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First drive: Mercedes-Benz GLE 500 e. Image by Mercedes-Benz.

First drive: Mercedes-Benz GLE 500 e
Merc's renamed luxury SUV gets a plug-in hybrid drivetrain of rare distinction.

 



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Mercedes-Benz GLE 500 e

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

Given the GLE nameplate to make it fit in with the new Mercedes-Benz SUV badging hierarchy, the artist formerly known as the ML, or M-Class, remains a leading contender in the premium 4x4 marketplace. Especially when it's equipped with this stupendous hybrid drivetrain.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Mercedes-Benz GLE 500 e
Pricing: £64,995; GLE starts from £49,280
Engine: 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged V6 petrol with synchronous electric motor
Transmission: four-wheel drive, seven-speed automatic
Body style: five-door SUV
CO2 emissions: 78g/km (VED Band A, £0)
Combined economy: 76.4mpg
Top speed: 152mph
0-62mph: 5.3 seconds
Power: petrol 333hp at 5,250- to 6,000rpm; electric 116hp at 3,500rpm; system maximum 442hp
Torque: petrol 480Nm at 1,600- to 4,000rpm; electric 340Nm at 0rpm; system maximum 650Nm

What's this?

The Mercedes-Benz GLE. And you're looking at it thinking 'I've seen this before'. Well, you have - this is the vehicle that used to be known as the ML, or M-Class, and it's been around in one form or another since 1997, when it was arguably the first luxury 4x4 that could conceivably challenge a Range Rover. The naming policy of Merc's SUV line-up has been changed to simplify it, with the GL part referring to the G-Class (Geländewagen) and the following letter linking whichever SUV you're looking at to the Mercedes car it is related to: so the GLA is the A-Class, the GLC is the... well, we think you get the picture. Above the GLE will be a GLS before too long, which will be an evolution of the gargantuan range-topper at the moment, the GL.

There's little that has changed externally in the transformation from ML to GLE, although it's interesting to note that while facelifting it mildly from the M-Class, the 'regular' GLE shares very few visual components with the GLE Coupé that has been created to sit alongside it; even the creases running through the doors are different. The interior of the GLE is absolutely superb, with lovely dash architecture, the new infotainment screen sitting more comfortably in the console and some displays to mark this out as a hybrid. That's right, the GLE 500 e is the first plug-in hybrid (PHEV) SUV from Mercedes, set to take on the BMW X5 xDrive40e, the Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine and any forthcoming e-tron version of the Audi Q7. And the Lexus RX, too. It's getting to be a congested marketplace.

The 500 e does little to give the PHEV game away outside, save for the charging flap that is neatly integrated into the corner of the rear bumper and some discreet badging. But inside's another matter. While you can't specify a seven-seat GLE in any format, meaning you can't criticise the PHEV for being a five-seater, the way the boot floor rises up like a small plateau to accommodate the battery pack is a bit of an issue. It offers 480 litres with the rear seats up and 1,800 litres with them down where other GLEs record 690- and 2,010 litres. Maybe it can compensate with its astonishing economy and emissions figures...

How does it drive?

Wonderfully, thanks to Mercedes tackling the PHEV recipe by mixing in a lot of power. The Stuttgart company has taken the 333hp biturbo V6 engine from the GLE 400 model and added a 116hp electric motor to it, and while the maximum output of 442hp isn't the sum of its parts, it comfortably eclipses the Volvo XC90's 400hp and blows the 313hp X5 xDrive40e into the weeds. The flipside of this is that it's more money than either, around £4,000 in the case of the Swedish machine and possibly more than £10,000 in excess of the BMW once that car's UK prices are confirmed.

But it feels worth the extra cash, because the drivetrain is magnificent. Four driving modes can be selected, which cycle between hybrid running, full electric running (with a 19-mile range) and maintaining the battery's charge and putting juice back into the battery; and all of them work a treat. In fact, on a 40-mile jaunt through Kitzbühel and Austria's northern countryside - all while easily keeping up with traffic - the 500 e did everything it could to stay in zero-emissions running and managed to arrive at our destination with charge still in hand. And it delivered a combined economy figure of 54.3mpg. We fully accept that motorway work will drop that number drastically, but even so we're impressed that so powerful a hybrid can actually achieve diesel-like economy figures in normal driving conditions.

