Is it a copycat? That could be the biggest accusation that could be levelled at the Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe, which is suspiciously similar in its intent to the BMW X6.
Part SUV, part four-door ‘coupe’, the new Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe could be seen as a catch-up model. Perhaps nobody expected the BMW X6 would be so successful, and thus a Benz spin-off model built from the same underpinnings as the existing ML-Class (and the new GLE) is late to the party.
Indeed, Mercedes-Benz claimed at the launch of the GLE Coupe that it could have beaten the original X6 to market in 2008, and it may be wishing it did. According to BMW, the X6 has seen “great success worldwide”, with more than 250,000 examples sold since its inception. It’s most popular in the US, with China and Germany following close behind.
The GLE Coupe will no doubt follow a similar popularity trajectory, and the German brand’s local arm isn’t even hazarding a guess as to how it might fare in Australia, other than to say that it “will sell well”. Read the Australian pricing and specifications for the new Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe range.
You can make your own mind up about the styling – and that’s something that’ll be a chief driver of purchasing decisions for this model. As the X6 is to the X5, the GLE Coupe is more extroverted than the standard GLE, and the car gets plenty of glances from passersby – whether they like it or not is a different matter.
You’d think that swoopy roofline would play havoc with the interior practicality of this big SUV, but there’s no doubt this is a better back-seat experience than the Bimmer.
There’s surprisingly good headroom, and even with an optional sunroof there’s lots of it, unless you’re exceptionally tall, or if you lean your head well back. Shoulder room is good – Benz claims it’s the widest rear seat bench in its class –and there’s decent leg room, too. Keeping those cool in the back is a set of low-mounted central air-vents, as well as pillar-mounted ones as well.
The rear seats themselves are extremely comfortable, with a fantastic amount of under-thigh support that means you feel like you’re sitting in the seat, not on it.
And while the boot isn’t ideal for loading bulky parcels in, there’s plenty of space in the cargo hold: if you fold the adjustable rear seats flat, there’s 1720 litres of boot space, which is a “world record for luggage compartments in a coupe model”. With the seats up, it’s a 650L hold, which is more than the X6 (580L seats up/1520L folded) but less than the standard GLE SUV (690L/2010L).
Up front, the infotainment system is a bit of a mishmash of old and new – there’s the updated Comand interface with touchpad, and a plethora of hot buttons on the dash that, while a bit dated looking, are actually quite helpful as navigating the menus using the rotary controller isn’t as intuitive as it is in a BMW or Audi.
The 8.0-inch screen is reasonably quick to load, but it isn’t touch-capacitive.
The driving position isn’t bad, but we found the bolstering to be lacking a little. Some test cars had adjustable bolstering, which fixed the problem, and thankfully that it’s standard on all models coming to Australia.
Vision from the driver’s seat isn’t great, as you’d expect. Over-shoulder glances offer little reward, but thankfully the camera system – 360-degree surround-view on some models – helps in that regard. What can’t be helped, though, are the windscreen pillars, which make tightening corners a bit problematic.
And passengers may be disappointed that on models fitted with the panoramic glass roof, there are no grab handles. Well, I was disappointed when I was a passenger in the Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S Coupe… but mainly because I wasn’t driving.
About that – we’ve come to know the AMG 63 name quite well, and in this model it relates to a 5.5-litre twin-turbocharged V8 engine. In most markets it will be offered in two states of tune, but Australia gets only the top one in the S version, which is 430kW of power and 760Nm of torque. For those playing along at home, the X6 has a 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 with 423kW and 750Nm.
The big V8 is a potent powertrain with amazing, linear power delivery that is matched by one of the greatest tailpipe symphonies on the road. Thankfully, the burbling, growling V8 engine comes with a standard sports exhaust system for Australian models which means you get to hear that note all the time … well, almost all the time: the upgraded seven-speed automatic gearbox now has a coasting function that means you won’t hear the engine as it disengages from the driveline when the car is cruising or rolling down hills.
We found the transmission offered terrific quick and precise shifts particularly under hard throttle, though it could be a little sharp at lower speeds. Some Australian colleagues reported some harsh shifts in different cars. The paddleshifters are rewarding, too, as you can hear a nice chirp on the upshift and plenty of crackle and pop when backing off.
The new Dynamic Select system ensures you’ve got the right settings for the engine, transmission, traction control system and steering, and there are multiple modes to choose from: Slippery, Comfort, Sport, Sport+ and Individual, the latter of which allows you to configure settings to your liking.
That trickery is welcome, particularly given that there has been plenty of work done to the existing ML underpinnings to make the GLE perform more dynamically, and the GLE Coupe – in AMG guise – is no exception.
The standard Airmatic air suspension makes for impressive ride comfort, particularly given the AMG has 22-inch wheels with 285/40 front tyres and 325/35 rears. That said, we noticed some shuddering at the rear over sharp-edged bumps.
Mercedes-Benz’s clever Active Curve System helps isolate body roll through corners in Sport or Sport+ modes, and we were very impressed with the lack of tilting exhibited by this large SUV, which in AMG spec weighs 2350 kilograms. And stopping the thing is a cinch, with excellent brake response and good pedal feel from the AMG’s ventilated and perforated disc brakes.
While our test route had fewer corners than we would have liked, it was clear that the steering offered quick reactions and decent weighting, but a little more feel to the driver’s hands would make it even better.
We also sampled the more sedate GLE 450 AMG model, which is powered by a twin-turbocharged V6 petrol with 270kW and 520Nm. Its teamed to a nine-speed automatic gearbox, and the combination is a treat.
The engine offered smooth power progression and plenty of punch from low in the rev-range, while the auto ‘box offered smooth shifts. The powertrain was also quite accommodating to being revved out towards the red-line, and with ample reward – particularly in Sport+ mode, where the exhaust offers nice blats on the up-shifts.
This variant is a little lighter than the AMG 63 S – indeed, at 2220kg it’s the lightest GLE Coupe that’ll be sold in Australia (the 350d diesel is 2260kg) – but we noted that it could feel a little fussy in terms of its ride quality.
We felt more of the smaller, pitter-patter bumps being transmitted to the cabin through the 21-inch rims, but it was still reasonably well resolved over pockmarked back roads.
While the steering in the 63 S was nicely hefty, the same couldn’t be said of the 450 AMG which, particularly in Comfort mode, felt too light at low speeds. But as things got a little more rapid it gained a nice amount of weight, but still lacked much meaningful feel.
The biggest disappointment for this variant was its brakes. It may have been our test car, but the pedal feel was atrocious, initially very spongy and with no linearity. It made pushing the car hard something of a test of intestinal fortitude.
In case things go wrong, Mercedes has loaded the GLE Coupe with lots of standard safety gear, including Distronic Plus adaptive cruise control with active steering assistance, autonomous emergency braking, crosswind assist, blind-spot and lane departure warning systems. As well as that, the GLE Coupe has nine airbags.
In summary, the GLE Coupe may seem a compromised SUV, and it is – that roofline has an impact on outward vision, as well as practicality. But for potential buyers, there’s quite a bit to like – particularly in the Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S model.
We look forward to seeing what it’s like to drive on Australian roads when it arrives in September.