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2016 mercedes-benz GLE-Class

The third-generation Mercedes-Benz M-Class has been renamed GLE-Class for the latest model year. The new moniker is accompanied by new and more efficient engines, a more modern cockpit and a thorough facelift.

The hot-rodded, AMG-tuned ML63 benefits from the same treatment. Now called Mercedes-AMG GLE63, it gets a new look and more power.

Overview
Heavy and quiet as a bank vault, the mid-size GLE harks back to the original M-Class that debuted in 1997 with styling cues such as a bold, upright grille, swept-back headlights and blacked-out D-pillars. The tail lamps are almost car-like, a design feature that makes the GLE look smaller than it actually is.

The GLE is largely based on the third-gen ML, but it features several exterior design updates such as model-specific headlights with Mercedes' signature "eyebrow" treatment, a revised front bumper and a more stylized hood. Around back, it stands out from the ML thanks to new-look LED tail lamps.

Life aboard
Inside, a sporty, three-spoke steering wheel frames a hooded twin-gauge instrument cluster that includes a configurable thin-film transistor (TFT) screen. Eucalyptus wood trim is standard, and interior upgrades such as leather-like covering for the dashboard and various trims including dark poplar wood, aluminum and piano black trim are all offered.

An eight-inch screen that sticks out from the center console runs Mercedes' COMAND infotainment system. Controlled either by voice commands, a central knob or steering wheel-mounted buttons, COMAND integrates the sedan's audio, navigation (if equipped) and Bluetooth-based connectivity functions into a single unit.

An optional mbrace system adds a host of cloud-based goodies, including a concierge service, location-based traffic and weather updates, stolen vehicle location assistance, automatic collision notification and more. Available apps add internet browsing, Google local search with street view, Yelp reviews, Facebook access and news reports.

Old-school SUV touches include a high center stack and a gear lever located on the steering column to free up central console space for a wide and flexible storage bin. Cargo space is ample, with 38.2 cubic feet available behind the rear seats and a voluminous 80.3 cubes available aft of the front seats.

Powertrain Options
Buyers can choose from four models called GLE300d, GLE350, GLE400 and GLE450 AMG, respectively.

Positioned at the bottom of the GLE lineup, the 350 model is powered by a 3.5-liter V6 engine that makes 302 horsepower at 6,500 rpm and 273 lb-ft. of torque from 3,500 to 5,250 rpm. Bolted to a seven-speed automatic transmission that spins the rear wheels, the six sends the GLE350 from zero to 60 mph in 7.5 seconds.

Gas mileage checks in at 18 mpg in the city and 24 mpg on the highway. Selecting the optional 4Matic all-wheel drive system has no effect on performance but it reduces the aforementioned fuel economy figures to 17 and 22, respectively.

The GLE300d boasts a 2.1-liter four-cylinder turbodiesel engine that's tuned to make 201 horsepower at 3,800 rpm and an impressive 369 lb-ft. of torque from 1,600 to 1,800 rpm. The oil-burned sends the 300d from zero to 60 mph in 8.9 seconds, and it returns 22 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway.

The 300d is exclusively available with a seven-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive.

Next up is the GLE400, which ships with a twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 rated at 329 horsepower and 354 lb-ft. of torque. Linked to a seven-speed automatic, the turbo six allows the 400 to reach 60 mph from a stop in six seconds flat.

The 400 is only offered with all-wheel drive. Fuel economy checks in at 18 mpg in the city and 22 mpg on the highway.

Finally, the GLE450 AMG is a stop-gap model between the regular GLE and Mercedes-AMG hot-rodded GLE 63. Power is delivered by a 3.0-liter V6 engine that's twin-turbocharged and direct-injected. It makes 367 horsepower from 5,500 to 6,000 rpm and 383 lb-ft. of torque over a broad range that stretches from 2,000 to 4,200 rpm. Bolted to a nine-speed automatic transmission that spins all four wheels, the six-cylinder sends the GLE 450 from zero to 62 mph in 5.7 seconds and on to a top speed of 155 mph.

Standard and Optional Features
Generously equipped, the GLE comes standard with shift paddles, tinted windows, Nappa leather on the steering wheel, aluminum roof rails, LED lights on both ends, rain-sensing wipers, a power liftgate, heated front seats, dual-zone A/C and Bluetooth audio streaming.

The list of standalone options include a trailer hitch (the GLE can tow up to 7,200 pounds when properly configured), ambient lighting, bigger alloy wheels, a sporty body kit designed by AMG, brushed aluminum pedals, adaptive high beams, soft-close doors, sport seats, heated rear seats, heated and cooled cup holders, an in-car WiFi hotspot and a rear seat entertainment system.

Buyers can also choose from a long list of option packages. The Exterior Sport Package bundles an AMG body kit and 20-inch five-spoke alloy wheels, while the Interior Sport Package adds sport seats and brushed aluminum pedals.

Motorists looking to go off the beaten path can order the GLE400 with an On/Off-Road package that adds two off-road driving modes, front skid plates and a two-speed transfer case.

Occupant Safety
Mercedes-Benz has long been known for its safety features, and the GLE-Class looks to continue that tradition. In addition to ABS and ESP stability control, the SUV boasts eleven supplemental restraints including two-stage front air bags, a knee air bag for the driver and pelvic air bags which work together with curtain and side air bags to provide extra protection for front occupants in dangerous side-impact collisions.

Also standard is an ATTENTION ASSIST system that can alert the driver to the first signs of drowsiness, a factor that causes more than 100,000 accidents a year in the U.S. A steering sensor is coupled to smart software that uses 70 parameters to establish a unique driver profile during the first 20 minutes of driving. Between 50 and 112 mph, the system identifies the erratic steering corrections drivers make as they begin to get drowsy and triggers an audible warning and a "Time for a Rest?" message with a coffee cup icon in the instrument cluster.

It also boasts Collision Prevention Assist, which uses a dedicated radar sensor to monitor the distance to a vehicle in front and to stationary objects. If the system senses a risk of an imminent collision, it pre-charges the brakes and alerts the driver with a warning beep and flashing light on the dash.

Key Competitors
The Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class SUV is up against the aging Land Rover LR4, the BMW X5, the Audi Q7 and the Infiniti QX70.