Mercedes-Benz GLE 400 e review

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The Mercedes GLE can be had in a very sensible form indeed. Jonathan Crouch takes a look at the 400 e plug-in variant.

Ten Second Review

The improved version of the second generation Mercedes GLE makes most sense in this four cylinder 2.0-litre 400 e petrol plug-in form. A much larger battery than you'd expect a PHEV model to have means an impressively long all-electric driving range of 60 miles. Sounds promising.

Background

Launched in 2019, the second generation version of Mercedes' GLE took a big step forward and was further improved four years later, but it's still a 2.2-tonne leviathan. Could a large SUV like this really ever make sense for someone with one eye on the environment? Someone wanting a combination of performance and low running costs? Surprisingly, the answer is yes, or at least it is in the case of the variant we're looking at here, the clever GLE 400 e PHEV plug-in petrol-/electric model.

It specifically takes on plug-in versions of BMW's X5, Porsche's Cayenne and Volvo's XC90, but those have nothing like the electric driving range of this Mercedes. Let's take a closer look.

Driving Experience

Unlike the strongest-selling old GLE Plug-in model, this is a petrol-based PHEV, using a 252hp 2.0-litre unit. The electrified element is taken care of by a 100kW electric motor able to take the car to a battery-powered top speed of 100mph. This rises to 130mph when the engine joins in, at which point 62mph from rest is achievable in only 6.1s. Of course, pushing on like that isn't going to help this PHEV model's potential WLTP-rated all-electric driving range, rated up at 60 miles thanks to the use of a lithium-ion battery that's one of the biggest we've ever seen in a plug-in model - 31.2kWh in capacity. The transmission here is the same nine-speed 9G-TRONIC automatic gearbox used across the rest of the range, which in the GLE works as seamlessly as it does in the many other Mercedes models in which we've tried it.

Change times of that paddleshift auto 'box are one of the things influenced by the standard 'DYNAMIC SELECT' driving modes system - the others being throttle response, steering feedback and suspension feel. This set-up, accessible via a rocker switch on the centre console, doesn't unfortunately provide an auto' or 'adaptive'-style mode to make all the drive set-up decisions for you, but as usual, there is an 'Individual' setting allowing you to programme in your own parameters.

Design and Build

As before, there's a choice of two body shapes, the standard SUV version and the sleeker-looking GLE Coupe. In both cases, the visual changes with this updated MK2 GLE model are much as you'd expect from a facelift. So the front grille gets extra chrome, the front bumper's re-shaped, the running light signature's been changed on the LED headlamps and the rear LED tail lamps have been restyled too. The GLE Coupe now gets the standard the 'AMG Line' exterior that most previous customers wanted, with its diamond-patterned front grille, deeper bumper and extended wheel arches.

Otherwise, things are much as before, which means there's an upright grille and a purposefully-sculpted bonnet with two power domes. This GLE also cuts an athletic figure from the rear, something particularly emphasised by the powerful shoulder muscle line extending from the C-pillar to the rear lights.

Inside, the model update changes are equally subtle. If you owned the pre-facelift model, you'll notice the redesigned steering wheel, which has touch controls that allow access to central screen functions. Mercedes has also added extra chrome to the air vents and made available various fresh colour and trim combinations.

Otherwise, the cabin's broadly untouched, with twin 12.3-inch TFT screens, one in the instrument binnacle and one in the centre of the dash that works with the 'MBUX' voice-activated multimedia system. There's plenty of space in the second row - but unlike a conventional GLE, you can't have a third seating row too. With all the seats folded, there's also a significantly reduced cargo area in this Plug-in Hybrid GLE - 490-litres (down from 630-litres in the ordinary version). That's extendable to 1,915-litres (down from 2,055-litres). In conjunction with AIRMATIC air suspension, the vehicle's rear can be lowered by around 40 millimetres using a switch, for easier loading and unloading.

Market and Model

You'll need a budget of at least £87,500 for this GLE 400 e plug-in. That's for base 'AMG Line Premium' trim. There's also top 'AMG Line Premium Plus' trim, the latter taking you up towards the £93,000 mark. All versions come with a 9G-TRONIC 9-speed auto gearbox and a 7-seat cabin.

As you'd hope given this kind of spend, equipment levels are generous. With both variants, expect 'KEYLESS GO' keyless entry, MULTIBEAM LED Headlamps with Adaptive Highbeam Assist Plus, an AMG Bodystyling kit and a 'Parking Package' with 360 camera. there's also AIRMATIC Air suspension with Adapative Damping and 'Aluminium-look' illuminated running boards with rubber studs. Wheel sizes are either 21 or 22-inches, depending on trim choice.

Inside, you can expect to find the brand's pair of 'Widescreen cockpit' screens for infotainment and instrument dials, the centre display featuring MBUX Navigation with Augmented Reality, plus you get a 'Live Traffic' system and a premium Burmester Surround Sound audio set-up. There's also 'THERMATIC' Climate Control, along with ambient lighting, electric front seats with memory setting, electrically adjustable rear seats, a wireless Charging mat, a Dashcam and a third boot-mounted seating row. For off road driving, there's also a 'transparent bonnet' function that allows you to see the rocky terrain more clearly on the centre display by showing a virtual view of the trail ahead.

'AMG Line Premium'-spec includes a panoramic sunroof, climatised front seats, the 'Air Balance' package that adds scents to the interior, temperature-controlled cup holders and the brand's 'Energizing Package', which gives you selectable sounds and colour themes in the cabin. 'AMG Line Premium Plus'-spec adds soft-close doors, Multicontour front seats that react to corners, surround lighting and extra camera safety features.

Cost of Ownership

The electrified element of this GLE 400 e model's powertrain is provided by a 100kW electric motor activated by a lithium-ion battery that's one of the biggest we've ever seen in a plug-in model - 31.2kWh in capacity. This promises a WLTP-rated all-electric driving range of 60 miles and that facilitates an overall CO2 figure of 23g/km (Coupe 22g/km). The combined cycle fuel reading is up to 282.5mpg. This would be our GLE variant of choice in the range, provided you don't mind the fact that you'll need a fast charger for really quick plug-in turn-around times; Mercedes talks of a 50kW DC public fast charger (of which there are over 1,000 around the UK) delivering a zero-to-80% rapid charge in about 30 minutes. From a wallbox, this car will take 90 minutes for a full charge, while from a conventional power socket, it will require about five hours. 

What else? Well, we'll tell you that the comprehensive three year warranty is built upon by Mercedes' Mobilo scheme which delivers breakdown cover for up to thirty years, as long as you continue to have your car serviced at a Mercedes main dealer. And it's worth knowing that your maintenance outlay can be kept a little in check by going for the optional Service Care package that takes care of routine maintenance, spreading the cost of regular servicing, guaranteeing the price of parts and labour for up to four services and covering the cost of all recommended service items such as brake fluid, spark plugs, air filters, fuel filters and screen wash.

Summary

Ultimately, the Stuttgart brand builds more SUVs than anyone else and there's a reason why globally, the GLE is the most popular model of that kind that the company makes. It's true that there are sportier, more dynamic models of this kind you could buy. But we're struggling to think of many that offer a better all-round package. Especially in the case of this GLE 400 e plug-in variant.

We're disappointed that unlike some rival models, you can't have a third seating row. But otherwise, this GLE's capable and luxurious, it's our favourite version of the best mainstream large SUV we've yet seen from the Three-Pointed Star. Mercedes remains fully credible in this segment.

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