Formerly called the M-Class, Mercedes is introducing its 2016 iteration as the GLE-Class. Along with the new name Mercedes-Benz is giving its luxury SUV new powertrains that focus on fuel efficiency in order to round out what is already solid option in a highly competitive segment.
Engine: 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 Hybrid that makes a total of 436 hp and 479 lb ft of torque, 2.1-liter four-cylinder turbo-diesel that makes 201 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque.
Transmission: seven-speed automatic.
Fuel Economy: Hybrid can travel 18.6 miles emissions free.
Price: Starts at $52,025. GLE 350d 4Matic costs $53,425, GLE400 4Matic is $65,525. GLE 550e 4Matic price is TBD.
Besides the new badge and engines, the GLE-Class also features solid on-road performance, excellent off-road capability, a staggering amount of driver assistance features and an extremely comfortable cabin. While it looks similar to last year’s model, there are a few deeper changes that help make the GLE more competitive in its segment. In particular, Mercedes decided to combat the gas-guzzling reputation SUVs have by putting a stronger focus on being more environmentally friendly.
Going Green with Electrons
The first fuel-efficient GLE we tested was the 550e 4Matic model. Under the hood is a 3.0-liter turbocharged six-cylinder engine that’s paired to an electric motor for a total of 436-hp and 479 lb-ft of torque. Those power numbers are quite impressive, but equally eye-opening is that the GLE-Class can travel up to 18.6 miles on electric power alone.
Recharging the car can be done via a charging station or home station and takes just two hours. This new powerplant is accompanied by a seven-speed automatic transmission, and all-wheel drive is standard equipment.
A new philosophy of the GLE-Class is its drive-mode customizability. This extends to the vehicle’s hybrid gas-electric thought-process. There are four modes that impact hybrid operation, the standard is the hybrid mode which automatically chooses when the gas engine shuts off and turns on. There’s also an electric only mode, that will keep the combustion engine at rest, letting the big SUV scoot around quietly at up to 81 mph. Then there’s an e-save mode, which will only use the GLE’s gas engine, letting you save the electric power for later. Finally, there’s a charge mode that will use the gas engine to help charge up the battery while you’re driving. Switching through these settings makes it easier to get extra electric mileage out of the car, while keeping fuel usage to a minimum.
The hybrid GLE-Class doesn’t feel slow or underpowered. With power numbers superior to some V8 engines, the car is certainly quick. The seven-speed automatic transmission, rather than a CVT, which is often used in a hybrid, also makes a big impact in the feeling of speed.
Going Green With Diesel
The second fuel-friendly model we tested is the GLE 300d that houses a tiny 2.1-liter four-cylinder diesel engine under its large hood. Similar to what’s found in the E250 sedan and GLK 250 (now called the GLC) compact crossover, this engine makes a tick over 200 ponies and has a generous helping of torque.
Specifically, it puts out 201 HP and 369 lb-ft, with that torque peaking as soon as 1,600 rpm. It feels punchy, but that’s deceptive. This is still a big luxury SUV, and the GLE-Class will hit 62 MPH in a relatively slow 8.9 seconds. Like the hybrid model, it comes with all-wheel drive and a seven speed automatic transmission. Following a highway heavy drive route, the dashboard computer read just north of 20 MPG.
The GLE-Class will also be available as a GLE350 with a 3.5-liter V6 making 302 HP and 273 lb-ft of torque, as well as a GLE400 with a twin-turbo 3.0-liter V6 engine making 329 hp and 354 lb-ft of torque. And then there’s the GLE63 AMG and GLE63 AMG S which amp things up to 550 and 577-hp respectively, thanks to a 5.5-liter twin turbo V8 engine.
While the hybrid has some unique drive modes that are specific to its drivetrain, other GLE models aren’t left out of the customizable fun. There’s a knob on the center console that allows drivers to switch between comfort, sport and slippery modes, and has a customizable portion called individual. These all adjust the GLE-Class’ powertrain responsiveness, steering feel and suspension set-up, helping the SUV cater to the driver’s needs. I loved the individual mode that allows for mixing and matching the combination of powertrain, chassis and steering settings.
Green? What about Dirty?
4Matic equipped models also get an Off-Road mode while those with the air suspension get even more rugged capability.
Mercedes let us test the off-road capability on an impressive course, where we saw incredibly steep downhill grades. The SUV seemed unphased, even as deep ditches pitched one wheel in the air, or when driven on a 25 percent banking with the threat of a rollover looming, it stayed perfectly poised. Helping out is a descent control setting that doesn’t let the SUV plummet uncontrollably down any hills.
The driving dynamics of the car have been toned up since we last drove the ML-Class SUV. There’s no doubt that the SUV has some truck-like qualities, but the selectable drive settings really do a lot to change the on-road feel. Steering in sport mode is solid with a limited amount of on-center dead-zone. The suspension is comfortable and body roll is properly controlled. In comfort mode though, the car feels less sophisticated and more like a real truck, with a vague steering feel and a bouncy ride.
Regardless of the drive mode, the interior feels luxurious. Premium materials and tactile controls are a highlight of the GLE-Class’ cabin. Finding the right button or feature is easy enough. Everything is within reach and smartly labeled.
The overall design is still reminiscent of the M-Class, with a major exception being the new infotainment display that is perched on top of the dash, as with other modern Mercedes models. The seats are supportive enough and the models I sampled featured supple leather with fantastic contrasting stitched accents. Cargo and passenger space is still quite good with rear seats offering plenty of space for six-foot riders. One caveat of the hybrid model is that the trunk floor is raised up a bit, which impacts cargo space.
There are a number of features that are found on the GLE-Class, including a collision prevention system that can automatically apply the brakes for you. Also available is adaptive cruise control, active lane keep, blind-spot warning system and a crosswind system that helps the car track straight when it’s windy.
The Verdict: 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class Review
The GLE-Class receives a new name with its refresh, but it still feels familiar. The new fuel-efficient powertrains and customizable drive modes are a great addition to the vehicle and only add to its reputation for having smooth driving dynamics, a comfortable interior and high-tech features.