Most of the GLE 550e’s competitors all offer some sort of hybrid variant.
During this period where we await the supposed impending extinction of the diesel automotive engine, it seems as though every major automaker has begun playing in the plug-in hybrid market. Mercedes-Benz, who was always one of the strongest propagators of the diesel, has announced that for the foreseeable future, their Bluetec application will no longer be available in North America. The GLE mid-size luxury crossover, previously known as the ML, always had a huge take rate on the diesel among Canadians, so we are genuinely sorry to see it go.
Effectively replacing that powertrain on our shores is something completely different; this is the 2018 Mercedes-Benz GLE 550e 4MATIC, a plug-in hybrid version of the popular crossover. The GLE was last given a mid-cycle refresh for the 2016 model year, which also changed the name to how we now know it. Aside from powertrain updates and a general freshening, the current generation vehicle has been around since model year 2012. It’s still quite relevant, sells strongly to North Americans, and competes with the likes of the BMW X5 (reviewed here), Audi Q7 and most recently, the latest Volvo XC90.
Aside from the Q7 (which supposedly has an e-tron version on the way), the GLE 550e’s other competitors all offer some sort of hybrid variant. Within the GLE family, the entry level GLE 400 starts at just $66,100. The GLE 450 (reviewed here) has been replaced with the GLE 43, and there is a 449-horse gasoline version of the GLE 550 as well, at $82,000. The GLE 550e tested here starts at $83,900 before green vehicle incentives, and the full-bore Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S starts at $115,000.
Our GLE 550e test vehicle came equipped with the Premium Package, which for $5,800 adds multicontour and massaging seats, active park assist, Keyless Go, Harman/Kardon sound, heated rear seats, satellite radio, 360-degree camera, and a bit more. The $3,250 Sport Package adds an AMG exterior aesthetics group, 20” AMG wheels, AIRMATIC air suspension, and adaptive dampers. Rounding things out is the $2,700 Intelligent Drive Package, which adds active safety features including Active Steering Assist, which allows semi-autonomous operation of the GLE. The as-tested sticker pushed the $98,000 mark, before considering federal and provincial incentives.
Since the GLE 550e uses the “550” nomenclature, one might assume it has the turbocharged V8 in the family, right? Well, that’s where things start to get a little bit confusing. The hybrid model uses the same twin-turbocharged 3.0L V6 as the GLE 43, but paired to an 85 kW electric motor. Alone, the V6 is good for 329 horsepower and 354 lb-ft. of torque. With the system all working together though, hybrid numbers push 436 horsepower and 479 lb-ft., which comes in at a remarkable 1,600RPM. Unlike some hybrids that make do with CVTs, the choice gearbox here is a seven-speed 7G-TRONIC, which changes gears smoothly and imperceptibly. We assume implementation of the new nine-speed in the Mercedes-Benz portfolio will be added for the next generation of the hybrid.
The big Mercedes-Benz hybrid is powerful as all heck, and hustles to highway speeds with eagerness and ease. It’s even faster than the baby AMG model, the GLE 43, and when accelerating almost makes you forget that it weighs 5,450 pounds. This is one heavy crossover, and its weight does become apparent in certain situations. Overall, it drives quite well, and the Mercedes-Benz quality is certainly there. The AIRMATIC air suspension is an option we always recommend for optimal ride quality, and when left alone, it sorts the ride out very nicely.
It’s always quite complicated when trying to achieve the rated fuel efficiency numbers in a plug-in hybrid, as it truly varies on driving style and how the EV-only mode is used. The GLE 550e’s 8.7 kWh battery indicates an EV-only range of up to 30km when full. Trying to squeeze out every bit possible, we actually were able to squeeze 37km out of it at one point, despite freezing temperatures and a short highway jaunt. The vehicle is rated at 11.8L/100km city and 10.3L/100km highway, and if operating as a hybrid, these numbers are realistic. Think of it not as a dedicated hybrid, but an SUV that can get V8 power for V6 economy.
The GLE 550e has a series of modes for the hybrid system, which include “HYBRID”, “E-MODE”, “E-SAVE”, and a mode that runs exclusively on the gasoline motor to charge the hybrid system. The E-SAVE mode comes in handy when the end of your journey includes a ton of gridlock or city-only driving; it allows you to save the EV-only range for when you need it. We operated mostly in the hybrid mode, where the vehicle analyzes driving style and throttle pressure, adapting the systems to work optimally.
On the inside, the GLE 550e is typical Mercedes-Benz, with unquestionably good fit and finish, high quality materials, and an overall pleasant aesthetic. Since the GLE is one of the older models in the portfolio, a few signs of age are present, such as the rear window sun blinds which look like a bit of an afterthought rather than clean integration into the door panel. Seat controls are straightforward and easy to use, however we wish there was an easier way to access the scrumptious massage setting rather than having to go through a series of menus.
The driving position within the GLE is quite good, and this is where the luxury crossover/SUV segment truly comes to light. The seats are supremely comfortable with a commandeering view of the road, and minimal blind spots. The rear seating area is good too, with similar legroom as the E-Class sedan (reviewed here). The hybrid system does compromise on cargo area, which reduces overall capacity to 480L, a reduction from the 690L in the standard version. Lastly, those wanting a third row will want to step up to the larger GLS-Class, but if the third rows in the X5 are any indication – they’re effectively useless.
Pushing six figures in price may seem expensive, but the 2018 Mercedes-Benz GLE 550e 4MATIC is eligible for incentives of up to $3,000 to Ontario residents right now, and this may change moving forward. It’s not as blatantly green as dedicated EVs, but compares quite closely to the Porsche Cayenne S E-Hybrid (reviewed here) and Volvo XC90 T8 PHEV. Families that need their luxo-SUV to do quick runs to the school drop-off, or to hockey practice will appreciate the EV-only mode as well as the convenience that comes with a hybrid, and the GLE 550e is a persuasive one.