Hybrids

2018 Mercedes-Benz GLE550e: Where plug-in means performance

With only 10 miles of all-electric range, Mercedes’ GLE550e is better thought of as a power-enhancing plug-in hybrid, not an eco-warrior.

Emme Hall/Roadshow

Plug-in hybrid SUVs aren't really known for their all-electric range, and that's especially true with the 2018 Mercedes-Benz GLE550e. This thing can only eke out 10 miles of EV driving, which puts it behind the Porsche Cayenne S E-Hybrid (14 miles) and Volvo XC60 (17 miles). But look at it another way, and the GLE550e can really shine. With more power than even the AMG GLE43, Mercedes' plug-in GLE550e can really scoot.

The GLE550e uses a twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 and adds a 8.7-kWh lithium-ion battery and 85-kW electric motor. All told, this powerplant puts out 436 horsepower and 479 pound-feet of torque, which is way more than the 385 horsepower and 384 pound-feet of the aforementioned GLE43. Power is sent to all four wheels through a seven-speed automatic gearbox. Mercedes claims the GLE550e can hit 60 miles per hour in 5.3 seconds, which isn't too shabby for a vehicle that tips the scales at nearly 5,500 pounds.

2018 Mercedes-Benz GLE 550e plug-in hybrid

A 3.0-liter V6 combined with plug-in hybrid technology nets 436 horsepower.

Emme Hall/Roadshow

In the default driving mode, the GLE550e acts like any other hybrid, driving as efficiently as the computer sees fit. You can switch to E-mode and rely solely on the 85-kW electric motor, but again, only for about 10 miles, though you can drive on pure electricity at speeds up to 80 mph. Drive the GLE550e in Charge mode and the gas engine will recharge the battery while you're on the go. (If you plug in to a 240-volt wall charger, it'll take about two hours to replenish the battery.) If you prefer to save your battery life while you're out driving, use E-Save and hoard your electrons for a later time.

I find it best to just leave the GLE550e in Hybrid mode, switching over to Charge mode when the juice gets a little too low. Do note, this method of charging takes some time, only recuperating a mile or two of EV range over a 45-minute drive. All in, my weekend with the GLE550e resulted in observed fuel economy of 20 miles per gallon, which is close to the 21-mpg gas-only combined EPA fuel economy rating. If you're better than I am about charging the battery (say, if you have a charger at your home), you'll likely get closer to the GLE550e's EPA-estimated 43 MPGe rating.

My tester has the optional $1,610 air suspension, which helps mitigate the imperfections of bumpy Colorado highways. You'll feel each ripple of pavement with the suspension set to Sport Plus, but switching to Comfort turns the ride into buttery smooth bliss. The 550e certainly isn't the most composed GLE variant when pushed along twisty roads, so while there's ample power on tap, those looking for a sportier experience will want to go the AMG route, or check out the (more expensive) Cayenne.

When it comes to driving aids, Mercedes-Benz packs the GLE550e with lots of good stuff. Adaptive cruise control keeps the GLE at a predetermined distance behind the car in front of it, and will even bring the SUV to a complete stop before starting up again. Steering Pilot is excellent on highway drives, keeping the GLE550e centered in the lane and tackling long, sweeping turns with only minimal driver interaction. The GLE550e doesn't have Mercedes' lane-change assist, as seen on the S-Class, but the features it does have are excellent. Just be ready to pay $4,890 for the privilege of this assistance package.

Inside, the 550e is like every other GLE -- comfortable, if a bit dated in its design. There's room for five adults, and plenty of cargo space for a weekend's worth of luggage (and then some).

2018 Mercedes-Benz GLE 550e plug-in hybrid

The COMAND infotainment system is serviceable, but is not the most intuitive on the market. 

Mercedes-Benz

Mercedes' COMAND infotainment system is housed in an 8-inch color display, controlled via rotary dial in the center console, or by the shortcut buttons just below the screen. COMAND will soon be replaced by Mercedes' new MBUX infotainment system, and that can't come a moment too soon. The current tech is rife with menus and submenus, and the outdated design doesn't help in the already last-gen-feeling GLE interior. The good news, however, is that Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard here.

The GLE550e starts at $66,700, though my tester rings in at $79,840 with its myriad packages and standalone options. The GLE550e might not be the best plug-in SUV on the market in terms of efficiency, but what it lacks in new tech and electric range, it makes up for in available power and super-smooth on-road dynamics.