Mercedes has given its ML-Class SUV a thorough reworking, with sharper styling, more efficient engines and brand-new name. The new GLE is the first Mercedes SUV to be offered with a plug-in hybrid option, perfect for tackling BMW’s recently released X5 xDrive40e and Volvo’s stylish XC90 T8 Hybrid.

The GLE 500 e 4MATIC combines a V6 gasoline engine with an 8.8 kWh electric module, adding an extra 85 kW (116 hp) to the internal combustion engine's 245 kW (333 hp). Drivers are able to drive in electric-only mode at speeds up to 130 km/h (81 mph), while ideal conditions will allow 30 km (19 mi) of electric-only running.

Like the models offered by Volvo and BMW, drivers can choose between a number of different drive modes depending on how they plan on using the car – Hybrid mode automatically chooses the most sensible combination of fossil fuel and electric power for the current conditions, while E-Mode uses only the battery. If drivers are planning to use the GLE’s battery power later, they can put the car into E-Save mode, which conserves the battery for urban driving. Finally, Charge mode uses the car’s regenerative braking to charge the battery while on the move.

If owners want, they can plug the GLE into a normal 220-volt wall outlet and charge the battery. However, public chargers or the home wallbox charger will do the job faster, taking about two hours. Interestingly, the GLE’s claimed electric range matches BMW’s claim for its hybrid X5, but is 10 km (6.2 mi) less than Volvo claims for its XC90 T8.

In addition to the hybrid system, four engines will be available on the GLE. Entry-level shoppers will be drawn to the GLE 250d with its 150 kW (204 hp) four-cylinder diesel motor, which emits just 140 g/km of CO2 and uses only 5.4 l/100km (44 mpg). The other diesel option is the V6 GLE 350d, which generates 190 kW (258 hp) and a massive 620 Nm of torque, while still returning 6.4 l/100km (37 mpg) on the combined cycle. Both diesel cars are now fitted with Mercedes’ nine-speed automatic gearbox, and can be fitted with an off-road reduction gear and inter-axle differential lock.

But some buyers won’t settle for anything less than a powerful gasoline motor, so to cater for this market, Mercedes offers the GLE 400 and 500. Powered by twin-turbo petrol V6 and V8 motors respectively, the GLE 500 puts out 320 kW (435 hp) and 700 Nm of torque – 75 kW (101 hp) and 220 Nm more than the V6-powered GLE 400.

For buyers who need even more grunt, Mercedes-AMG still offers the GLE 63 with its 5.5-liter twin-turbo V8. With a revised chassis and suspension setup, the 410 kW (557 hp) GLE 63 will do battle with the BMW X5 M, and sit alongside the GLE 63 Coupe in the brand’s SUV lineup. The base GLE 63 will sprint to 100 km/h (62 mph) in 4.2 seconds, while its 20 kW more powerful “S” stablemate will hit the same milestone in 4.1 seconds.

The GLE launches with a Dynamic Select mode that can tweak the car’s feel. From the soft-riding, long-throttled Comfort mode to the sharper Sport mode, the GLE’s setup can be tweaked in a similar fashion to many sports cars.

The GLE will be offered with a number of options packages, including Mercedes’ Active Curve System derived from the system in the S-Class Coupe, which uses active anti-rollbars to compensate for the bodyroll that comes with cornering, allowing faster and flatter direction changes.

Pricing has not been announced for the GLE yet, but expect it to closely mirror the prices on the current ML-Class.

View gallery - 35 images