newly standard, as is 4G LTE wi-fi. Otherwise, except for new gray and blue body colors, little has changed.
Five distinct versions are available: GLE350, plug-in GLE550e, and three Mercedes-AMG variants: GLE43, GLE63, and GLE63 S. Each blends a handsome body with a quiet ride.
In addition to models with the conventional SUV body, the lineup includes two versions of Mercedes-Benz’s more audacious four-door coupe body style.
Each trim level gets a different engine. The base GLE350 holds a 3.5-liter V6 that makes 302 horsepower and 275 pound-feet of torque. Mating with a 7-speed automatic transmission, the GLE350 can have either rear-drive or all-wheel drive. All other versions come only with 4MATIC all-wheel drive.
Next in line, the new Mercedes-AMG GLE43 gets a 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 that develops 362 horsepower and 384 pound-feet, with a 9-speed automatic.
Topping the performance scale are two Mercedes-AMG models with twin-turbo 5.5-liter V8 engines. In the GLE63, the V8 generates 550 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque. The GLE63 S contains a 577-horsepower rendition that issues 559 pound-feet. Acceleration to 60 mph is achieved in approximately 4 seconds.
Beneath the hood of the plug-in GLE550e is a direct-injected 3.5-liter V6 rated at 329 horsepower, coupled to a hybrid unit that develops 114 horsepower. Total hybrid-system output comes to 436 horsepower and 479 pound-feet of torque. The GLE550e can travel up to 19 miles on electricity alone. Four driving modes are available. Recharging of the 8.8-kWh battery, using a 220-volt charger, takes about two hours.
Although the federal government has not crash-tested the GLE, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave it Good ratings in each category, with a Top Safety Pick+ award. Advanced safety features were dubbed Superior.
Plenty of advanced safety technology is available, but most items are offered in costly option packages. Attention Assist (drowsiness detection) is standard.
GLE350 ($52,000) includes the 302-horsepower engine, sunroof, power liftgate, Bluetooth, dual-zone climate control, heated front seats, 19-inch wheels, keyless ignition, rearview camera, 8.0-inch display, and parking sensors. All-wheel drive adds $2,500. (Prices are MSRP and do not include $925 destination charge.)
GLE400 ($65,650), with a 329-horsepower V6, faded away during the 2017 model year.
Mercedes-AMG GLE43 ($67,150) comes with the 362-horsepower V6, all-wheel drive, and 9-speed automatic.
Mercedes-AMG GLE43 Coupe ($69,650) features a sport steering system, air suspension with continuously variable adaptive damping, Active Curve System with active roll stabilization, and AMG sport front seats.
Mercedes-AMG GLE63 ($101,690) gets the handcrafted 550-horsepower V8, plus parking assist and a surround-view camera system.
Mercedes-AMG GLE63 S ($108,840) is similar to GLE63, but with a 577-horsepower V8.
Mercedes-AMG GLE63 S Coupe ($110,650) is equipped similar to regular SUV with the 577-horsepower V8.
GLE550e plug-in hybrid ($66,300) adds leather seating, \\adaptive suspension, Harman Kardon Logic7 sound, and COMAND navigation with an 8.0-inch screen and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. Active-safety features include lane tracking and lane-keeping assist.
Handsome throughout in either body style, the current GLE has a refined, almost carlike, appearance. Wider than some midsize SUVs, the GLE flaunts rather emphatic front-end styling, framed by sculpted fenders.
Available LED lighting helps establish a sense of modernity. Though formal and attractive, the rear end is a bit ordinary, with rectangular exhaust outlets.
Sporting a fashionable, lower-slung roof, Coupes suffer a reduction in practicality for passengers. Critics may scoff, but the four-door GLE Coupe makes quite an impression.
Most notably, the GLE blends luxurious fittings with comfortable accommodations. Not only are front seats nicely-contoured and satisfying in comfort, but the back seat offers plenty of space for adults. Three will fit in back, but might feel too snug during longer journeys. AMG performance models feature aluminum trim and firmly bolstered sport seats.
Cabin details suggest Mercedes-Benz sedans, but with a sportier nature. Fit and finish excel. The 8.0-inch infotainment screen is freestanding.
The center console holds the COMAND controller, below a touchpad that’s within easy reach. Not everyone appreciates the screen-based COMAND interface.
Rear legroom is decent even in Coupes. Climbing aboard is easy enough, but heads of six-foot passengers are likely to reach the carved-out headliner.
With back seats up, SUV models provide 38.2 cubic feet of cargo volume. Coupes offer 23 cubic feet with a wide, low cargo floor, but they lack a folding rear seat.
In any form, the GLE delivers a quiet, comfortable, well-composed ride. Predictable highway behavior is the rule, though suspensions feel a trifle softer than some rivals.
Considering its rugged capabilities, a GLE performs masterfully on the road. Six-cylinder GLEs have steel springs, yielding a comfortable ride. AMG editions get air springs with continuously variable damping (optional for V6 models). Roadholding is most impressive in AMG models, without excessive loss of ride comfort, though the busy suspension can affect stability on straightaways.
As many as five driving modes are available: Individual, Comfort, Slippery, Sport, and Sport+. They can alter powertrain, chassis, steering, and suspension, and modify engine sound. Comfort mode provides a more traditional luxury ride, but tends to demand numerous small adjustments to stay on course. Sport mode provides a crisper feel and a more relaxed ride, adding only a touch of harshness
The GLE350’s V6 engine ranks among the best in its category, capable of accelerating to 60 mph in 7.5 seconds. Mercedes-AMG versions are far quicker. Power arrives strongly in GLE43 models, which come across as performance machines, more than everyday drivers. Sport mode makes it noisier, but 60 mph is reached in 5.6 seconds.
Moving up to GLE63 level slashes that acceleration figure to just over 4 seconds. Coupes are offered only in top-performance trim. Even the GLE550e plug-in hybrid is a strong performer, though its powertrain feels a trifle less coordinated. Most GLE SUVs are rated to tow up to 7,200 pounds.
Fuel economy trails some competitors. The base GLE350 is EPA-rated at 18/23 mpg City/Highway, or 20 mpg Combined. All-wheel drive drops those figures to 18/22/19 mpg. The Mercedes-AMG GLE43 is EPA-rated at 17/23 mpg City/Highway, or 20 mpg Combined, while the GLE63 manages only 13/17/15 mpg. The GLE550e plug-in hybrid is EPA-rated at 21 mpg combined (43 MPGe).
Even the GLE350 base models come with standard features that would be appropriate in a luxury automobile. Add a few options, typically offered in packages, and the GLE starts to approach ultra-luxury level. Stylish Coupes add a level of visual drama unheard-of in the past, clearly demonstrating that SUVs need not look alike; but a price is paid in loss of utility.
Driving impressions by Aaron Cole, The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.