The Mercedes-Benz M-Class was introduced in 1997 for the 1998 model year as a midsize, luxury SUV that boasted many industry-firsts. The first luxury SUV to feature electronic stability control, the M-Class was also the first crossover to offer front- and side-impact airbags with advanced occupant detection for the front passenger seat. The SUV made its dealership debut in North America as the ML320, which was powered by a 3.2-liter, V-6 engine linked to permanent 4MATIC four-wheel drive. The M-Class became a sales success in the United States, a trend that continued with the second-gen model between 2005 and 2011. A redesigned, third-gen model arrived in 2012, currently being sold in four guises across the U.S., ranging from the fuel-efficient ML250 BlueTEC to the powerful ML63 AMG. As we venture into 2015, when the M-Class is set to receive a facelift, the Germans are expanding the lineup by adding a plug-in hybrid drivetrain, its first for an SUV.

Likely to carry the GLE Plug-In moniker — the M-Class is set to become the GLE according to Mercedes’ new naming scheme — the hybrid SUV made its first public appearance in late October 2014, and our trusty paparazzi were at the right place and at the right time to capture it on the go. Read on to find out more about the vehicle and see it lap the Nurburgring.

Click past the jump to read more about Mercedes-Benz GLE Plug-In Hybrid.

Spy shots

October 27, 2014 - First testing session

2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class Plug-In Hybrid Exterior Spyshots
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2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class Plug-In Hybrid Exterior Spyshots
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2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class Plug-In Hybrid Exterior Spyshots
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Don’t be surprised the GLE Plug-In was brought to stretch its legs on the "Green Hell." It’s quite common to see SUVs and crossovers lap the ’Ring nowadays, although the vehicle shown above isn’t the performance type by any stretch of the imagination. Hybrid or not, Mercedes-Benz wants to make sure the fourth-gen M-Class is as sporty and dynamics as it gets, especially since it competes against SUVs such as the BMW X5 and the Audi Q7.

Naturally, the hybrid version is identical to the regular GLE as far as styling goes, with only an additional cap revealing this SUV comes with a charging socket. What makes it special lies underneath the sheet metal, where the conventional gasoline engine works in conjunction with an electric motor. Details are being kept under wraps as of this writing, but we expect a drivetrain combining the same units from the C350 Plug-In sedan. Specifically, the GLE Plug-In will be motivated by a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder mill with at least 200 horsepower at its disposal and an electric motor incorporated into the seven-speed automatic transmission rated at 80 ponies.

Competitors

Volkswagen Touareg

2015 - 2016 Volkswagen Touareg High Resolution Exterior Wallpaper quality
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The GLE Plug-In’s main competitor comes from Germany as well. Already available in dealerships, the Volkswagen Touareg hybrid borrows the drivetrain from the previous-generation Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid, meaning it combines a 333-horsepower, supercharged, 3.0-liter, V-6 engine and a 47-pony electric motor that generate a total output of 380 horsepower and 428 pound-feet of torque.

The Touareg’s powertrain mates to an eight-speed automatic transmission and enables the SUV to sprint from 0 to 60 mph in a respectable 6.5 seconds before hitting a top speed of 150 mph. These performance numbers come with a fuel economy of 24 mpg on the highway and 20 mpg in the city, and a sticker that sits at $64,745.

Audi Q7 Plug-In Hybrid

2016 Audi Q7 Plug-in Hybrid Exterior Spyshots
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Audi’s very own hybrid SUV is scheduled to arrive for the 2016 model year. Unlike the Touareg Hybrid, the Q7 Plug-In Hybrid will benefit from the updated drivetrain that debuted in the Cayenne S E-Hybrid. Although the 3.0-liter V-6 keeps its 333 ponies unaltered, the upgraded electric motor now boasts 95 horses, 48 more when compared to its predecessor.

The combo cranks out 416 horsepower and 435 pound-feet of torque, which means the 0-to-60 mph sprint can be achieved in less than six seconds. Besides being quicker than the Touareg, the Q7 is also expected to return better mileage too. On the other hand, the Q7 will guzzle more dollars than its competitors, with pricing likely set in the $70,000 range.

Mercedes M-Class

2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE Exterior Spyshots
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