A coupe it’s not, but naming paradox aside, Mercedes-Benz’s new GLE Coupe is a pretty cool ride.
Review and photos by Tom Sedens
Click on any picture to see a larger version.
If you recognize the GLE Coupe from somewhere, but can’t remember where, it might be because it starred in the recent Jurassic World movie. As a matter of fact, many Mercedes products starred in it, in one of the most heavy-handed examples of product placement I’ve ever seen.
The new GLE Coupe is Mercedes’ take on the form-over-function styling exercise that takes a perfectly good SUV and gives it a swoopy roof line. It makes it look sportier, perhaps even marginally coupe-like, but nobody in the world will actually look at it and say, “Hey, nice 2-door coupe!” I don’t get the naming and I won’t bother trying. What I can tell you is that my burly Polar White GLE 350d Coupe got a ton of looks wherever it went. And in my opinion, it’s a sweet-looking ride. You’re in this for the looks, because you’re going to give up a bunch of the practicality that comes baked into most SUVs by going with the “coupe”.
Up front, the active LED head lights menacingly stab into the night, painting the landscape in bright white light. The roof line is the most noticeable thing about the coupe obviously, and it really got people’s attention. The styling grew on me and I ended up loving it. At the back, the flattened tail section gets anchored with very distinctive LED tail lights that give the GLE a signature look in the dark. The wheel wells are filled with huge 21-inch 5-twin-spoke AMG wheels wrapped with monster rubber. Nothing about this vehicle is small or understated. Yet it all works together in harmony, and taken as one statement, it’s a pretty cool vehicle in my opinion.
Let’s just get this out of the way right off the bat. Getting out of this vehicle is a pain. The door sill is quite wide, and when you combine trying to clear that with the significant step-down height, it basically forces you to rub your pant leg against the lower part of the sill as you step out. Even when you’re focusing on the issue, it’s still hard to overcome and nearly every one of my passengers commented on it as well.
Once you’re in, it feels roomy and spacious – the cabin is large – and there was head room to spare for me. The GLE’s materials are very nice! The entire dash is made up of beautifully-stitched Artico leather panels, everything else is soft-touch plastic with nice texture, and the anthracite poplar wood trim is very pretty. One of my favourite details inside was the heated sport steering wheel. It simply falls into hand perfectly and feels great while cruising or while throwing the GLE into corners. I love it!
If I had to pick another top detail, it would be the AMG Sport seats – heated, full adjustable, and hugely supportive, they were able to provide a super comfortable place to sit at all time and they are very nice to look at. Mercedes’ beautiful screen floats above the centre stack – you’ll control it with a touchpad (which works very well for swipe gestures to make your way through the COMAND interface) or their traditional rotary joystick knob. The system includes navigation and an upgraded harman/kardon sound system, which was sweet. I always smile when I see that Mercedes is stubbornly sticking with the full numeric keypad on the centre stack.
Leave it to Mercedes to throw in an over the top feature like heated and cooled cupholders in the front – the ambient lighting in the cupholders changes from orange (normal) to blue (cooled) to red (heated) as you adjust the function. Cool stuff! Our family like the large panoramic sunroof overhead too – it certainly helps brighten up the somewhat dark interior.
One definitely needs to be ducking as they get into the rear seating area, otherwise you’ll be treating yourself to a cranial injury as you whack yourself upside the head on the low door frame. But hey, once you’re in, it’s a very nice place to be. The rear passengers get their own automatic climate control zone, a 12V port and a 115V houseplug, and heated outboard seats.
The seats are very comfortable (they recline too), but as you’d expect with that pretty roof line, the head room is pretty limited. I’m 5’10” and had about an inch to spare. Another goop of hair pomade and I’d be in trouble. Our three kids were comfortable back there, thanks to the wide cabin. Leg room is plentiful – equivalent to that of the regular GLE SUV.
The clamshell-style armrest lid opens to reveal a couple of USB plugs and a small storage space. Pop the power liftgate and you’ll get into the GLE Coupe’s trunk.
The 650 litre trunk is configured quite differently than what we are used to in an SUV, but ended up being much more useful than I had anticipated. It’s a very long and relatively shallow (height-wise) trunk, but ends up providing significant usable space for travel, etc. The drawbacks are the long reach-over and the obviously-reduced height, which makes it clear from the get-go that you won’t be transporting anything like a dishwasher with the GLE coupe. There’s a swing-up tonneau cover to visually and physically secure your stuff, and of course you can fold the rear seats down to add space, bring it up to 1720 litres. Unfortunately, this is a two-stage process – you have to tumble the seat cushion forward and then fold the seatback down.
Under the Hood
Mercedes’ wonderful 3-litre diesel engine lurks under the massive hood. Putting out a mere 249 HP, its true ferocity comes thanks to its 457 lb.ft of torque that is available at 1600 RPM. Exactly what’s needed to move around almost 5000 lb of SUV. Sorry – SUV Coupe. This diesel and the gas version get a 9-speed automatic transmission, while the fire-breathing AMG gets a 7-speed and of course the power makes its way through the 4Matic all-wheel drive system.
