First Drive: New Mercedes-Benz GLE 350d Coupe

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As of right now, there aren’t many SUVs out there that will send other drivers this strong of a message in traffic. The GLE Coupe embodies style, power and a great deal of attitude.

If you’re in the market for a large premium family car with some flair, then the GLE Coupe could meet your needs. And yes, you read that correctly, I said family car, not SUV or SAC specifically.

The GLE Coupe has been a long time coming. As you know, BMW ran amok with their X6 SAC (Sports Activity Coupe) for years on end. They started production for it in 2007 and now they’re already onto their second generation model, 8 years later.


Back when it first came out, I even preferred the way the X6 drove compared to the extremely capable and facelifted Porsche Cayenne. Sure, the Cayenne had better throttle response, but it didn't feel as agile as the X6. It’s what you get when you have a lower center of gravity, more overall width, less weight and even a better driving position.

Basically, if you wanted to own a large premium 4x4 that drove more like a big sporty Estate than an SUV, the BMW X6 was one of your best bets. Now, however, we finally have an answer from Mercedes-Benz. It’s called the GLE Coupe and it’s based on the GLE (rebranded/facelifted ML).



So…how does it look?

Seeing it in person and living with it for a couple of days made me realize that if you take the S-Class Coupe, make it taller, bulkier and get it to hunker down, you end up with the GLE Coupe. It's pretty sensual from most angles. It's got those muscular wings, upright grille, forward sloping hood and of course the Coupe silhouette and S-Class Coupe rear end going for it.

By the way, another neat touch are the all-LED headlamps and how that light strip (daytime driving lights) first turns blue before turning white as you unlock the car. It just makes you feel all warm inside. Oh and you also get the same rear-parking camera that pops out from underneath the badge, just like on the S-Class Coupe.

As for the wheels, our test car was packing 21” rims which is as low as I would recommend you to go. In fact, 22” wheels would probably work even better.



What about the interior?

Considering that this is a €70,000 Mercedes-Benz (in Europe), it’s pretty nice once you step inside the cabin. However, it's not quite on the same level as say, an S-Class or even a C-Class in terms of cabin design, as it's based on the older ML interior architecture.

Now, before I get into the tech and what not, I’m going to clarify for you why I called the GLE Coupe a large family car. Normally, you’d expect a SAC to not blow you away with its rear space or luggage space. The first generation X6 for example, had less boot space than a VW Golf Variant.

Let me break it down for you:

- 2008 BMW X6: 570 liters (20.1 cu.ft) or 1,450 liters (51.2 cu.ft) with the rear seats folded
- 2015 BMW X6: 580 liters (20.4 cu.ft) or 1,525 liters (53.8 cu.ft) with rear seats folded
- 2015 Mercedes GLE Coupe: 650 liters (22.9 cu.ft) or 1,720 liters (60.7 cu.ft) with rear seats folded

On paper, the GLE Coupe has as much space in the boot as a BMW X5. Yes, that is correct – a SUV Coupe with as much space as a regular SUV. I said "on paper" because you still won't be able to position as many suitcases, for example, vertically as you would in a non-Coupe SUV's trunk, which is to be expected. But at least the legroom in the rear is pretty good for this type of vehicle.

I’m about 1.81 m (5’11), and while sitting more than comfortably in the front, I was able to move over behind the driver’s seat and realize that there was still a full palm’s length (fingertip to wrist) between my knees and the back of the front seat. That’s the type of knee room you expect to have in something like the Volvo XC90, not a Sports Activity Coupe. And yet there it is.

The materials are top notch (typical Mercedes-Benz), the driving position was great, despite the fact that you feel like you’re in a much taller car when driving the GLE Coupe, compared to the X6, or even a regular SUV like the XC90 for that matter. The reason for that is because the GLE Coupe is indeed taller than the X6, and the Porsche Cayenne. By the way, rear visibility is indeed compromised, which is to be expected in a Coupe SUV, but with all the cameras at your disposal, it shouldn't be that much of an issue.



As I said before, this is a €70,000 car over here, but don’t imagine that you’re paying that much just for the styling, the interior quality and the drivetrain. You obviously get plenty of standard equipment such as (just naming a few) the gorgeous & sporty multi-functional steering wheel, the 9G-Tronic 9-speed transmission, Thermatic climate system, 4-way lumbar support, full-LED lights, rain & light sensors, active hood, Agility Control, plus a whole bunch of safety features.

