The heritage: Success story
In 1997 Mercedes-Benz founded the premium SUV segment with the launch of the M-Class. At the same time this was the brand's first model to be produced in the USA, at the new plant in Tuscaloosa/Alabama. Since autumn 2015 the model family has borne the name GLE, emphasising its positioning as an SUV in the E‑Class model family. More than two million customers have decided in favour of the off-roader since the launch of the M-Class, and the GLE is the bestselling SUV in the history of Mercedes-Benz.
First generation (W 163): 07/1997 – 12/2004
The new model, designated the AAV (All Activity Vehicle) when it was presented as a concept study in January 1996, was officially known as the M-Class from the time of its market launch in the spring of 1997. The respective model designations also always included the two letters "ML" on legal naming-related grounds. The first Mercedes-Benz model produced in the USA featured electronically controlled all-wheel drive which had its debut in the M-Class under the name 4ETS. In traditional off-roader fashion, the body was mounted on a separate chassis. The interior was variable, two sunroofs could be installed in the roof, and GPS navigation plus a car phone with a hands-free system were state-of-the-art when it came to connectivity at the time. The engine range consisted of two turbodiesels and two petrol variants. A facelift in the autumn of 2001 comprised more than 1100 new and modified components which markedly upgraded the vehicle in terms of design, interior, technology and standard equipment.
Second generation (W 164): 02/2005 – 06/2011
In its second generation the M-Class became more car-like: the ladder-type frame gave way to a unibody, and the transmission no longer had an off-road reduction as standard. This did not mean that the technical effort for off-road driving became any less: optional items were an Offroad package with 100 percent locking of the centre and rear axle differentials, a reduction gear that allows engagement of reverse gear while on the move (shift on the move), an underguard, a compass, a manual mode for the automatic transmission and a five stage adjustment range for the optional air suspension, of which three were freely selectable.
This ML shared the same technical basis as its sister models of the R‑Class (251 series) and the GL presented in 2006. There was a choice of four petrol engines with 6 and 8 cylinders, and in 2009 these were joined by the first hybrid SUV by Mercedes-Benz, the ML 450 HYBRID. In the diesel sector, six different common-rail turbodiesels with six and eight cylinders were introduced successively or simultaneously.
With the model facelift in March 2008, the M-Class underwent a number of design changes and received the preventive occupant protection system PRE‑SAFE®.
Third generation (W 166): 11/2011 – 09/2018
On its introduction, the third generation of the M-Class was given the 7-speed automatic transmission 7G-Tronic Plus with start/stop system as standard, acceleration skid control, vehicle dynamics control, 4ETS (electronic traction system) and downhill speed regulation (DSR). The smallest petrol variant (of a total of five petrol models up to the facelift in 2015) and both diesel variants featured a steel suspension as standard, but could optionally be equipped with the two-chamber air suspension Airmatic with adaptive damping system and level control, which more powerful petrol variants featured as standard.
Also available on request were the Active Curve System, stabilisers whose spring stiffness was automatically adjustable for reduced body roll, Night View Assist and Active Parking Assist.
With the model facelift in 2015 the M-Class became the GLE, and a particularly sporty sister model was added in the form of the GLE Coupé. Eight petrol engines with more V6 than V8 variants and two common-rail diesel engines provided the power, which was in some cases transferred by a 9G-Tronic transmission. As a favourably priced entry-level model intended mainly for the American market, the GLE 350 now also became available with only rear-wheel drive.