The diesel is surprisingly efficient for such a bulky machine, with Mercedes rating it at 10.4 L/100 km (23 US mpg) – city and 8.2 L/100 km (29 US mpg) – highway. We ended up with an average of 11.9 L/100 km (20 US mpg) which is very good for such a huge beast, being driven very inefficiently in the winter, nearly all of it in the city.
The diesel’s torque is predictably awesome and available immediately, which means this puppy jumps off the line. There’s no hesitation, and it has more than enough power in basically every driving situation. It always feels more relaxed since it only revs up to about 4000 RPM before shifting, so it feels more laid back as it works through the gears, even if you’ve got it pinned.
The GLE’s drive mode selector allows you to choose between normal, traction (for wet or icy surfaces), sport and the customizable individual mode. These all impact the vehicle’s steering, chassis/suspension and drivetrain responsiveness. The 9-speed transmission is absolutely terrific – buttery smooth, intelligent and plenty quick enough for this vehicle category. Gears can be manually shifted using the paddles if you want. I found I needed to be doing over 120 km/h for the transmission to engage the top couple of gears – at in-town freeway speeds, it was happy to top out in 7th gear, which is perfectly fine.
The suspension – wow! It simply soaks up everything. Small undulations on the road, big hits including monster potholes, it handles it all. In unflappable style. I was very impressed by how smooth and comfortable the ride was – truly luxurious. Handling is decent for a large, heavy SUV with real ground clearance is quite good. The GLE’s 4Matic all-wheel drive was exceptional. It impressed us during snow storms, on icy roads and even on dry surfaces. There are a couple of nods to the GLE’s off-road ability – you can raise the AIRMATIC air suspension for a bit more ground clearance, and there’s a hill descent control mode but I didn’t test any of this out, and I have a feeling 99% of owners never will either.
Sound levels reflect a high-end luxury vehicle – engine, road and wind noise are all very well dampened. While the high seating position affords a wonderful view of the road ahead, visibility out of the other parts of the GLE coupe isn’t great. The roof line doesn’t help and the rear view is pretty constricted, as is shoulder checking – thank goodness for the blind-spot monitoring then! There is a wealth of other driver assistance technology too when optioned up like my review vehicle was – front and rear parking sensors and a 360-degree camera, active cruise control, Active Parking Assist, active lane keeping assist, cross-traffic assist, collision prevention assist and adaptive high-beam assist.
And hey, if you’re towing things, the GLE brings a surprising 7200 lb towing capacity to the party!
We found an incessant clicking sound coming from somewhere in the car, which became very noticeable when you’d turn down the music. It didn’t vary at speed, and didn’t appear to be impacted by any kind of particular driving and it even happened at a full stop. We finally determined that it was coming from the loudspeakers, as if some connection was loose or something. While I can’t officially diagnose the problem, I can say it drove us crazy. That’s irritating when you’re driving a vehicle this expensive.
While the diesel’s prodigious wave of torque is just awesome, there were a couple of instances where it felt as though the GLE was caught flat-footed. They were times where I needed to accelerate suddenly and quickly, in order to get into traffic, and somehow the transmission or the electronics didn’t agree with my request and it took a couple of seconds for the vehicle to really get a move on, which caused a sudden sensation of panic as I watched the traffic get really REALLY close. And then I was off. I’m not sure what caused this to happen, but it was alarming. To be clear though, the usual response was immediate and authoritative, and the GLE generally hustled whenever I asked it to.
This one isn’t a big deal, but if you don’t like stalks on your steering column, the GLE may push you over the edge. Because you will find THREE of them just on the left side, never mind the gear selector stalk on the right side.
All in all, I really liked the GLE Coupe. The drivetrain is an absolutely sweetheart, and I’d love to find that jewel under the sheet metal of any vehicle. The overwhelming feeling was one of luxury and presence. The styling seemed to appeal to nearly everyone, which was surprising to me. It was a hit with me, but I was surprised to hear almost everyone who had a look at it saying they loved it.
WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) was very high – she loved driving it, and loved how it looked and how luxurious everything felt. She said she wouldn’t want to live with a vehicle this big on an everyday basis though.
While there’s plenty to like when it comes to the GLE Coupe, the styling certainly impacts the functionality of the SUV, and you pay the price in rear seat head room, as well as the trunk space and how it works. If those two things are not huge considerations, and the styling is for you, then perhaps you’ll be one of those who park this “coupe” in their garage. I can’t really predict how many Mercedes-Benz will sell. BMW surprised everyone by selling more X6s than anyone had ever predicted, so you never know. It’s a much better looking vehicle than BMW’s X6, so maybe it will carve out its own niche. It’s not the SUV I’d buy, but that’s not because I don’t like it.
Pricing: 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE 350d Coupe
Base price: $72,300
Options: $2,600 Sport Package; $2,600 Interior Sport Package; $2,700 Intelligent Drive Package; $4,250 Premium Package; $675 trailer hitch
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $85,225 (note that this does not include freight/PDI charges)
Disclosure: Vehicle was provided by Mercedes-Benz Canada.
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