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FULL LOAD OF LUXURY: Mercedes-Benz’s luxurious 2018 GLE550e 4Matic SUV transforms plug-in-hybrid power into unexpected levels of performance

Mercedes-Benz’s 2018 GLE550e 4Matic plug-in hybrid isn’t really much of an eco-exemplar.

Its all-electric range is a mere 10-12 miles before it switches to a more typical type of hybrid power delivery.

Instead, the GLE550e should be viewed as a high-performance version of the wide range of GLE SUVs. In fact, with its twin-turbocharged V-6 paired with an 85-kW electric motor, the 550e delivers a scorching 436 horsepower and 479 pound-feet of torque, making it probably the fastest model in the GLE lineup, quicker than even the AMG GLE43 version.

This thing is quick. Mercedes claims it’ll scoot from 0-to-60 miles per hour in a mere 5.3 seconds. That’s pretty amazing for a big, heavy, all-wheel-drive luxury SUV.

But also amazing is the nonchalant manner in which it performs this feat. Floor it from a stop light and the vehicle leaps ahead with a muffled mechanical whir as revs rise and the seven-speed automatic snaps off instant, virtually imperceptible shifts.

Driven more modestly, the 550e’s hybrid system saves fuel in several ways. It automatically shuts off the engine when coasting, at stoplights and in other idle situations. When gas power is needed, the engine restarts instantly and responds immediately. When set in charge mode, the gasoline engine runs continuously to recharge the lithium-ion battery.

Among the GLE’s many high points, the richly crafted cabin stands out. Our Polar White test vehicle had gorgeous, two-tone ginger beige and black leather seats, with planks of natural grain brown ash wood on the dash and console. Stitched soft-touch MB-Tex (mock leather) lines the upper dash and door tops.

Luxury details abound, as expected in this price range. Nearly everything that moves is powered at a button’s touch. Comfort is a given, particularly thanks to the (optional) multicontour front buckets, heated and ventilated with massage feature.

The big Benz tester came with a $4,890 Premium Package that brought a raft of cutting-edge safety technology and numerous other niceties. Passengers would be well protected in this metal-and-leather cocoon, as the highway miles slip past smoothly, quietly. The GLE550e is, indeed, the lap of luxury.

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