The Mercedes-Benz GLE might not be a badge you're used to, but it's effectively a heavily revised M-Class. Sharper-looking, more efficient and with more equipment and better quality fittings inside, it's a class act. As well as diesels and plug-in hybrids, there's also a fire-breathing Mercedes-AMG GLE 63S flagship packing 585PS.
Mercedes-Benz says that the GLE is more than a facelifted M-Class - and in some ways, they're right. Yes, this car is M-Class through and through under the skin, but its changes are more than skin-deep. With the GLE, virtually everything apart from the basic chassis has been tweaked, replaced, improved or completely refreshed. The M-Class spanned three generations. The first, built from 1997 to 2005, was almost universally terrible, with poor build quality and inefficient engines. The handsome second, living from 2005 to 2011, was a class act, replaced by a more cumbersome-looking third-generation model in 2011. That 'fresh from the ground up' 'W166' M-Class design has now been replaced by the GLE. So what's it like?
The biggest sellers in the GLE range will be the diesel models, with the four-cylinder diesel GLE 250 d 4MATIC variant packing 204PS and the V6 GLE 350 d 4MATIC cranking out 258PS. With the start of the GLE generation, all diesel models will be equipped with the nine-speed 9G-TRONIC automatic transmission as standard, for the first time also with the optionally available off-road reduction gear and inter-axle differential lock. If diesel's not your thing, there's a GLE 500e plug-in hybrid 4MATIC variant. This features a BlueDIRECT V6 direct-injection petrol engine with 333PS and a hybrid module with 116PS of electric power. The system peak torque is a massive 650 Newton metres. In addition to impressive acceleration thanks to the boost function, the innovative 'system drive' set-up also offers the option of near-silent all-electric driving at speeds up to 80mph. If high performance is more your thing than high efficiency, then you'll want to sign yourself up for the GLE 63 AMG S. This gets the behemoth 5.5-litre twin-turbo V8 petrol engine that Mercedes will shoehorn into anything that can take it, sending its 585PS through a seven-speed automatic transmission to all four wheels. Mercedes quotes a sprint to 62mph of just 4.2 seconds and an electronically limited top speed of 155mph. The Dynamic Select drive controller includes an additional mode in this model, SPORT+, which adjusts the characteristics for throttle response, gear-change strategy, ESP thresholds, steering power assist and the continuous damper adjustment.
If you're used to the dimensions and proportions of the third-generation M-Class, the GLE isn't going to come as any great surprise. The front end has been tidied up a bit, with a lovely grille design and a classier look to the air intakes, but you'd probably need to park the new and old cars next to each other to pick them. Choose the 'AMG Line' exterior trim package and the GLE gets special front and rear bumpers and 20-inch AMG alloy wheels. Those who like things even more exclusive can combine this feature with the Night package, which features a high-gloss black radiator grille louvre and exterior mirror housings. Inside, the GLE gets a larger media display than its predecessor, and this is now partially integrated into the instrument panel. The centre air vents next to the display and the outer air vents get silver shadow surrounds. The interior colour palette now includes ginger beige, espresso brown, saddle brown or porcelain, which in combination with black interior elements create an interesting contrast. In addition to the standard aluminium with light-coloured longitudinal grain, the large trim elements are also available in a version featuring black piano lacquer or various types of wood: open-pore brown ash wood or the shiny wood types - brown eucalyptus, black poplar or brown burred walnut. There's also AMG carbon-fibre trim if you're feeling racy.
There are in fact two GLE-Class models on offer. As an alternative to BMW's X6, Mercedes is offering the GLE-Class Coupe, a racier sportier-looking SUV that dispenses with lower-order engines and sells at a model-for-model premium of around £4,500 over the standard GLE-Class design. It's that standard, more conventionally-shaped model we focus on here. Prices start at around £50,000 for the GLE 250d 4MATIC in Sport trim, with the AMG Line version adding around £2,400 to that asking price. The 350d starts at just over £56,000, with the 500e plug-in hybrid commanding a hefty £65,000 sticker price. Should you hanker after the GLE 63S, you'll need to stump up nearly £95,000. As an option, the latest generation of COMAND Online offers a 20.3 cm (8-inch) TFT display and touchpad. The system also includes a DVD player and Traffic Sign Assist with traffic sign recognition including wrong-way warning function. If required, the customer can equip COMAND Online with the 6-disc DVD changer, Rear Seat Entertainment System with remote control, TV receiver or Bang & Olufsen Sound AMG sound system. This being a Mercedes, you get plenty of safety kit. Twin front, side and full length curtain airbags are fitted, as well as a knee airbag for the driver. Rear seat side airbags can also be specified.
Mercedes quotes a figure of 52.3mpg with emissions of 140g/km for the GLE 250d, with the 350d netting 44.1mpg and 169g/km. The company reckons the GLE range as a whole enjoys a 17% improvement in fuel economy and emissions compared to the outgoing M. The GLE 500e plug-in hybrid is an interesting vehicle, capable of driving 18 miles on electric power alone at speeds of up to 80mph. The posted figures for this car are 85.6mpg with CO2 emissions of 78g/km. Of course, for some people fuel economy and emissions really aren't a pressing concern and these are the buyers who might well be drawn to the GLE 63S. Now, we all know that you'll rarely approach the manufacturer-quoted fuel economy figures in real life, so we can't wait to get our hands on one of these to find out just how close to the claimed 23.9mpg it'll manage. CO2 emissions are rated 278g/km.
Mercedes has taken the opportunity to realign its utility vehicle range under the G-label. The M-Class becomes the GLE to fit in with that naming scheme and Stuttgart has given the car a thorough going over in the transition. It still looks much like an M-Class, but it's more efficient, features new kit, looks a bit sharper and the cabins enjoy a better finish. Prices haven't really crept up too much, so it's a win-win as far as we can see. Unless you're BMW. From the modest GLE 250d to the monster 63S AMG, the range offers plenty of variety and no shortage of capability. It'll need it though. With new models arriving from the likes of Audi, Porsche and Range Rover, Mercedes need to keep right on top of things. For the time being at least, they look to have things covered.