The GLE feels quick when properly stoked up with both motors delivering the beefy 650Nm to all four wheels, but its real party trick is high-grade refinement. Tyre noise is minimal, wind noise is absent and the 500 e rides beautifully on Airmatic self-levelling suspension, probably because it's the heaviest GLE of the lot at 2,465kg, making it a magnificent thing to just cruise about in. The gearbox is a smooth operator, the brakes lack that grabby feeling some recuperative systems possess and even the steering is brilliantly calibrated. We definitely prefer it to the BMW X5, big price increase or not. Compared to the Volvo XC90? That's a tougher call, because the T8 Twin Engine is one of the most astounding cars you could wish to drive. And it can seat seven people.

Oh, one final footnote on the GLE: Mercedes laid on a merciless off-road route on the side of an Austrian Alp for the 350 d model to deal with. Admittedly, the diesel was equipped with a £1,950 Off-Road Package (centre differential lock, off-road tyres, a low-range gear, reinforced underbody panelling, an Off-Road+ mode in the Dynamic Select menu and additional Airmatic ride height settings), but it tackled steep and sharp uphill gravel hairpins, a 58 per cent corkscrew descent, slippery mud inclines involving severe axle travel and great big potholes with absolute ease. So if you're one of the sneering types who thinks luxury SUVs can't handle the rough stuff, think again.

Verdict

Mercedes' masterstroke in creating this GLE hybrid was not falling into the trap of thinking the smallest engine possible with electric augmentation could haul around a physically big SUV body. By giving it more power, it seems the 500 e manages to eke out its fuel and charge reserves better than rivals, which is surely the point of a PHEV. The boot is severely compromised and it's the most expensive vehicle of its type in this fledgling class, but the GLE 500 e is a fabulous machine that feels worth the high entry price.

4 4 4 4 4 Exterior Design

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Interior Ambience

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Passenger Space

3 3 3 3 3 Luggage Space

5 5 5 5 5 Safety

5 5 5 5 5 Comfort

4 4 4 4 4 Driving Dynamics

5 5 5 5 5 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 26 Jun 2015









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2015 Mercedes-Benz GLE 500 e. Image by Mercedes-Benz.2015 Mercedes-Benz GLE 500 e. Image by Mercedes-Benz.2015 Mercedes-Benz GLE 500 e. Image by Mercedes-Benz.2015 Mercedes-Benz GLE 500 e. Image by Mercedes-Benz.2015 Mercedes-Benz GLE 500 e. Image by Mercedes-Benz.

2015 Mercedes-Benz GLE 500 e. Image by Mercedes-Benz.2015 Mercedes-Benz GLE 500 e. Image by Mercedes-Benz.2015 Mercedes-Benz GLE 500 e. Image by Mercedes-Benz.2015 Mercedes-Benz GLE 500 e. Image by Mercedes-Benz.2015 Mercedes-Benz GLE 500 e. Image by Mercedes-Benz.



2015 Mercedes-Benz GLE 500 e. Image by Mercedes-Benz.
 

2015 Mercedes-Benz GLE 500 e. Image by Mercedes-Benz.
 

2015 Mercedes-Benz GLE 500 e. Image by Mercedes-Benz.
 

2015 Mercedes-Benz GLE 500 e. Image by Mercedes-Benz.
 

2015 Mercedes-Benz GLE 500 e. Image by Mercedes-Benz.
 

2015 Mercedes-Benz GLE 500 e. Image by Mercedes-Benz.
 

2015 Mercedes-Benz GLE 500 e. Image by Mercedes-Benz.
 

2015 Mercedes-Benz GLE 500 e. Image by Mercedes-Benz.
 






 

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