- New four-door Coupe model offers more choice
- Impressive safety set
- Strong, fuel-efficient diesel
- Coupe skimps on backseat space, versatility
- Name change potentially confusing
- Non-AMG V-8 option gone
The M-Class gets a new lease on luxury-crossover life as the 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class—and it's joined by a swoopy new Coupe variant.
The GLE-Class is a completely new nameplate this year—and while the sleek new GLE Coupe is an entirely new form for Mercedes-Benz, the model line itself isn’t all-new. The luxury automaker is in the midst of a comprehensive nomenclature change, and the former M-Class (or ML) is now called the GLE
With the introduction of the GLE Coupe, the GLE-Class is now more closely aligned with the X5 and X6. The GLE-Class has a revised instrument-panel design, new trims, and some new exterior details, including a front-end design that corresponds closely with the direction of other new models from the brand. Features and options have also been revamped, and a new plug-in hybrid model joins the lineup, along with finessed, high-performance Mercedes-Benz GLE (and GLE Coupe) 63 AMG and GLE63 S AMG models.
Most utility vehicles will be labeled with GL plus the letter of the Mercedes sedan that's closest in size—thus GLE, for the vehicle that's been known as the M-Class or ML. The BlueTec label is replaced for diesels with a "d," while Hybrid models get an "h"—and plug-in hybrids, an "e." All of those letters come into play with the new GLE-Class, which comes not just in both body styles, but with a range of powertrains that stretches from a turbodiesel inline-4, a plug-in hybrid, a twin-turbo V-6, and a storming turbocharged V-8 AMG edition.
Across the board, the GLE-Class gets more emphatic front-end styling, as well as larger wheels and metal side steps, and LED lighting. The new front-end appearance has a more drawn-back air dam, chunkier grille, and sculpted fenders, and it carries into all the new GLE models, not just the GLE Coupe. Cabin appointments in the GLE have received a modest refresh as well, to take on all the infotainment elements familiar from the C-, E- and S-Class models. New trim options include carbon fiber and new woodgrain finishes, while the center console houses the COMAND controller and touchpad. A large display screen sits proud atop the center stack, a Matterhorn of mobile connectivity.
The GLE-Class lineup offers some of what's familiar, as well as a step or two in a sportier and a greener direction. The lineup includes a turbodiesel based on the current E-Class powertrain: it’s a 2.1-liter inline-4 rated at 201 horsepower dubbed the GLE300d. There’s also the normally aspirated GLE350 (3.5-liter V-6, 302 hp, rear- or all-wheel drive), and the all-wheel-drive GLE400 (3.0-liter twin-turbo V-6, 329 hp). All of these mainstream GLE models get a 7-speed automatic.
A plug-in hybrid GLE550e mates a 329-hp, direct-injected 3.5-liter V-6 with a hybrid module of 114 hp net output, for a total output of 436 hp and up to 19 miles of electric driving. The plug-in GLE also has four driving modes ranging between all-electric and hybrid, as well as battery-saving and charging modes. Recharging its 8.8-kwh battery on a 220-volt charger takes about two hours.
The 5.5-liter twin-turbo V-8 in the Mercedes-Benz GLE63 AMG, offered in an additional S trim, is rated at 550 hp or 577 hp, and comes with the 7-seed automatic. Acceleration to 60 mph happens in as few as 4.2 seconds, and top speed is set at 155 mph.
In the GLE Coupe, there are only two powertrains earmarked for the U.S. The Mercedes-Benz GLE450 4Matic wagon has a twin-turbo V-6 and is rated at 362 hp and 384 lb-ft, with a 9-speed automatic. A Mercedes-Benz GLE63 AMG S Coupe 4Matic has specs like those of the wagon-back GLE, with 20-inch wheels standard.
In the GLE, Individual, Comfort, Slippery, and Sport drive modes are configured for the best traction in that given situation, with modes now controlling chassis, steering, powertrain, and suspension settings, as well as engine sounds. Performance-oriented AMG models add a Sport+ mode, while other versions with an off-road package get an Offroad+ package along with a reduction gear and locking differential, as well as an extended-range air suspension with maximum ground clearance of up to 11 inches and fording depth of 23 inches. The Mercedes 4Matic system will again provide an even torque distribution of 50/50 between the front and rear axles (the AMG version has a rear-biased 40/60 setup), or nearly all torque to the wheels that can use it best for traction. Tow ratings are as high as 7,700 pounds.
Six-cylinder GLEs roll on steel springs with conventional dampers, while top models offer Mercedes-Benz's first suspension in a utility vehicle to combine air springs with continuous damping (the Airmatic and Active Damping systems will be an option on the V-6 GLE). Active anti-roll bars are also available; they’re standard on AMG models. Ride quality in all of these models is excellent—with quite a difference between Comfort and Sport modes.
This year’s cabin refresh hasn’t significantly changed interior space or functionality. As you might expect in a Mercedes-Benz, the GLE has excellent seats—well-contoured and soft, yet all-day supportive. Mercedes made considerable advances in refinement and materials with its sedans in recent years; and with the last full redesign it brought many of those improvements to the M-Class. There's space for taller adults in the second row, too, although getting three across isn’t completely comfortable. You can, however, adjust the rear seatbacks, and even with them up and in place there's more than 36 cubic feet of cargo space behind them.
The new GLE Coupe models offer a sportier, more low-slung look, thanks to their downward-arcing roofline; but you’ll pay a bit of a price in practicality. Coupe models still manage to deliver decent practicality in terms of leg room and ease of entry, although it’s deficient in head room—to the degree that 6-footers on up will find their head making contact with the (already carved-out) headliner. Across the whole lineup, the ride is quiet and refined, although engine noise, even in its quieter Comfort mode, might be too ever-present for some drivers of twin-turbo GLE450 V-6 models.
The M-Class's strong reputation and active-safety features carry over into the GLE-Class, with some new ones as well. Active cruise control with steering assist is available, as well as blind-spot monitors and lane-keeping assist. The ML’s excellent ratings by the IIHS have carried over to the GLE—including a Top Safety Pick award—but the NHTSA's ratings have yet to be restated.
Some new features have been announced for the GLE. A Comfort package includes a power tailgate, soft-closing doors, and a rearview camera. a Parking package gets surround-view cameras and parking assist. An AMG Line appearance package puts on 20-inch wheels and MB-Tex upholstery, with Nappa leather an option; a Night package blacks out much of the trim and fits 20-inch black gloss wheels.
Finally, the new GLE can be outfitted with COMAND infotainment and connectivity, displayed on an 8.0-inch screen. Harman Kardon and Bang & Olufsen audio systems are on the list, as is a rear-seat DVD entertainment system. AMG editions get their own content, including aluminum trim, perforated sport seats, an AMG steering wheel, and AMG badging and trim.