KITZBUHEL, AUSTRIA – For Mercedes-Benz, 2015 is the year of the SUV. The company has five players in the game and has updated four of them this year. The latest is the ML, which has not only received an update, but also a new name – GLE.
In Mercedes' new naming protocol, the GL is the identifier for SUVs and the third letter corresponds to that of the equivalent passenger car range. Hence the GLE is the SUV equivalent of the E-Class in the brand hierarchy.
Boasting an extensive facelift and a hefty dose of new features and technologies, the 2016 GLE will arrive this fall in four trim levels ranging from a thrifty diesel to a stonking 577-horsepower gasoline-fueled monster with enough power to ripple pavement. It will be followed by a new range-topper, based on the S-Class sedan.
Until then, the new GLE will carry the company flag.
Four models for Canada
Known internally as the W166, the GLE will come to Canada in 350d, 400, 550 and AMG 63S guises – all with the 4th generation 4Matic system. Production begins in July with delivery to dealers slated for the fourth quarter.
The fourth generation 4Matic all-wheel-drive system is standard across the board. The diesel (350d) gets a new nine-speed automatic transmission while the rest carry on with the seven-speed currently in use.
The GLE is new inside and out, from the sculpted louvers in the new grille to the duet of tail pipes. The inside has been tastefully upgraded, with upholstery available in several new shades.
The upper instrument panel area has been redesigned, as have the HVAC vents, and the rear seat continues to offer enough width for a trio of child seats.
Refinement and speed
The 2016 GLE offers anywhere from 249 to 577 horsepower in its various guises, but still manages a 17% improvement in fuel efficiency across the board compared to the ML.
I drove a plug-in hybrid version that will set new standards for fuel efficiency when it arrives in 2017 or so. I managed 24 kilometres on pure electric power on the sinuous roads in and around the Alps near here with no attempt to maximize mileage.
When the gasoline engine took over, the switch was seamless as was the operation of the Intelligent Energy Management System.
But that plug-in hybrid is for the future. Looking at the near-term, I had the opportunity to drive several pre-production versions of the new GLE on a variety of roads in Germany and Austria during this global launch. The driving included some high-speed dashes on the Autobahn as well as a diabolical off-road course.
Between the two were several hundred kilometres of rural and city driving – where the GLE is most likely to be found.
The initial impression is one of refinement – regardless of drivetrain – and speed. This is a very quiet vehicle on the road. The new body style slides through the air with less resistance, and thus wind noise, while other updates have pretty much eliminated road noise.
Real off-road capability
While there is little change in the powertrain department, the GLE gets a Dynamic Select switch on the console that lets the driver select comfort, sport, slippery, individual and off-road settings which alter the response from the throttle, transmission and ESP system appropriately. The AMG 63 S gets a Sport mode which also lowers the vehicle by 25-mm.
An off-road package is also available which adds further technology aimed at that specific activity. Mercedes provided an opportunity to sample this wizardry including 30-degree inclines and side slopes, both of which were handled with ease.
Cresting a hill and starting down a muddy 30-degree slope is daunting at the best of times, doing so without touching the brakes, trusting the electronics to keep control even more so.
The off-road package also includes a camera to show what lies ahead that you can’t see over the hood.
It is hard to believe anyone would take one of these luxurious SUVs into such situations, but I can attest to the fact it will handle it.
Luxury, technology and safety
As befits a luxury SUV wearing the three-pointed star, the GLE is fitted with a raft of luxury, technical and safety features.
A heated steering wheel and automatic climate control are standard on all models, as are a host of safety features, including Attention, Collision Prevention and Blind Spot Assists and Magic Vision wipers with more than 16 washer nozzles.
Also standard is Crosswind Assist that utilizes the ESP system to make minute adjustments to keep things on the straight and true in heavy winds and when buffeted by semi-trailers.
Also available are Premium, Sport, Exclusive, LED lighting and Intelligent Drive option packages as well as some standalone options.
Mercedes' COMAND navigation system is standard on the 550 and AMG 63S versions and available as an option on the others.
Altogether, it's an impressive package. The new Mercedes-Benz GLE feels right at home, whether at the opera or the ski slopes – and it can climb those slopes!
Model: 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE Class
GLE 350d –3.0 - litre turbocharged V-6 diesel, 249-horsepower, 457 lb-ft of torque
GLE 400 – 3.0-litre twin turbo V-6, 329-horsepower, 354 lb-ft of torque
GLE 550 – 4.7-litre twin turbo V-8, 429-horsepower, 516 lb-ft of torque
AMG GLE 63 S – twin-turbo 5.5-litre V8, 577-horsepower, 560 lb-ft of torque
Transmission: GLE 63 – seven-speed automatic; others nine-speed automatic
Drivetrain: 4Matic all-wheel-drive
Length: 4,819 mm
Width: 1,998 mm
Wheelbase: 2,915 mm