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Mercedes-Benz GLE series is a partly refreshed lineup with restyled front and rear.

Mercedes-Benz replaces M-Class with GLE, adds plug-in hybrid

The new Mercedes-Benz GLE SUV, introduced at the 2015 New York Auto Show and scheduled for market in late summer, could be regarded as just a major "refresh" of the M-Class. Four of the powertrains are carryovers, and the body styling is primarily different in the front and rear styling treatments. So externally it looks very different only from the recently shown GLE five-door "coupe," which has a specific body, but with which it shares platform, mechanical components, and most of the interior. Yes, all the familiar crossover models are back, although with new designations based on the GLE name (GL for SUV and the third letter for the platform).

Considering the lineup mostly a set of renamed returnees would be an unfair assessment, as the 2016 edition is on a stretched wheelbase—from 114.8 to 121 in (2916 to 3073 mm), although overall length is barely an inch longer at 190 in (4826 mm).

Plug-in hybrid

There's a significant new model in the range: the 550e 4Matic, a plug-in hybrid (PHEV). It is a first for the line and will be available later in the year. It features a version of the carryover 3.0-L V6, the twin-turbo rated at 329 hp (245 kW) and 354 lb·ft (480 N·m). The electric motor, the same as used in the S-Class hybrid, is listed at 85 kW and 251 lb·ft (340 N·m).

Peak torque from engine and motor is 479 lb·ft (649 N·m), which produces what was described as "impressive" acceleration, comparable to a V8 with the fuel economy of a four-cylinder. The GLE 550e has the ability to accelerate up to 81 mph (130 km/h) on the electric system alone. The lithium-ion battery pack has a capacity of 8.8 kW·h and provides an all-electric range of about 19 mi (30 km).

Although U.S. fuel economy figures aren't yet available, Mercedes-Benz is claiming the PHEV will deliver better fuel economy than the 2.1-L diesel with its seven-speed automatic (a nine-speed automatic is available in Europe). The seven-speed 7G-Tronic is used in all U.S. market GLE models except the AMG series, although the one in the PHEV is a much-modified version.

A center console switch permits the driver to select from four modes, which are commonly available on PHEVs: Conventional Hybrid, E-mode for all-electric operation, E-save to maintain the charge for later use, as in an area where gasoline-engine operation might not be permitted; and Charge, which charges the battery pack when driving and at engine idle.

An intelligent drive management system promotes anticipatory driving, particularly deceleration, to enhance regenerative braking. It integrates such information as knowledge of the road conditions ahead (using GPS and radar sensors) to adjust the powertrain operating parameters for optimum energy consumption.

The twin-turbo V6 air intake and the motor electronics share a low-pressure liquid cooling system separate from the engine cooling.

The GLE-550e is the latest PHEV in the Mercedes-Benz line. The S-Class was the first and a C-Class PHEV is coming in the fall. The company has said it expects to have a total of 10 plug-ins by 2017.

Carryover engines

The base 350 GLE has the 3.5-L direct-injection V6 rated at 302 hp (225 kW). It is the only model available in a rear-drive-only configuration; all others have 4Matic permanent four-wheel drive. The twin-turbo 3.0-L V6 model, formerly called the ML400, is now the GLE 400. As in the PHEV, it is rated at 329 hp (245 kW). For the 2016 models, this direct-injection engine incorporates piezo-electric injectors.

The diesel-powered model, which had been called the ML250 BlueTEC, is now the GLE 300d 4Matic. The engine is the 2.1-L four-cylinder rated at 201 hp (150 kW) and 369 lb·ft (500 N·m). With the nine-speed transmission in Europe, the diesel is the first SUV in its size class with a "conventional drive" (non-hybrid or EV) to produce emissions of just 140 g CO2/km on the NEDC (New European Drive Cycle). Of course, the PHEV does even better, producing just 78 g CO2/km.

The 4Matic system includes Dynamic Select, the road terrain program with a console selector knob. It offers comfort, slippery surface, individual selection, and sports modes, with a program that modifies anti-lock brakes response and traction/stability controls.

Optional Airmatic air suspension is back, retuned for the new models and combined with ADS (automatic damping) using a strategy based on the Dynamic Select control position. Airmatic/ADS can be combined with Mercedes-Benz Active Curve System, which uses motor-operated anti-sway bars in front and rear to reduce body roll. Active Curve is standard on the AMG models.

AMG at top of lineup

The AMG series is back and at the top of the lineup with two models, the GLE63 4Matic and the GLE63 S 4Matic. They both have the 5.5-L V8 newly rated at 550 hp (410 kW) in the base model and 577 hp (430 kW) in the S. Those ratings reflect significant retuning from the 518 hp (386 kW) of the previous model.

The AMG series is offered with three other exclusive driving features. One is the nine-speed automatic, which is standard. Second is an optional Off-Road Engineering Package, which adds an Offroad+ position to the Dynamic Select. It contains an off-road reduction gear and 100% inter-axle differential lock. Third is the combination of the Off-Road Engineering Package with the optional AirMatic air suspension that provides up to 11 in (279 mm) ground clearance and a fording depth of 23 in (584 mm). It incorporates a reinforced underfloor panel to protect underbody components on extreme driving surfaces.

Appearances notwithstanding, the air intakes on the hood of all models are not for engine breathing. Rather, they provide outside air for the passenger compartment.

The GLE carries over the full suite of Mercedes-Benz safety-collision and auto-braking systems, and adds Crosswind Assist and Collision Prevention Assist-Plus. The Plus system warns the driver if he/she is not maintaining an appropriate distance from the vehicle ahead and if the driver doesn't respond will brake the vehicle to prevent the possibility of collision.

The vehicles will continue to be produced at the Mercedes-Benz plant in Alabama.

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