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Mercedes GLE 350 de 4MATIC AMG Line

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Late last year I tested the Mercedes GLE 350 de 4 MATIC AMG Line. You may be familiar with it: it’s a large luxury SUV. Hidden in that elongated model name is one key letter but more on that in a moment. Priced at €105,900 and just under €127,000 (when tested) with options it’s important to say this is an expensive vehicle but nowhere near as costly as the Mercedes EQS SUV 450+ fully electric wunder-wagon SUV I had driven a few weeks earlier. Mind you it drew an interesting comparison.

Suggesting in any way that you’re saving the planet’s environment while buying a Mercedes EQS SUV that weighs 2,805 kg and came to €146,038 all in is a stretch. Of course prices in Ireland or where you live may have changed somewhat since this review but you get the idea. Though a bit of full disclosure is needed – I was smitten by the EQS’s uncanny silence and cushy seats.

Back to the Mercedes GLE de for a moment. That innocent looking “e” signifies that this 2.0 litre four pot diesel with a relatively small 194hp also has an electric motor that generates an additional 136hp. Combined it produces 333hp with a beefy 750 Nm of pulling power. 0-100 km/h time in 6.9 seconds.

And yet that’s still not the point of this large luxury SUV that goes toe to toe with BMW’s X5. It’s all to do with range: how far you can travel from place to another before you’ll need to fuel up and recharge the battery.

People smirk at the suggestion of buying a plug-in petrol SUV in this day and age. They really roll up their sleeves with exasperation when you tell them it has a diesel engine. Haven’t Mercedes gone to all the trouble of building us the fully electric EQS SUV? Why in their right mind would anyone go back to a diesel hybrid?

It’s back once more to that issue of range. Using just the electric motor the GLE’s claimed electric range of 66 miles WLTP – around 60 miles on this test – it will cope with most daily family commutes before having to plug in the battery overnight for the following day. Thus you may only need to use the diesel powerplant infrequently.

So far so good then. Now say a drive of around 600 kms crops up at short notice. The GLE will easily travel there without having to stop. And do it in one go. Indeed you might even get further than that. Not so the €146,038 fully electric Mercedes EQS SUV 450+ I’m comparing it to. Yes the claimed range is 626km WLTP but that will dip considerably when cruising at 120km on a motorway for hours. Banking on the claimed 626km of fully electric range? Not a chance. I eeked out just 540km over a mix of driving routes.

Then comes the challenge of recharging the EQS SUV at night. In the GLE I simply found a garage, filled it up with diesel and was on my way in 15 minutes along with a refreshing coffee in the cupholder. In the EQS SUV 450+ I wasn’t as lucky. Glancing at the digital screen it was suddenly down to 200kms of range. Because I was outside of Dublin I had to postpone a meeting so I could find a charging station. On my first attempt the parking bays were all occupied and at the second location it wasn’t working. As luxurious as the EQS SUV 450+ is it was tripped up by the inadequate electric charging network.

Mercedes claims the EQS SUV will achieve, officially anyway, 0.7-litres-per-100kms or over 400 miles of range. But the range drops in surprising chunks that somehow never affects any diesel engined vehicle. In other words, the depleting range in a diesel is fairly predictable.

Which is why the GLE 350 de remains the clever buy until the electric charging network is as convenient and reliable as a traditional petrol station. Ignore what your are being told – to do that it will take years.

As for this GLE with the electric and diesel power it’s one of my favourite luxury SUVs and if Mercedes wouldn’t mind ditching the imprecise central touchscreen and impossible to use steering wheel touchpad controls which are terrible to operate and replace with physical buttons it would be even better. Diesel/electric SUVs may in time be outlawed and thing of the past. In this GLE de – with a small “e” – that day still looks like being some way off. That’s very good news as far as I’m concerned.

Mark Gallivan report

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