By Matt Degen
The 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE is the new name for the outgoing M-Class, Mercedes' impressive 5-passenger luxury SUV. The new "GL" naming convention aims to align Mercedes' expanding SUV lineup, with the GLE paralleling the midsize E-Series sedan. In addition to the fresh nomenclature, the 2016 GLE improves upon the M-Class with updated exterior design, upgraded interior amenities and new technology. The GLE luxury SUV competes well with rivals such as the BMW X5, Lexus RX, Lincoln MKX and Cadillac SRX thanks to its well-rounded nature and diverse powertrain lineup that ranges from an efficient diesel engine and plug-in hybrid to the high-performance AMG variants. (The sportier, less practical GLE Coupe has its own review.)
If you desire a capable, comfortable and confident 2-row SUV from an automaker whose very name is synonymous with luxury, the Mercedes-Benz GLE is an excellent choice. Its diverse lineup and price range of just over $50,000 to more than twice that add to its desirability and level of attainability.
A Lexus RX has a cushier ride and starts around $10,000 less, while an Acura RDX is even less. If you need to seat more than five, you'll have to step up to a 3-row SUV like the new Mercedes GLS.
In addition to its new name, the 2016 Mercedes GLE builds on the outgoing M-Class with updated front and rear aesthetics, new safety features including Crosswind Assist and a revised collision-prevention system. The GLE550e plug-in hybrid SUV is all-new to the lineup.
Given the GLE's variety of powertrains, it's no surprise that each model behaves differently. The GLE300d diesel SUV is the least invigorating, taking nearly nine seconds to reach 60 mph....
... The flip side is its highway fuel-economy rating: 29 mpg. Most buyers will be happy with the base GLE350 and its 302-horsepower V6 gasoline engine, while those seeking even better performance can step up to the GLE400 with its turbocharged V6. The AMG GLE63 and more potent AMG GLE63 S are the wild ones, boasting turbocharged V8s good for up to 577 horsepower. The greenest GLE is the new GLE550e plug-in hybrid, which can travel around 18 miles on electricity alone. That model is supremely quiet when its gasoline engine isn't running. Regardless of what's under the hood, we found all models of the GLE comfortable and easy to drive, whether on a high-speed trip or a jaunt to the market.
FUEL-EFFICIENT DIESEL ENGINE
Diesel vehicles have gotten a bad rap lately in light of VW's emissions scandal, but not all should be demonized. The diesel-powered GLE300d uses a small and efficient engine that earns up to 29 mpg on the highway yet has the muscle to tow 6,600 pounds.
OFF-ROAD ENGINEERING PACKAGE
For the few buyers seeking to get their luxury SUV dirty, this package for the GLE400 is up to the task. It builds on the GLE's standard off-road setting and capabilities with a 2-speed transfer case, locking differential and optional air suspension that can grant 11 inches of ground clearance.
All GLE models are 2-row, 5-passenger SUVs. This SUV's boxy exterior design translates to very respectable room within. There is ample rear-seat leg room, and cargo room starts at 38.2 cubic feet with the rear seats upright and more than doubles to over 80 cubic feet with them folded. The exception is the plug-in hybrid, which loses rear cargo space since it houses the lithium-ion battery pack. Front seats are supportive and grant a commanding view out. Climate and audio controls are easy to use once you determine where they are – buttons are on the small side and somewhat crowded.
Though newly named, the GLE's exterior design doesn't differ vastly from the long-running M-Class. Mercedes' midsize SUV retains the former's boxy, handsome looks and signature design elements such as the elegantly angled C-pillar behind the rear windows. In back are new LED taillights, bright ribbons of red that make a statement at night, as do the new headlights with their daytime driving lights that form glowing "eyebrows." Performance-oriented AMG GLE models stand out with 20-inch wheels, unique body styling bits and four chrome tailpipes. Roof rails on all models add to the GLE's utility factor.
