Mercedes-Benz GLE

Now with improved manners and a Coupe spin-off

GLENN BUTLER @GlennWheels

FIRST OVERSEAS DRIVE

THE 2015 Mercedes GLE Coupe is only the first step on a journey of body-style discovery for the German carmaker.

To some, it may seem like Benz is playing catch-up with the BMW X6 four-door coupe that arrived in 2008. Not so, says the three-pointed star; the SUV Coupe project was well advanced in the mid-2000s, claims head of SUVs Wolf-Dieter Kurz.

“We looked into [an SUV coupe] at that time and said, ‘Let’s invest the money differently to give us the wider portfolio base than just investing in the niche’.

“On one end, of course, it’s a financial issue; on the other, even more it’s a question of capacity.

Where do you put your R&D guys, in which type of vehicle type to be developed?

“A new vehicle development costs the same whether you do a vehicle which has 100,000 units in its life cycle or a million. So for us it was more important to expand the A-Class portfolio.”

The niche SUV’s time has now come. At its core, the GLE Coupe is based on the new GLE wagon, which itself is essentially a styling and efficiency refresh of the ML-Class. The underlying architecture is the same, as is the 2915mm wheelbase. The biggest difference between the two, obviously, is the body.

Where the GLE conforms to the traditional SUV wagon shape, the GLE Coupe casts a more rakish profile thanks to a dramatically sloping rear roofline draping a 91mm-longer and 68mm-wider body. That roof sits 65mm closer to the tarmac despite the GLE Coupe’s much taller tyres adding 20mm to floor height. Overall, the GLE Coupe weighs about 55kg more than the wagon.

Enthusiasts may deride these more expensive, less pragmatic versions of otherwise practical SUVs, but a growing number of consumers clearly see value in standing out from the burgeoning SUV wagon crowd with something that visually promises a more dynamic drive.

The GLE’s performance edge is assisted by a small but strong choice of engines. Whereas the regular GLE wagon gets four engine choices across its range - a 150kW 2.1-litre turbo-diesel (GLE250d), 190kW 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel (GLE350d), 245kW 3.0-litre twin-turbo petrol (GLE400) and the GLE500, which is essentially a GLE400 plug-in hybrid with batteries and electric motors for extra performance or fuel-free running (for 30km) - the GLE Coupe, which is expected to sell in considerably smaller numbers than its more practical sibling, makes do with just two: the GLE350d Coupe and GLE450 AMG Coupe.

Both bodies will get an AMG variant with a 410kW/700Nm 5.5-litre twin-turbo V8 capable of hustling the 2.2-tonne SUVs to 100km/h in 4.3 seconds.

Benz has tried to differentiate the GLE Coupe dynamically, with a wider track, firmer suspension and a faster steering ratio. It’s a busier ride, but not out of character for a machine claiming sporting pretences. And monster 21-inch tyres on even the cheapest model give the GLE Coupe good grip, though when the law of physics wins out, the GLE loses grip at the front first and last. Until then, it does feel marginally more alive than the GLE wagon, though it’s still a long way short of being truly satisfying for an enthusiast.

Still, you have to respect what modern engineers can make a 2.2-tonne machine do. And you’re going to have to get used to it, too, because there’s still a lot more growth to come from this SUV family tree.

PLUS & MINUS

Busy ride; high loading lip; transmission sometimes clunks Vision; grip; refinement; decent room despite the Coupe’s roof

01 G FORCE

Get used to this GLE nameplate, because more Gelandewagen (cross-country vehicles) are being developed. Aside from the evergreen G-Class bludgeon, there’s the GLC compact SUV and the monster GLS (previously the GL).

02 NINE NEWS

The 7G-tronic seven-speed gearshift that seemed such a big leap forward in the old ML has been replaced by the ninespeeder first seen in the 2013 E-Class. A new gear set and on-demand pump actuation improve efficiency.

03 GENERAL DYNAMICS

Pride of place on the centre console goes to the Dynamic Select controller. Predictably, it’s not as dirt-biased as a Land Rover Terrain Response system, the rotary dial switching through Snow, Comfort, Sport, Sport+ and Individual modes.

Fashion tax

$17,000. That’s how much extra you’ll pay for a GLE350 Coupe over the traditional GLE350 wagon.

Benz says the higher price is justified by additional equipment such as AMG body styling, Airmatic suspension, 21-inch wheels, power tailgate and more, not to mention the Coupe’s unique sloping roofline and dynamic enhancements.

Mercedes wouldn’t reveal its volume predictions for the Coupe compared to the wagon, but if BMW’s track record with the X5 and X6 is any guide, then the more expensive Coupe will account for only about one in 10 GLE sales.

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