Kitzbühel, Austria— The hills were alive, indeed -- but not with the sound of music; well, not in the traditional sense. No, they were alive with the sound of the AMG S V8 biturbo exhaust note ripping through the serene mountainsides, bouncing off rock faces and sky-high trees, ricocheting off sleepy valley towns. As I skirted the Austrian and German borders behind the wheel of Mercedes’ latest take on the ML -- now renamed to GLE -- in both Coupe and SUV guise, the hills were very much alive, and so was I…
What’s in a name?
First things first: the new naming scheme. Mercedes-Benz has taken a page from Infiniti it would seem and is realigning its lineup. What was once called the M-Class will now be known as the GLE-Class. Within that class are two body styles: the traditional SUV we all know and recognize as the old ML (with a freshly redesigned front fascia, of course) and the brand new addition to the family, the GLE Coupe.
From there, Mercedes-Benz has also implemented their new AMG naming strategy. So, while there is a Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe 450 AMG 4MATIC, it simply sports an AMG package, but is not a full-blown AMG. The real AMGs are the Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 4MATIC and Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S 4MATIC. Confused yet?.
The name is hardly the important part
No, the important part is the brand new Coupe version of the GLE. What the company did here was combine the sporty drive of a sedan with the room and comfort of an SUV. It’s not an easy task, but those who have managed to do it successfully have done very well (read: Porsche Macan).
From the front, Mercedes did everything right. Large gaping vents (even larger on the AMG versions) give the GLE an aggressive look. The added hood vents in the AMG and AMG S models only add to that. Dynamic, solid character lines trail from the snarly front end to the turned-up rear, and that’s where it all goes a bit… flat. Literally.
I was flummoxed looking at the rear. It’s as if Mercedes-Benz designers meant to do something super cool and different, then kind of wiped over it with a disinfectant swab. Just sort of glossed over it and made it “smooth.”
In SUV guise, the 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE is a looker. Strong, assertive and manly, this is a true SUV in every sense of the word. The exterior design is spot on, and Mercedes’ strong shoulder lines and aggressive front fascia only make it more so.
Inside, it’s typical Mercedes-Benz fare –Nappa leather, rich woods or AMG carbon fibre bits and pieces all melded together to form a comfortable and high-end environment that’s as plush as it is functional. The new HMI system featuring a touchpad (light-years ahead of the Lexus system) is easy to get used to, and while the centre stack may seem simple at first, it’s perfectly designed and a breeze to use.
2016 Mercedes-AMG GLE Coupe 63 S 4MATIC
I started at the very top with the 2016 Mercedes-AMG GLE Coupe 63 S 4MATIC. In one word: Wow. Housing a twin-turbo V8, this beast of a machine spits out 585 horsepower. Read that again. The exhaust note is enough to make babies cry and grown men weep. Mated to an AMG SPEEDSHIFT PLUS 7G-TRONIC transmission, this thing boogies hard. The 2016 Mercedes-AMG GLE Coupe 63 S 4MATIC also features the brand's latest DYNAMIC SELECT transmission mode selector, which allows for sportier suspension and steering characteristics when put in Sport or Sport+.
The GLE Coupe 63 S 4MATIC took to the winding Bavarian roads like a good sports car would, only I was much higher off the ground and carrying significantly more weight – but you’d never know it, which is precisely the idea behind the GLE Coupe body style.
Of note, there is a non-S version of the Mercedes-AMG GLE Coupe 63. This one features the same twin-turbo V8, but tuned slightly differently as it only cranks out 557 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque. Only. Pffff.
2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe 400 4MATIC
Next, I slipped behind the wheel of a 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe 400 4MATIC. Equipped with a V6 producing 333 horsepower and 354 lb-ft of torque, as well as Mercedes’ 9G-TRONIC transmission (note: it’s a 7G-TRONIC unit in the SUV body style of the same trim level), the GLE Coupe 400 felt a bit held back in comparison. Granted, I should have probably tested these two models the other way around as I felt the GLE Coupe 400 was confused in Sport+ mode. Gear shifts were jerky and not at all pleasant. Revs were held too long, and throttle response was almost too sensitive.
2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE 500 e 4MATIC
Truthfully, the 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE 500 e 4MATIC felt livelier than the 400. With a combined horsepower rating of 447 and the same amount of torque as the 400, the 500 e can run on full electric power alone for approximately 34 kilometres. On my watch, I managed 32 clicks (and I was not trying to be conservative – shocking, right?). The 7G-TRONIC PLUS automatic transmission is smooth and on point. One of the coolest features of the Mercedes-Benz GLE 500 e 4MATIC, though, has to be the haptic throttle. That’s right: The pedal vibrates when you’re driving too aggressively, just to let you know you’re not being as economical as you could be with the hybrid system.
At the base of a mountain in Austria we were slotted to test the off-road capabilities of a fleet of GLE 400 4MATICs equipped with an extra off-road package that reinforced the underbody and offered special off-road onboard computer stats (such as departure angles, all-around cameras, etc.). I’ve done what I thought were serious off-roading trails in vehicles before, but this was something else. We all came back a little wide-eyed.
Descending a muddy, slippery hill at a 60-degree angle in a large SUV, then scaling a wall that tips the car to the right at 35 degrees (where rocks and water are waiting) is nothing to scoff at. The 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE handled it all with aplomb. Land Rover Discovery Sport, you may have met your match…
2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE 350 d 4MATIC
I finished my European drive behind the wheel of a 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE 350 d 4MATIC. With stretches of speed-limit-free zones of Autobahn before me, the diesel-powered Merc and I took to it with brute strength and force. Get-up-and-go is fabulous, as the V6 produces 258 horsepower and a smile-inducing 457 lb-ft of torque. The torque is what really counts here, especially since it kicks in as low as 1,600 rpm.
The sights, sounds, and smells
With the introduction of the coupe version of the Mercedes-Benz GLE, as well as the Mercedes-AMG models, there was a lot to take in over a short period of time while I explored Germany and Austria behind quite a few different steering wheels. As far as first impressions go, the new GLE-Class is remarkable and has much to offer in terms of engine choices and body styles.
Canadian pricing will range from $70,000 to over $100k for the GLE lineup.