The skinny: Not for the faint-hearted, the thumping new GLE Coupe from Mercedes-Benz takes a leaf out of BMW's style book - the one it used to create the polarising, but very successful, X6.
Essentially, the style idea is to take a bold coupe-like shape, then jam it atop the platform and mechanicals of the GLE SUV. The result is something new for MB, and another sports coupe-cum-SUV crossover to terrorise just about everything else.
BMW is now up to its second generation X6, the vehicle that pioneered the SUV coupe, so there's some catching up to do for MB.
Vehicle Style: Large luxury SUV coupe
GLE 350d $121,900 - GLE 63 S $198,900 (plus on-roads)
GLE 350d 190kW/620Nm 3.0 6cyl turbo diesel | 9spd automatic
GLE 450 AMG 270kW/520Nm 3.0 6cyl turbo petrol | 9spd automatic
GLE 63 S 430kW/760Nm 5.5 8cyl turbo petrol | 7spd automatic
GLE 350d Claimed: 6.6 l/100km | Tested: 10.4 l/100km
GLE 450 Claimed: 9.4 l/100km | Tested: 11.8 l/100km (highway)
GLE 63 S Claimed: 11.9 l/100km | Tested: 17.4 l/100km
The SUV coupe is still fairly new, in that it has few imitators - this strange marriage of SUV and sweeping fastback roofline.
Pioneered by the BMW X6, but now its Mercedes’ turn to have a shot. The result is the GLE Coupe, and like the GLE SUV this one features all-wheel-drive, seating for five, and a range of petrol and diesel engines.
It features some Mercedes-Benz coupe hallmarks, like the slender tail-lights that extend deep into the tailgate, a softly swept rear window, and a number plate shifted down to the rear bumper.
There are four passenger doors, and a powered liftgate, plus framed windows - not very coupe-like at all then.
There’s also a GLE 450 AMG model that doesn’t appear in the GLE SUV range.
It packs a more powerful version of the twin turbo V6 found in the GLE 400, and scores a bi-modal exhaust - just like the big-gun GLE 63 S, but without going all the way.
Over hill and dale, and right up to the city limits, we gave the new GLE Coupe range a rigorous workout to see what this Hulk-like hatchback has to offer.
- GLE 350d: Artico man-made leather dash, Nappa leather upholstery, radar cruise control with speed limiter, power adjustable AMG-Line front sports seats, memory function for front seats mirrors and steering column, power tailgate, customisable interior ambient lighting, black fabric roof lining, Nappa leather multi-function steering wheel with flat bottom, stainless steel sports pedals, dual-zone climate control, 21-inch alloy wheels
- GLE 450 AMG (in addition to GLE 350d): AMG-Line black leather upholstery with contrasting red stitching, panoramic sliding sunroof, alarm system, rear spoiler, 22-inch alloy wheels
- GLE 63 S (in addition to GLE 450 AMG): Heated and ventilated multi-contour front seats,, Exclusive AMG-S Nappa leather upholstery, AMG performance steering wheel, Dinamica black headlining, heated and cooled front cup holders, three-zone climate control, TV tuner, closing aid for doors and bootlid.
- Infotainment: Comand Online, 8.0-inch colour display, satellite navigation, 10GB hard disk, CD/MP3/AM/FM/DAB+ playback, voice control operation, Bluetooth phone, audio, and internet connectivity, Harman Kardon ‘Logic 7’ 14-speaker audio.
- Cargo volume: 690 litres seats up, 1720 litres seats down
Both the GLE SUV and GLE Coupe share the same dashboard, centre stack, centre console, and infotainment system, and thanks to rejuvenation for the GLE SUV the system looks and works well.
The GLE 350d carries an ever-so-slightly higher specification than its SUV equivalent, with items like the Artico dash, Harman Kardon audio, and AMG-line interior and exterior treatments included as standard, to help offset the $17,000 higher price.
As for space, yes the roofline is lower, but for most people that won’t be a problem. Inside there’s still enough headroom up front for driver’s of all heights, while six-footers and beyond can still happily fit into the rear.
Like the GLE SUV rear legroom is cavernous and even more surprisingly boot space is just 40 litres less with the rear seats up, thanks to a longer boot floor. That also means that anything that has slid to the front of the boot is an awkward lunge away.
Fold the rear seats and the maximum cargo space is 1720 litres, 290 litres down on the SUV - but for buyers focussed on style over practicality it’s unlikely to be a problem. A powered tailgate is standard across the range for ease of operation.
The standard AMG-Line interiors feature a more sporting look to the seating surfaces, with the GLE 450 AMG set further apart by red stitching. A sports steering wheel, and sports pedals are also part of the AMG-Line package.
Head to the GLE 63 S and there’s multi-contour seats with more adjustment possibilities than you’ll likely need, plus a massage function. A unique instrument cluster and steering wheel set the 63 interior further apart.
