By Leon Poultney Last updated
The craze for outrageously large SUVs shows no sign of abating, as the majority of families with a few quid to spare are still opting for the comforting surroundings of a bulbous faux-by-four rather than an estate or saloon.
While a Nissan Qashqai or a Kia Sorento may suffice for those on a budget, there are a growing number of well-heeled individuals that want luxury, speed and a German badge on the bonnet.
The Mercedes-Benz ML once catered for this type but it was getting a bit old and stuffy, so the German marque has released a thoroughly refreshed version with a new name (GLE), new styling, the latest tech, overhauled engines and a plug-in hybrid version for the first time.
It's massive, ludicrously comfortable and eerily silent as you cruise around town on battery power alone.
Here's how we got on with it.
1. It's sharp suited
The old Mercedes ML had many pleasing attributes: it was exceptionally capable off-road, there was loads of room inside and it was comfortable to drive on long motorway schleps. It definitely wasn't good looking, though.
Its GLE replacement is most certainly a more handsome beast, with the new bumper, radiator grille and LED intelligent light system bringing it in step with the rest of Mercedes' razor sharp line-up.
Inside, there's a larger media display, additional chrome accents throughout and a refreshed range of seat leathers and materials to give the whole thing a properly luxurious feel.
This plug-in hybrid version also gets funky blue badging and bright blue accents on the 3D LED headlamps, which look like a bit like Optimus Prime's head if you stare at them long enough.
2. A plug-in price hike
Before you read on, it's worth pointing out that the GLE500e costs £64,995, which is around £9,000 more expensive than its diesel counterpart, and that money doesn't get you much more in terms of interior gadgetry over the rest of the range.
Instead, it goes towards the enormous 85kW electric motor, 8.7kWh lithium ion battery pack and array of sensors, converters and piping that allow the 2.5-tonne goliath to silently cruise the streets without producing any local emissions.
If you're sitting on that sort of cash, read on.
3. It's big and clever
The engineering behind this plug-in hybrid is seriously impressive, with a plethora of relays, computers and unfathomable boxes constantly working to provide optimum power to all four wheels.
GLE is permanent four-wheel-drive but can run on engine power alone, a hybrid mix of the two and pure electric. The driver simply toggles a switch that flicks between the various modes.
For example, the battery charge can be reserved and used in low-emission zones, or it can be topped up via the engine for use later.
That's nothing new, the Golf GTE does something similar, but one particular party trick is the radar based monitoring system that farms data from the satnav and decides what drive mode is most suitable.
A case in point: if you're about to go up hill, it will switch to battery power and drain the juice because it knows reserves can be topped up via the regenerative braking on the way down. Or, if you need to overtake a lorry, it will kick in both engine and electric motor for neck-snapping performance.
5. Connect with your car
All hybrid versions of the GLE come as standard with Mercedes' latest Connect Me suite of in-car and smartphone apps on top of the already capable COMAND jog wheel-controlled infotainment system.
The extra apps come in particularly handy in the hybrid, as drivers can check remaining battery and petrol range via their mobile device, as well as heat or cool the vehicle while it is plugged in or parked.
Researched routes and maps can also be swiped to the in-car system via the apps, while real-time traffic updates and online search functions, such as information on local landmarks, hotels and charging points, can be called up on the car's main screen.
6. Munches motorways
Merc's GLE 500e will never be mentioned in the same breath as today's hyper cars but its performance figures are mighty impressive for such a massive machine.
The 0-62mph sprint is dispatched in just 5.3 seconds thanks to the extra input from the electric motor, while an autobahn annihilating top speed of 155mph is easily achievable.
Handling isn't sensational and even when sports mode is selected, where the suspension is stiffened, steering weighted and throttle response sharpened, the GLE never really disguises its gargantuan footprint.
There is bags of grip thanks to the permanent all-wheel-drive set-up, plus the fat section tyres ensure that there's plenty of rubber on the road at all times.
Plus, it's ruddy handy off-road. Granted, diesel and petrol models can be specified with a bespoke off-road pack that adds adjustable suspension and a hill descent mode, but even the hybrid can handle some hairy situations without the extra gubbins.
The mode selector switch on the centre console has a setting for slippery conditions, where the wheels become sensitive to slip and spin and will apply appropriate torque to get you up that mountain.
If you can stomach the price tag, the GLE 500e is an adept all-rounder. Luxurious enough inside to impress your mates, fast enough to embarrass many sports cars off the line, comfortable traversing the rough stuff and cheap to run around town.
In fact, the combination of a top quality kinetic regeneration system, next- generation coasting modes and a radar-based power selection make its 19-miles of all-electric driving range extremely achievable.
Be gentle with the throttle and you could easily smash a 30-mile daily commute without using a drop of fuel.
The Porsche Cayenne S E-Hybrid provides some stiff competition in terms of interior quality, performance and price. But it's slightly slower to 62mph and it's not as spacious inside.
We'll let you decide which massive, ludicrously comfortable and eerily silent SUV you prefer the look of.