A grin lands on my face every time I walk towards the GLE Coupe. It’s a grin of amusement, a smirk of bewilderment, and a chuckle that comes from the thought that Mercedes can do whatever the hell it wants.
What it has done is propose a response to BMW’s answer to a question that was never really asked: the X6. Despite clinging solely to human emotions (as these “coupes” are nearly useless compared to the CUVs they are based upon), the manufacturers did not simply cut the length of the roof: Much effort was put into making them special.
The Mercedes GLE is handsome depending on the available light. If a dose of street presence is desired, buyers need to step up to an AMG variant. With the GLE Coupe, Mercedes has taken the time to give the ‘ute its own identity and character. I’m not certain that it represents a new breed of performance vehicle as Merc puts it, but it does something to the driver’s ego and right foot, though…
Let’s attack styling immediately. I like it. A lot. Seeing it drive slowly towards you is something else. The GLE has more of a nice-guy approach, whereas the GLE Coupe is far more imposing. The rear end is soft and smooth, while the front is tall, bold, and massive ― she’s quite the zaftig. Two or three walkarounds are necessary to take it all in. In a nutshell, any single aspect of the design could make it borderline ugly, but as a whole, it’s bold and great.
If the GLE Coupe’s shell is all but completely unique, the cabin is everything we’ve come to expect from Mercedes. In other words, it’s a familiar place to hang out. I’m quite taken by the open approach to the cockpit. The beefy steering wheel holds the important controls, while the centre stack has a user-friendly HVAC clump of buttons.
The funny thing about the user interface is the assembly of numerical buttons, which I firmly believe no one ever uses. On the other hand, the rotary COMAND knob is swell, working everything on the perfectly positioned 8” screen.
The 2016 Mercedes GLE Coupe is loaded with technology ― most of which can be useful, except in winter. You see, the slew of active safety systems (Pre-safe, collision prevention, attention assist) won’t do their job or, worse, be hyperactive when grime, snow, slush, and other winter road nastiness disturb the sensors. Warning lights and chimes randomly go off thinking a collision is imminent when I might be travelling at 40 km/h on an empty road… This is NOT a unique problem to Mercedes, but the weather and travelling conditions during my test drive were wonderful reminders of how annoying these supposedly helpful systems can be.
The GLE Coupe’s cabin is actually roomy for four occupants; a fifth person can sit in the middle of the rear bench if need be. The front seats lack thigh support, but they’re comfortable and fairly supportive overall. The surprising aspect here is the trunk: Its 650 litres are very useful with much depth. The only downside is the very high lift-over to get items in.
The GLE 350d Coupe is actually the entry-level model, which is laughable. The turbocharged diesel mill is a 3.0L V6 that generates 249 horsepower and a pavement-stomping 457 lb-ft of torque. To it are connected a 9G-TRONIC 9-speed automatic transmission and Mercedes’ 4MATIC permanent all-wheel drive system.
The 350d’s twisting power is full on as of only 1,600 rpm, but it’s not an immediate affair. Regardless of how I set the DYNAMIC SELECT (Individual, Sport, Comfort, Slippery), noticeable throttle lag was present. Whether it had to do with the transmission selecting a gear (in “D” or “R”) or simply a programmed, eco-boosting delay, the result was an exasperating dead spot followed by a surge of thrust.
The GLE 350d Coupe pushes furiously as the gears slide from one to another. At 3,400 rpm, every horse is accounted for. After seven seconds, the vehicle crosses into speeding territory ― I know, I experienced once or twice.
When on boost, the hugely heavy 2,250kg (4,950lb) CUV almost feels light. This 9-speeder is one of the best I’ve experienced yet. Downshift hesitations are next to nil, as it will drop three cogs in the blink of an eye. Sport mode heightens the experience by a negligible margin. The best is to use the Individual mode and set throttle/suspension to your own liking.
The fun thing about diesel is that with torque comes fuel economy. Driving the way I typically do, I achieved 11.5L/100km. A less excitable human could expect 10L/100km on average.
The 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE 350d 4MATIC Coupe has the girth of a tank, and this creates a comfortable state of mind. The occupants get the impression that they are sitting on top of something hugely imposing and heavy.
The resulting suspension tuning is geared more towards smoothing out road imperfections and allowing for a generous amount of body roll. Sport mode limits wheel travel through the AIRMATIC suspension’s electronically controlled air spring-struts. By comparison, the BMW X6 is sharper as a performance-oriented ‘ute, if that’s what you’re into.
The GLE’s steering is very quick, which is surprising at first, but quickly becomes a bonus. The brakes play a neat trick: Predictive Brake Priming pre-loads the braking system for improved pedal response. Backing off the throttle results in the brakes being applied lightly, much like a regenerative braking system works. It’s a very useful feature when negotiating stop-and-go traffic.
GLE to go
Like the “regular” GLE, the Mercedes GLE Coupe can sport a turbocharged V6 or V8, depending on how much fuel you want to burn or how many streetlight races you want to win. The 350d model starts at $72,300, while a 362-horsepower 450 AMG goes for $77,600. The horizon-crushing 63 AMG starts at $116,500. As tested, my 350d topped $85,000 thanks to its Sport Package and more ― worth it for the massive P315/40R21 rear tires alone.
The sub-segment this thing represents has only the BMW X6 as a direct alternative. The Porsche Macan GTS or Turbo will play hardball if trunk space is not a purchase criterion and would likely take money…