This specific tester also came with a couple of nice extras like the Harman Kardon Logic 7 audio system, Disctronic Plus, parking pack with 360 panoramic view, panoramic sunroof and of course the Airmatic suspension which was an absolute delight.

Naturally, there were other features as well, but at this point I just felt like they drove the price up for no valid reason. Like I said, you could definitely live with this car in total luxury exactly the way it is, without any optional extras. The only thing it didn’t have was Keyless Go – felt kind of weird to have to stick the key in and turn-to-start in a car this prestigious.

All in all though, this is one of the best interiors available on any SUV today. The fact that you can buy this car and not sacrifice as much practicality or interior room as you would expect compared to regular SUVs like the BMW X5 or Porsche Cayenne, is definitely worth noting.

Also, we’ll get into how much it costs compared to its rivals a bit further on.



Does it drive as well as the X6?

Yes and no. The thing about the GLE Coupe is that it’s got this Jekyll & Hyde thing going for it, where you’re just driving along peacefully, gliding across the surface of the road in comfort mode, and then, at the touch of a button (turn of a dial to be exact), the car just firms up everything from the steering to the suspension, the throttle response, the transmission response and so on…and it becomes significantly more agile.

I was mostly surprised by the huge difference between Comfort and Sport mode – it was literally like I was driving two completely different cars. And the reason why that's great is because you can have the perfect Mercedes-Benz experience in Comfort mode, and then switch it up whenever you feel like driving something more sporty.

The steering feel is pretty good, it turns in sharp when you need it to, body roll is well kept in check and high speed stability is impressive as well. You’re generally aware that you’re driving a BMW X6 rival, but most of the time, especially in ‘Comfort’ mode, it doesn’t feel like anything else other than a big Mercedes-Benz.

Also impressive was the new 9G-Tronic nine-speed automatic transmission. Its responsiveness is excellent, and you can get it to shift quickly as well as in a manner that is barely perceptible so that you can enjoy cruising around.

Our GLE 350d Coupe test car was equipped with a 258 PS, 620 Nm (457 lb-ft) 3.0 liter V6 turbo-diesel engine, that was a peach to drive. Technically it has more punch than the X6 xDrive30d’s equally powerful diesel unit, and the reason of that is because it has more torque.



Despite weighing over 2.2 tons (4,960 lbs), the GLE 350d Coupe can accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h (62 mph) in just 7 seconds. It feels quickest anywhere between 30 km/h (18 mph) to 80 km/h (50 mph), and that’s perfect because it makes you feel like you can drive it really sporty through town.

Once you’re at highway speeds, it obviously doesn’t feel as potent when you put your foot down, but in my opinion, it offers an excellent balance between fuel economy and performance in a car this size - considering the fact that it's a diesel and not an AMG.

By the way, it has a 93 liter (24 gal US) fuel tank, more than you get in the BMW X6, and heck, almost as much as you get in a Cadillac Escalade!

According to Mercedes, the GLE 350d Coupe should average about 6.9 liters / 100 km (34 mpg US / 40 mpg UK) mixed cycle, but that’s going to be particularly difficult since you’d have to be driving really slow all the time in order to get anywhere near that. In the city, there’s no doubt in my mind that you can average around 9 liters / 100 km ( 26 mpg US / 31 mpg UK) without necessarily having to watch how heavy your right foot is. But you still might want to.



What else can I get for around €70k?

First of all, if you live in the U.S, rejoice, because you can get a GLE 450 for $65,100. So what else can you get that’s arguably as cool as the GLE? Maybe a CLS? I don’t know, you decide.

And since it costs just as much as the BMW X6, you’re pretty much stuck in terms of choice. If you’re a BMW fan, then sure, I can understand why you’d rather have the X6.

In the U.S, the regular GLE is about $14,000 cheaper than the Coupe (different engine configuration though), which I suppose is something that might give you a pause for a second. But here for example, a GLE 350d, with the same engine as our test car, costs only about €5,700 less.



Bottomline?

If you've always liked the BMW X6 and you want something with a Mercedes badge, but with more style than you get in the regular GLE, then yes, it's hard to say no to the GLE Coupe - unless you’re biased against Mercedes cars for some reason. Maybe one ran over your cat when you were little, I don’t know. But other than that, this thing looks like a slam dunk in the Coupe SUV segment.

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