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Future models - Mercedes-Benz - GLE

New York show: Benz details GLE

Plugged in: The GLE will be offered with a petrol-electric plug-in hybrid version to do battle with rivals such as BMW, Audi and Volvo that will all offer an eco-friendly version of their big SUVS within 12 months.

ML-Class becomes GLE as Mercedes-Benz shows off facelifted SUV hero

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Mercedes-Benz logo26 Mar 2015

UPDATED: 27/03/2015 MERCEDES-BENZ has uncovered its ML-Class-replacing GLE large SUV ahead of its New York show debut, headlined by a new fuel-sipping petrol-electric plug-in hybrid variant.

The German car-maker's latest SUV is a significant mid-life facelift of the third-generation W166 ML-Class that landed in Australia in mid-2012, and is expected to lob in local showrooms in September, around the same time as its swoopy GLE Coupe sibling.

Fuel efficiency improvements were a focus in the development of the GLE, and Benz says fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions have dropped by up to 17 per cent on average when compared with the ML.

But it is the plug-in hybrid GLE500e 4Matic all-wheel drive that will be the efficiency champion of the range, with an official European combined cycle figure of 3.3 litres per 100 kilometres and CO2 emissions of 78 grams per kilometre.

Power comes from a 245kW/480Nm twin-turbo 3.0-litre V6 combined with a 85kW/340Nm electric motor all hooked up to a seven-speed 7G-Tronic automatic transmission for a combined output of 325kW/650Nm.

The GLE500e uses an 8.8kWh lithium-ion battery and it can be charged at a public charging station, at home via a wallbox or a conventional 220-volt power outlet. Benz says it takes about two hours to charge at a station or using the wallbox.

There is a 30km electric-only driving range and the big Benz can be driven in Hybrid mode which switches between electric and combustion driving, depending on conditions, E-Mode which is all-electric driving, E-Save that preserves the current state of the battery to drive on all-electric mode at a later time, and Charge that charges the battery when driving and stationary.

Mercedes will join a number of its direct rivals in offering plug-in hybrid versions of large premium SUVs in the next 12 months – the Benz-badged PHEV will arrive in 2016 – including BMW's recently announced X5 xDrive40e, Volvo's XC90 T8 and Audi's super-frugal diesel-electric Q7 e-tron.

While Benz's eco warrior matches the fuel use of the BMW (3.3L/100km), they are both thirstier than the Volvo (2.5L/100km) and the Audi (1.7L/100km).

Other petrol powertrains detailed so far include the 3.0-litre 245kW/480Nm twin-turbo V6 GLE400 4Matic that uses 8.8L/100km and emits 209g/km of CO2, as well as the 320kW/700Nm twin-turbo V8-powered GLE500 4Matic that drinks 11.0L/100km and releases 258g/km.

Fuel use in the twin-turbo V6 has improved when compared with the ML400 that currently consumes 9.4L/100km, while power has increased in the V8 by 20kW/100Nm over the soon to be replaced ML500 that uses 1.3L/100km more fuel.

The three diesel variants detailed so far gain a new nine-speed 9G-Tronic auto, and the base two-wheel drive GLE250d uses a 2.1-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel unit producing 150kW/480Nm for a 5.4L/100km fuel use figure and 140g/km emissions.

An all-paw 4Matic version of the GLE250d is also on offer with the same engine, although the inclusion of the 4x4 system lifts fuel use to 5.7L/100km and emissions to 149g/km. This is an improvement over the existing ML250 BlueTec that sips 6.4L/100km.

The range-topping oil-burner is the 190kW/620Nm 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 diesel-powered GLE350d 4Matic that uses 6.4L/100 and emits 169g/km.

Benz has of course detailed the fire-breathing AMG versions of the high-riding wagon, which is offered in AMG GLE63 4Matic and more potent GLE63 S 4Matic guise, powered by the same 5.5-litre twin-turbo V8 as the existing model, albeit with a power boost.

In the regular GLE63, power is up by 24kW to 410kW/700Nm for a 0-100km/h sprint time of 4.3 seconds, shaving 0.5 seconds off the existing ML63 AMG's dash time.

Meanwhile the 430kW/760Nm 'S' covers the same distance from standing start in a blistering 4.2 seconds. Both versions use 11.8L/100km – the same as the outgoing model – and have an electronically limited top speed of 250km/h.

While it is yet to be confirmed, Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific is likely to follow its pattern of offering only the 'S' version here, as it has done with AMG versions of the E-Class, CLS-Class and the imminent C63 C-Class.

A Dynamic Select handling control system offers up to six drive modes, including the new Offroad and Offroad+ settings, while the Airmatic air suspension has been improved to offer a ground clearance of 285mm and a fording depth of 600mm.

Benz has brought the look of its family-sized SUV up to date with its latest design direction, with new headlights, grille, bumper and bonnet with 'power domes' all new up front, and the LED 'intelligent light system' optional.

Changes at the tail-end are more subtle, with the current Benz tail-light design now on show, and a new bumper and tailpipes.

New alloy wheels are also on offer, while the AMG version gains chunkier, sportier flourishes as well as the now-familiar AMG 'Awing' motif in the front bumper.

The basic design of the interior remains the same as with the ML, but Benz has replaced the smaller screen with a 7.0-inch display and it now features the Comand controller with a touchpad to control a number of functions via the screen.

Cabin colours now include 'ginger beige', 'espresso brown', 'saddle brown' or 'porcelain', while standard aluminium trim elements can be enhanced by various woodgrains.

Benz says the standard features list is based on the ML, but it has been enhanced to now include its 'collision prevention assist plus' system, idle-stop, a 'crosswind assist' system, a new multifunction steering wheel, and better connectivity features.

As always there are a multitude of options packages, exterior line packages and safety packages, the latter including a 'driver assistance plus' option that adds 'distronic plus' with 'steering assist', 'stop&go pilot' the 'pre-safe' braking system blind-spot warning, lane departure warning and a cross-traffic alert.

Local timing and specification is yet to be confirmed, but the GLE is expected later this year, around the same time as its swoopy GLE Coupe sibling.

Benz announced its new naming system last year that matches an SUV moniker with its similarly positioned passenger-car stablemate. The ML's passenger car equivalent is the E-Class, hence GLE, while the GL-Class will become GLS and the GLK will soon become GLC when it surfaces later this year.

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