2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe: First Drive
What it is: 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE 450 AMG 4Matic, AMG GLE 63 and AMG GLE 63 S four-door “coupe” SUV.
Price Range: To be determined
Competitors: BMW X6, BMW X6M, Audi Q6 (rumored)
Alternatives: Porsche Cayenne, regular Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class SUV
Pros: Sleek looking, wagony and fun to drive.
Cons: Heavier than it looks, feels wallow-y in corners and loud at speed
Would I Buy it with My Own Money: Probably not. I’d rather have a pure sports car and a pure SUV. Or if I was going to have to compromise — a sports wagon.
It’s a car! It’s an SUV! It’s a….
Fastbacks have been around since the 1930s when automotive designers started using airplane shapes to smooth out square angles and rough edges on boxy vehicles. Some of the resulting designs are iconic, breathtaking, and fast. Other end up looking like something that you popped out of a Silly Putty egg—bulbous, awkward, and unwieldy.
Since the introduction of the X6, BMW’s “sports-activity coupe,” back in 2008, car makers have begun to try their hand at the “I’m sort of an SUV and sort of a car” thing with some measured success. While the aging X6 has seen an overall decline in sales since 2010, BMW still sold upwards of 30,000 X6s worldwide last year. Now Mercedes is getting in on the game with the new GLE Coupe. As Wolf-Dieter Kurz, Mercedes vice president of SUVs and sports cars, explains, the new GLE Coupe is aimed mainly at Mercedes buyers at both the beginning and the end of the SUV buying lifecycle—both new families and empty nesters. Kurz says he expects this coupe version of the small SUV to sell in the 100,000-unit range worldwide.
Again, with the names: Mercedes has forced all its SUVs into a new, rigidly Tectonic structure. The GL portion of the name signifies that this automobile falls into the SUV line, while the third letter signifies its relative size class—GLA is the smallest, followed by the upcoming GLC, then the GLE, all topped by the full-size GL.
The GLE Coupe is at the upper side of Mercedes’ midsize SUV family, but stateside we’ll only be able to buy the AMG-flavored versions of the coupe—the GLE 450 AMG 4Matic, the AMG GLE 63 4Matic and the AMG GLE 63 S 4Matic. Mercedes doesn’t think we’ll want the slower versions here. And where “AMG” goes in relation to GLE matters a lot.
The GLE 450 AMG is part of Mercedes toned-down AMG Sport line, a midpiont between standard Mercedes and full-fledged AMG sports cars. The AMG GLE 63 and the GLE 63 S are both stonkin’ AMGs: the GLE 63 is powered by a twin-turbo V-8 engine with 550 hp and has 516 lb-ft of torque, and the S bumps that to 577 hp and 560 lb-ft of torque. Both rely on a 7-speed paddle-shifted dual-clutch automatic transmission.
The less-hot GLE 450 AMG comes with a twin-turbo V-6 engine that puts out 362 hp and 384 lb-ft of torque, driven by a more efficiency-minded 9-speed automatic transmission.
From certain angles the new GLE Coupe looks, well, wagon-y, but that fastback design works on the exterior. Large wheels and a muscular frame give the SUV a hunkered down, taut look. The interior is spacious enough for five adults and despite sitting up high as if you are in an SUV, it handles relatively well on winding roads. Even the AMG GLE 63 S wallows in the turns, but in sport mode the steering is just as direct and responsive as, say, a big 7 Series BMW.
Also new on the GLE Coupe is the included Airmatic suspension that was specifically tuned for this SUV. It allows for adaptive damping, self-leveling, and can raise the vehicle by up to 50 mm for rougher terrain.
But as with the other “coupe” SUVs, there are a few major negatives to the GLE’s design — particularly on the highway. First on my list: Wind noise. At highway speeds between 60 and 100 mph there’s an aggravating but subtle pressure change that happens in the cabin of the car, forcing passengers and driver to pop their ears — much like you would in an airplane on descent. When traffic slows or speeds up further the sound stops, but once it gets to that range between 60 and 100, pull out your bubble gum and start chewing.
Second, and I use this term judiciously, visibility sucks. The sloping roof and high tail make rear vision so difficult the driver has to rely almost entirely on the rear camera to back up. The same applies for using the rear-view mirror, making lane changes and monitoring traffic behind you more dicey than in other standard SUVs. Out of the front, visibility is also limited due to wide A-pillars that tend to block the driver’s line of sight.
All in all, the 2016 GLE Coupe is an interesting piece of SUV/car chimera, and despite niggling complaints, it’s enjoyable to drive and comfortable to ride in. If this style appeals to you, I’d go with the GLE 450 AMG. Sure you get additional horsepower and torque with the 63 and the 63 S but the 450 offers plenty of enjoyment and horsepower for what most people will be putting the car through.
Pricing has not yet been officially announced, but expect the new GLE Coupe to make its appearance in American showrooms in August.