GLE-Class is a worthy M-Class replacement
Mercedes-Benz wants to provide power to the people, and in the new M-Class replacing GLE, the luxury SUV’s power runs on every popular fuel source available. There are diesel choices, gas choices, and even electric hybrid choices.
No matter which one you choose, the new 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class proves to be a much better replacement than the Mercedes M-Class it replaces. It may share the same underpinnings as the M-Class but arrives in a much cleaner package, with more options and the same solid ride.
During a two-day test drive of the 2016 GLE in Germany and Austria, I got behind the wheel of four different variants, from the 577-horsepower Mercedes-AMG GLE63 S 4Matic to a more mainstream GLE400 4Matic with its 329-horsepower, 354-lb-ft direct-injection, twin-turbo V-6.
While the AMG models and two 2016 GLE Coupe versions (covered elsewhere) dial in a much sportier SUV, it was the GLE400 4Matic model I found most impressive. This mid-level variant provides lots of space, a solid smooth ride and all of the creature comforts a family would want.
The interior is spectacular with its high-gloss wood trim, stitched leather, and well-crafted elements. The large display screen at the top of the center stack is clean and looks like an iPad mounted nicely between two vents. The center console includes the easy to use COMAND controller to click through the different screens. There’s also the smaller wheel to use Mercedes Dynamic Select, which allows the driver to select his or her preferred driving mode from comfort to sport. The system adjusts steering, transmission shift points, and suspension settings.
But there is even more control for the driver. Mercedes packs the GLE with numerous safety features including brake and pedestrian detection, blind spot assist, and active lane keeping assist that will gently vibrate the steering wheel when the vehicle drives over a line. It also includes adaptive cruise control that adds steering assist and a stop-and-go pilot that allows a driver to cruise through heavy traffic with hardly any effort.
When backing up, a bird’s eye view of the vehicle appears to show you exactly why the park assist is beeping. The available LED lighting system will also improve vision at night with crisp, bright headlights.
Whether speeding down the autobahn or stuck in a stau, the GLE will wrap its occupants in pure comfort. The ride is deliciously smooth and remarkably quiet; very little of the outside world seeps into the cabin.
Although I did not like the feel of the GLE Coupes’ steering, I thought the regular GLE’s steering felt comfortably numb. I did not have the same expectations in this SUV and thus, the additional play on the wheel was perfectly acceptable. The GLE drives like an SUV. It feels heavy and solid and comfortable.
From the driver’s seat, the regular GLE also has better sightlines than its coupe counterpart. The less steep windshield positions the A-pillars differently so vision is not obstructed as much, and the bigger back window provides more visibility.
U.S. buyers who skip the turbodiesel-four-powered GLE300d 4Matic (shown here as a European-spec GLE250d) and GLE350 with its naturally aspirated V-6 will find plenty of power in the GLE400 4Matic. All 354 lb-ft of torque kick in at 1,400 rpm to provide quick and powerful responses. Mercedes says the GLE400 4Matic can go from 0 to 60 mph in about 6 seconds, which at 4,700 pounds, is pretty good.
The new nine-speed automatic transmission was more than pretty good—it was downright silky smooth. The transmission moves through the gears silently, with hardly a bump during aggressive acceleration. It also did not seem like it was in a hurry to get to ninth gear too quickly, holding lower gears when I wanted it to and even quickly downshifting to help slow the vehicle on steep downhills. Of course, it was more aggressive when changing driving modes but even in the comfort mode it felt responsive. If this were my daily-driver, I’d turn off the engine stop-start system every time. It’s clunky and unrefined, especially because when it shuts off the vehicle, the steering wheel doesn’t move, creating a moment of panic every time you pull on the wheel and it feels locked. (As soon as you take your foot off the brake, the vehicle quickly starts and the wheel moves again.)
The 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE550e plug-in hybrid was equally impressive on the road with its extremely quiet ride and fast acceleration. Additionally, it includes four different modes for driving including regular hybrid mode, electric only and a recharge mode that charges the battery pack as you drive in order to have a full charge later. This may become increasingly important in hybrids if cities begin to require electric-only driving in some areas. It’s the future and the future is here.
The GLE’s exterior wraps an exquisite interior. The Mercedes SUV keeps its boxy shape, though the fenders gently curve out away from the body. The big Mercedes emblem dominates the front end, highlighted with chrome. The headlights wrap around the front end and give the GLE a much stronger appearance. The backside has big LED taillights and dual integrated exhaust tips. The profile includes a roofline that sweeps to the rear and hard lines chiseled into the side. It’s sharp and clean, where the M-Class it replaces was smoother and less defined.
The GLE, no matter what flavor of powertrain a person selects, is the complete package. It still has the utility to carry all the gear for a hockey team, but it does so with more luxury than before. It can get the groceries, deliver the kids to school, and still be ready for a road trip. That’s the real power to this SUV, it does everything buyers in this segment will want.
|2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV|
|ENGINES|| 2.1L/201-hp/369-lb-ft turbodiesel DOHC 16-valve I-4
3.5L/302-hp/273-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6
3.0L/329-hp/354-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve V-6
3.0L/329-hp/354-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve V-6 plus 114-hp/251 lb-ft electric motor; 436-hp/479 lb-ft combined
5.5L/550-577-hp/516-561-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8
|TRANSMISSIONS||7- or 9-speed automatic|
|CURB WEIGHT||4,600-5,200 lb (mfr)|
|LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT||189.1-191.0 x 76.1 x 69.3-70.7 in|
|0-60 MPH||4.2-8.9 sec (mfr est)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||Not yet rated|
|ON SALE IN U.S.||Fall 2015|