ON THE ROAD
- GLE 350d: 190kW/620Nm 3.0 litre turbo diesel V6
- GLE 450 AMG: 270kW/520Nm 3.0 litre turbo petrol V6
- GLE 63 S: 430kW/760Nm 5.5 litre turbo petrol V8
- Transmission: Nine-speed automatic (350d and 450 AMG), seven-speed dual clutch automatic (63 S), permanent all-wheel-drive
- Suspension: four-wheel independent adjustable Airmatic suspension
- Brakes: Four wheel disc brakes - vented front rotors, solid rear rotors (350d) vented front and rear rotors (450 AMG), cross-drilled vented front and rear rotors (63 S)
- Steering: Electric power steering, 11.8m turning circle
- Towing capacity: 2900kg (350d), 3500 (450 AMG, 63 S) braked, 750kq unbraked, 265kg downball.
All three of the engines in the GLE Coupe range are strong enough to leave a favourable impression.
Starting with the GLE 350d, the turbo diesel V6 is quiet, smooth and deceptively quick, with 190kW and a mammoth 620Nm of torque on hand.
Even approaching redline the engine maintains its composure, and is matched by a buttery-smooth nine-speed auto.
Steering, engine, transmission and suspension can all be altered via the Dynamic Select controller that features Comfort, Sport, Slippery and Individual settings.
As the name suggests, Comfort sets up the cushiest ride, and sets the transmission and steering to be less demanding. Sport turns up the wick, sharpens the responses of all systems and firms up the suspension for less roll and a more sporting feel.
To bookend that, the Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S Coupe comes armed with an explosive 5.5 litre twin-turbo V8 that thumps out 430kW and a face-melting 760Nm.
That makes it Australia's most powerful SUV, capable of a 4.2 second 0-100km/h sprint.
And the glorious noise of this thing is an outward sign that you’re driving something capable of humbling genuine sports cars. Even in Comfort mode it roars with a hedonistic burble.
On the AMG-badged models there’s also a Sport+ setting. Dial this up and the noise is sinful. More roar, more grumble, more bellow, and on the overrun a crackle that sounds like a chorus of machine guns.
Family SUV? Ha - surely you jest!
Between the two sits the GLE 450 AMG. It isn’t quite the full AMG package, but it offers its own driving thrills and is arguably the sweet spot of the range.
Loaded with larger alloy wheels, and a rear spoiler, the GLE 450 AMG looks tough, and it also scores the 63’s bimodal exhaust, mated to a high-output 3.0 litre twin turbo V6.
As you’d expect, the noise is entirely different. Think of the 450 AMG as a Mezzo-soprano to the 63’s Baritone notes, it sounds more active, yelps at the top end, and doesn’t miss out on the wild staccato overrun.
It also feels more pliable on the road. Where the 63 S simply turns the scenery to a blur and hurtles you from one corner to the next, the 450 AMG gives the driver a chance to keep up.
Unlike the 63 which sends the ESP light into a strobing fit in tight turns, or on damp roads, the 450 AMG has enough left in reserve to really put the power down and give you a clean run.
But, they’re both SUVs that weigh beyond the two-tonne mark, so you wouldn’t really do that - no matter how enticing both vehicles may be - would you?
When the results are this good, of course you would.
ANCAP rating: The GLE Coupe has yet to be tested by ANCAP.
Safety features: Standard safety items include nine airbags (2x front, 2x front seat side, 2x rear seat side, 2x curtain, and 1x driver’s knee), stability and traction control, downhill speed regulation, Distronic radar-guided cruise control, collision warning, blind spot monitor, rear cross traffic assist, 360-degree camera, and front and rear park sensors.
Pre-safe Plus can prepare the vehicle if it senses an accident, and now includes rear impact detection, while an active bonnet on all models except GLE 63 S aids pedestrian protection.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
When it comes to slant-back SUVs most people immediately point out the BMW X6 as the GLE Coupe’s prime competitor, but spare a thought for the Infiniti QX70 as well. It may not have a match for the GLE 63 S, but the rest of the range comes as a cut-price match to the GLE Coupe range (and if nothing else it certainly is ‘interesting’ to look at).
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Mercedes-Benz understands as well as anyone else that the GLE Coupe is a niche offering, and expects the Coupe to make up roughly one-in-ten sales of the overall GLE range.
As a first-attempt, GLE Coupe is convincing. Building on the strengths of the existing SUV and adding a splash of panache for buyers who want to stand out from the crowd.
Before breaking into the semantics of what does or doesn’t make a coupe (or an SUV for that matter), take some comfort from the fact that manufacturers aren’t finished experimenting with the automobile.
Exemplary on-road manners, a modern and well-trimmed interior, and plenty of modern luxury touches cement this as a deserving addition to the Mercedes-Benz, and Mercedes-AMG, sporting stable.
Now all that remains is to sit back and watch the stoush between the GLE Coupe and the BMW X6.
PRICING (plus on road costs)
GLE 350d $121,900
GLE 450 AMG $141,900
GLE 63 S $198,900 (plus on-roads)