As should be expected from a vehicle costing over $50,000, the 2016 Mercedes GLE comes well-equipped out the gate. The least expensive GLE model, the 350, includes a power tailgate, sunroof, dual-zone climate control, heated front seats, rain-sensing windshield wipers and selectable drive modes (Comfort, Sport and Slippery). Audio and communication features include an AM/FM/CD/HD Radio receiver with USB input and Bluetooth connectivity, all displayed on an 8-inch color screen. Standard upholstery remains the MB-Tex faux leather. The GLE also comes with Brake Hold, which keeps the brakes applied at a stoplight without the need to keep your foot on the pedal.
From massaging front seats to heated and cooled cupholders and AMG performance parts, there's no shortage of options. Keep in mind, most come at a pretty price. Among the better values is the $3,830 Premium 1 Package for the GLE300d and GLE350 (standard on higher trims) that bundles navigation, blind-spot monitoring, rearview camera, keyless entry, and the COMAND touch-pad controller. Additional safety features include automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-keeping assist, active cruise control and Steering Assist, which keeps the vehicle from drifting in lanes. We're partial to amenities like a wood-and-leather steering wheel and magical Bang & Olufsen audio.
As noted, several engines are available for the 2016 Mercedes GLE, including a small but torque-rich diesel, a pair of gasoline V6s, a strong and stronger pair of turbocharged V8s, and a plug-in hybrid. All models use a 7-speed transmission that pairs well with all six of the GLE's available powertrains. All models except the base GLE350 are 4MATIC – Mercedes' lingo for all-wheel drive (AWD). The base GLE350 is rear-wheel drive (RWD). The GLE has impressive towing ability that ranges from 6,600 to 7,200 pounds. The diesel GLE uses injections of AdBlue to reduce harmful emissions, and gasoline models like to drink premium unleaded. The plug-in hybrid GLE has an 18-mile electric-only range and can be recharged in a couple hours on a 220-volt outlet.
2.1-liter twin-turbocharged diesel inline-4 (GLE300d 4MATIC)
201 horsepower @ 3,800 rpm
369 lb-ft of torque @ 1,600-1,800 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 22/29 mpg
3.5-liter V6 (GLE350 and GLE350 4MATIC)
302 horsepower @ 6,500 rpm
273 lb-ft of torque @ 3,500-5,250 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 18/24 mpg (RWD), 17/22 mpg (AWD)
3.0-liter twin-turbocharged V6 (GLE400 4MATIC)
329 horsepower @ 5,250-6,000 rpm
354 lb-ft of torque @ 1,600-4,000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 18/22 mpg
5.5-liter twin-turbocharged V8 (AMG GLE63)
550 horsepower @ 5,750 rpm
516 lb-ft of torque @ 1,750-5,000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 13/17 mpg
5.5-liter twin-turbocharged V8 (AMG GLE63 S)
577 horsepower @ 5,750 rpm
561 lb-ft of torque @ 1,750-5,250 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 13/17 mpg
3.0-liter twin-turbocharged V6 + electric motor (GLE550e 4MATIC plug-in hybrid)
436 horsepower (total)
479 lb-ft of torque (total)
EPA city/highway fuel economy: N/A
The 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE midsize luxury SUV has a Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) starting just over $52,000 for a RWD GLE350. The AWD GLE350 4MATIC starts a couple grand more, while the diesel GLE300d splits the difference at $53,425. Prices zoom with options and trims. The more powerful GLE400 starts at over $65,000. The chasm is vast between the high-performance AMG GLE63, which begins at over $100,000. The top-dog AMG GLE63 S variant bows at over $108,000, and can go beyond $125,000 with options. At these prices the GLE nearly mimics the BMW X5, but is tens of thousands more than other upscale SUVs such as the Acura RDX, Cadillac SRX, Infiniti QX50, Lexus RX and Audi Q5. Before buying, complete your homework and check the KBB.com Fair Purchase Price. The Mercedes GLE's resale value is expected to hold up well over the years, but still trail the Lexus RX.