The GLE’s new plug-in hybrid powertrain is one of the best out there.
Mercedes-Benz became the first luxury brand to launch a Land Rover Discovery competitor with the 1997 M-Class, a body-on-frame SUV that has evolved over four generations into the GLE crossover we know today. The current GLE has been out for five years now, so the entire lineup is getting a relatively minor refresh for 2024. Every GLE powertrain now has a 48-volt mild-hybrid system, but the real news is the addition of the GLE450e, the first time this generation of GLE has been offered with a plug-in powertrain in the US. If Goldilocks were shopping for a luxury SUV, especially a hybrid, I think she’d find the GLE450e to be just right.
The GLE450e uses the same turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine as the GLE350, but with a 23.3-kWh battery pack and an electric motor attached. That electric motor makes 134 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque on its own, with the GLE450e’s total output of 381 hp and 479 lb-ft beating the GLE350 by 126 hp and 184 lb-ft. The GLE450e even bests the six-cylinder GLE450 by 6 hp and 110 lb-ft, though it’s handily exceeded by the V8 GLE580.
A 5.8-second 0-to-60-mph time makes the GLE450e about half a second slower than the GLE450, but it’s more than a second quicker than the standard four-cylinder. Despite weighing 838 pounds more than the GLE350 – and 187 pounds more than the V8 AMG GLE63 – the GLE450e still feels plenty brisk when the battery charge is depleted as the default Hybrid drive mode makes good use of the electric motor even with a low battery charge.
The Off-Road drive mode gets special tuning for the GLE450e that prioritizes electric operation when off the beaten path. There’s also an EV mode that keeps the GLE running on electricity alone until the battery is drained, and a Battery Hold mode that runs the gas engine to maintain the battery’s current charge. Annoyingly, there’s no way to run the engine and charge the battery as you drive like in Volvo’s plug-in hybrids, but the GLE450e at least has a long enough electric range for the majority of everyday driving.
Mercedes doesn’t have an official range estimate yet, but when I jump in the fully charged GLE450e the display shows a 40-mile range. The GLE450e can drive at up to 87 mph on electric power alone, and at steady highway speeds we achieve 38 miles of pure electric driving before fully depleting the battery. That’s a pretty impressive real-world result for this class, greater than the EPA ranges for plug-in SUVs like the Volvo XC90 T8 (36 miles) and the Jeep Grand Cherokee 4xe (26 miles).
While the GLE also beats the range of last year’s BMW X5 plug-in hybrid, the BMW gains a facelift for 2024 that includes an improved six-cylinder PHEV with a 40-mile estimated range and more than 100 horsepower over the Benz. The Porsche Cayenne should be gaining updated hybrid powertrains later this year as well, but for now the GLE450e is on top.
On a 7.4-kW Level 2 charger the GLE450e can be juiced up from 20 to 100 percent in two and a half hours, but the GLE450e can also handle DC fast charging of up to 60 kW, which can charge the battery from 20 to 100 percent in about 20 minutes. Slow charging and short ranges are the most annoying things about driving a PHEV – especially if you can’t plug in at home and need to use public chargers – so the GLE450e’s long range and speedy charge capabilities are definitely appealing.
The rest of the GLE’s dynamic goodness is still present, too. Even on staggered 21-inch wheels wearing Pirelli P Zero Scorpion all-seasons the GLE450e’s optional air suspension provides a super smooth ride without too much body roll, and minimal wind and road noise enters the cabin. The steering is light without being overly numb, and the brake pedal avoids the awful squishiness of Mercedes’ EQ cars.
Mercedes’ design team also took the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach for 2024 GLE’s styling updates. The grille now has a patterning consisting of dozens of Mercedes star logos, a gaudy touch that I love, and the lower bumper intakes are a bit more aggressive and teethy. There are new light signatures for the headlights and taillights, a few new colors and three new wheel designs. Otherwise, the GLE is the same handsome SUV it has been since 2018, though I do wish these styling updates were a little more radical.
As with the exterior, Mercedes barely messed with the GLE’s interior. The only visual differences are chrome-trimmed air vents, new trim design options and Mercedes’ latest steering wheels with touch-capacitive buttons. (For the record, I actually like these steering wheels and their many controls.) The GLE’s pair of 12.3-inch screens running MBUX software still look great, though after experiencing the new portrait-oriented setups in cars like the C-Class and EQS, the GLE’s touchpad and lack of zero-layer screen layout is starting to feel outdated. The center screen can be operated through touch, but it’s a long reach and ergonomically annoying. At least the MBUX system has received over-the-air update capabilities, an improved voice assistant and wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity.
The extensive list of standard features includes heated front-seats, dual-zone climate control, a sunroof, a power liftgate, adaptive LED headlights, navigation, a surround-view camera system, automated emergency braking and blind-spot monitoring. The GLE can be further upgraded with luxurious features like nappa leather, ventilated and massaging seats, augmented-reality nav, a head-up display, a panoramic sunroof, soft-close doors and heated and cooled cupholders. A driver-assistance package enhances the adaptive cruise control system with steering assist, automatic lane changing, active lane-keeping assist and other enhancements; while not a fully hands-free Level 2 system, Mercedes’ active safety suite is one of my favorites on sale.
Facelifted GLEs are already rolling off the line at Mercedes-Benz’s Tuscaloosa, Alabama factory, which has produced over four million cars since 1997. The entire GLE, GLS, EQE SUV and EQS SUV lineups are built in Alabama for global consumption – and the EV batteries are produced locally too. Mercedes hasn’t announced pricing for the 2024 GLE yet; I expect the GLE450e will land in the high $70k range, splitting the difference between the GLE450 and V8-powered GLE580.
It may not be the newest or most advanced SUV in its class anymore, but with the updates for 2024 the Mercedes-Benz GLE remains one of the most well-rounded and satisfying luxury SUVs you can buy.