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GLE. Never heard of it…

Fair enough. Mercedes is, er, rationalising its model names. The fact several are changing makes it confusing right now. But the idea is we’ll eventually latch on to the cold German logic of it all. So from now on the SUVs and crossovers will begin with GL. Their third letter indicates the size, just as it does for the cars: A through C and E up to S-class in increasing bigness.

Thusly we have GLA already, and the GLC unveiled a week ago. This GLE is a facelifted and re-named ML-class. Finally GLS, which will be the new name for the big GL once it too gets a facelift.

So what will they call the G-Wagen? GLSXL?

Nope, they’ll leave it at G-class, because even cold German logic has its limits. Remember when what had been simply the Land Rover was suddenly badged Defender? That was back in 1989, and really no-one’s got used to it yet. Proper old heroes deserve to keep their names.

So it’s an E-class-sized off-roader?

You have learned well and will shortly graduate as a Stuttgart badge laureate.

How much ML-class is carried over?

Most of it. There’s a rather agreeable curvy new nose. But it’s grafted unconvincingly onto the angular ML body. Designers would call it inhomogeneous and lacking visual integrity. The rest of us would say it’s a bit of a mess. Still, those new headlights are clever adaptive-beam LED units. And the interior, always pleasant enough, has had some upgrades including the latest Comand controller and a tablet screen.

Diesel versions get a smooth nine-speed autobox. The steering is more direct. And the adaptive dampers are a more sophisticated type than before, able to alter their state smoothly between their extremes rather than being just binary, soft or stiff.

What can you get?

The GLE range kicks off with a 250d four-cylinder diesel, on coil suspension at just under £50k. Next up is the £55,875 V6 350d, with standard adaptive air suspension. There are two petrol options in the UK, a blunderbuss 63 AMG and the plug-in hybrid which I’ll come to in a minute.

OK, tell us about the diesel mainstay.

It’s an amiably quiet V6, providing worthwhile shove when you need it, slickly integrated with its nine-speed autobox. It all makes a relaxed and calming vehicle. If you try to hustle it, it’ll push back with lots of pitch and roll - although on the new dampers I fancy there’s less than in the ML. Even so it’s best to be decorous, staying below the limits. That way it’s soothing and relaxed and yet surprisingly brisk. It’s how the best Mercedes generally do feel.

So it’s another soft-roader?

No. It’s just that it doesn’t lug about more industrial-grade engineering than it needs for most peoples’ purposes. But if you’re one of the few who needs serious off-roading, Mercedes obliges with a £2k option pack. This allows the air springs to jack up higher for more ground clearance, and adds a low-range transfer box, locking centre diff and skid plates. Fit your choice of chunky tyres and you can tackle scarily serious terrain.

Ah but I like my friends to think my SUV is a cuddly saviour of the icebergs.

May we suggest the GLE 500 e. This is a plug-in hybrid. Its prime mover is a 333bhp petrol V6, so not exactly saintly. But much of the time that’s switched off, because you also have at your disposal a 116bhp electric motor. Both of them feed through the autobox and 4WD system.

One bright morning I set off on a full battery, and then managed almost 20 miles without the engine. Well, except for some brief interludes of very impressive overtaking, during which I made use of the impressive combined 442bhp. On a 40-mile journey it showed 59mpg. Usual caveat: I’d used more energy than just what was in the fuel, because of the electricity. On the second half of the journey it was operating as a normal hybrid.

Transitions between the various drive permutations are impressively smooth and lag-free. It’ll still do decent off-roading and tow a two-tonne trailer. The only practical drawback is a higher boot floor because of the battery. At a rated 78g/km, it’s a canny way to save tax if you’re in the market for a £64,940 company car. But that figure is greenwash because it doesn’t mention the CO2 of electricity generation.

What do you think?

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