The next-generation Mercedes-Benz GLE has been spied for the first time.

It's hard to get a true sense of the final design as the entire body, except for the roof, is covered in camouflage. In addition to the odd false panel, many of the car's snap-in components, such as the grille and tail-lights, have also been replaced by temporary units.

That said, it seems as though the fourth-generation M-Class/GLE will retain the SUV's historic harder edge styling elements, even though the rest of the Mercedes-Benz range now favours flowing lines and softer shapes.

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Under the skin, the GLE will likely use version of the rear- and all-wheel-drive platform found underneath the E-Class. Like almost all new cars nowadays, the GLE will probably shed up to 100 kilograms through the use of lightweight materials, such as high-strength steel and aluminium.

Motivation will probably come from a mix of turbocharged petrol and diesel engines, and include four-cylinder, V6 and V8 models. If current trends are anything to go by, the V8 engine will be used exclusively in the range-topping AMG models.

A plug-in hybrid variant will also be offered as part of the range, at least in Europe, China and the United States.

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It's not entirely clear when the new GLE will debut, but given that the current M-Class/GLE was unveiled back in 2011, and Mercedes-Benz likes to stick to seven year model cycles for core vehicles, 2018 seems to be a good bet.