2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe: The New Macho SUV

Strong points
  • Dynamic and eccentric style
  • Well-finished cockpit
  • Good choice of trim levels
  • Frugal diesel engine
Weak points
  • No rear window wiper
  • Reduced rear outward visibility
  • More expensive than the regular GLE
  • Diesel version not as sporty
Full report

Back in 2003, Infiniti literally created a new species of SUV by introducing the FX, a vehicle that blended the style and characteristics of a sport coupe with those of a utility vehicle. BMW joined in a few years ago with the X6, certainly the most notorious model of that market segment. Mercedes-Benz counterattacks this year by launching the 2016 GLE Coupe, a model that fuses the DNA of two iconic vehicles, the G-Class and the AMG GT.

Compare the GLE Coupe with the BMW X6 and the Infiniti QX70

The BMW X6 is actually an X5 with a sportier body. Same goes for the Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe that shares its cockpit, its platform and its powertrains with the regular GLE, which used to be called the M-Class. Yet its base price is almost $10,000 higher than the regular GLE’s. That price hike is partly justified by higher feature content.

The Coupe, which is built in Mercedes-Benz’s plant in Alabama, is 77 mm wider and 96 mm longer, while its chassis sits 28 mm lower to the ground than the regular GLE. The result is a stubby style and better handling, thanks to the lower centre of gravity.

Like it or not

The GLE Coupe will likely receive the same reception its rivals have; some people will like its styling, while its hey-look-at-me look will offend others. In order to enhance its sportiness, the brand’s designers notably gave it a more inclined hood, a slimmer greenhouse and shorter overhangs. The most significant element is undoubtedly the roofline that flows downward, creating an almost horizontal hatchback. As with the other models in this market segment, style is up, but versatility is down, especially in regards to cargo space. Don’t be fooled by its “coupe” name, as this vehicle still includes four doors. What ties it most to the Mercedes-Benz brand? Its slim chrome trim that connects the taillights together, a styling cue that initially appeared on the latest generation of the S-Class.

The cockpit is pretty much identical to the one in the conventional GLE, with a high level of fit and finish and good ergonomics. Audiophiles will certainly love the Bang & Olufsen stereo whose sound quality is excellent. The sport steering wheel is easy to grab a hold of, while the supportive seats stay comfortable during long rides. The trade-offs of the Coupe version are reduced rear-seat headroom and limited rear outward visibility.

Diesel base version

Three variations are offered, each with its own powertrain, and they all wear a 4MATIC badge, which means each one benefits from standard all-wheel drive, which is also the case with its competitors.

The most affordable version is the GLE 350d 4MATIC Coupe featuring a diesel engine, a product strategy Mercedes-Benz likes to apply to its midsize SUV offerings. This 3.0-litre six-cylinder diesel develops 249 horsepower and no less than 457 lb-ft of torque. Its advantage, apart from its generous torque peak, is obviously fuel economy, rated at an average of 10.4 L/100km. Once under way, the engine typically sounds like a diesel, but hushes after it reaches its normal operating temperature. Its output is enjoyable and the nine-speed automatic transmission succeeds in exploiting every horsepower without too much hesitation. Given the sporty nature of the GLE Coupe, we’re left wondering if this engine is the most appropriate.

A well-suited engine

We prefer the GLE 450 AMG 4MATIC Coupe, blessed with a little more muscle. It’s also equipped with a 3.0L V6, but this one is gasoline-powered and force-fed by a pair of turbos. Output reaches 362 hp, which is still less than the BMW X6 xDrive50i’s 445 ponies. The superior vigour of the GLE 450 AMG over the diesel version is much appreciated, while the rich engine note is more satisfying as well. The AMG badge can be confusing, though. It simply designates an AMG package that’s fitted as standard, which includes some cosmetic add-ons that are usually reserved for AMG vehicles.

On the road, we liked the GLE 450 4MATIC’s sporty drive. Its Dynamic Select system adapts the vehicle to one of five driving modes, modifying throttle response, steering feel and even engine sound. Thanks to its genes, this GLE handles like few SUVs can. Despite its rather high curb weight, this “coupe” carves corners without hesitation and sticks to the pavement like a sports car. All of this is made possible in part by its generously sized tires, and also thanks to its ACTIVE CURVE SYSTEM, which controls body roll during cornering.

A real AMG

At the top of the heap is a genuine AMG variant, the 63 S. It boasts a twin-turbo, 5.5L V8 that develops 577 hp and 560 lb-ft of torque. In this case, Mercedes beats out BMW, as the X6 M gives up 10 hp and a few pound-feet to the most powerful GLE Coupe. This engine provides a unique driving experience, as all the components here are tuned for maximum thrills behind the wheel. The all-wheel-drive system in the GLE 63 S sends 40 percent of the engine’s power to the front wheels and 60 percent to the rear ones, through an AMG seven-speed automatic transmission, exclusive to this version. There is nothing subtle about the Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S 4MATIC, and that’s exactly what we expect of such a high-performance model!

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