Mercedes-Benz GLE350d Coupe (2016) Review

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With the muscular new GLE Coupe Mercedes-Benz has set its sights on the always controversial BMW X6. Has the three-pointed star stepped out of its comfort zone in doing so, or has it hit the bulls-eye?

Highlights

  • Butch looks that doesn’t compromise the packaging… too much
  • Extremely quiet cabin and great refinement
  • Good performance, but the BMW X6 trounces it in power/economy balance
Though it is true that we can thank – to some extent – the existence of the BMW X6 for the new “coupe” version of the GLE SUV (previously named the ML-Class), the decision to develop this vehicle was based on far more solid foundations than “niche-envy”. During the first quarter of 2015, Mercedes-Benz sold 30% more crossovers and SUVs than during the same period in 2014. The massive growth was, of course, fuelled by new additions such as the GLA, but the overall growth curve for SUVs continues to point upwards. As a consequence, Mercedes-Benz will roll out even more SUVs and spin-off models in the coming years.

But back to the GLE Coupe, tested here in 350d guise. It will undeniably appeal to flamboyant Mercedes-Benz brand aficionados but the question is simple; does it offer a meaningfully different – or better – alternative to a vehicle that defines its type, the BMW X6?

Brutish looks

If you like making a statement with your car, then the GLE Coupe will certainly suffice – rarely have we had a test car that attracted so many admiring glances. Its brutish presence is the consequence of expressive design and generous proportions. This is a big car that casts a very big shadow. Understandably it is the curvaceous rump that draws most attention. The narrow tail lamps were clearly inspired by those on the sleek AMG GT sports car. Striking 20-inch wheels are standard fitment, but our test unit had optional AMG 21-inch rims, which further boosted the look-at-me credentials.

That sloping roofline and steeply raked rear window lead many to question the GLE Coupe’s rear passenger carrying abilities. The reality is that it is actually rather spacious back there. Legroom is no issue, and even six-footers shouldn’t have a problem with headroom. Our test unit featured lovely front seatback-mounted DVD screens, each with its own set of wireless headphones, to make long-distance travel a really pleasant affair. Of course, rear climate control is always a boon.

Given its focus on design, the GLE Coupe actually impressed with the levels of practicality on offer. The boot is very big. At a claimed 650L it is significantly larger than the X6’s 580L. It is also very well-shaped, being over a metre in length. The rear seats fold down to boost load carrying capacity to 1 720L, again significantly more than the BMW’s 1 525L. Oh, and if you want to tow, there is a very nifty electrically controlled towhook that magically swivels out from underneath the rear bumper. If we had to complain about something, we’d say the loading sill was perhaps too high, so some heavier stuff will need a considerable amount muscle power to hoist into the boot. Also, visibility through the rear window is compromised by the severe slope, but the standard rear-view camera makes up for this to some extent.

Superb refinement and comfort

This is a million Rands’ worth of luxury SUV, so the presence of loads of comfort, entertainment and safety features is a given. Yet, there are loads of options to consider too. Ultimately, however, it is not these features that leave the lasting impression. Cruising in the GLE Coupe is an incredibly refined exercise – the cabin is one of the quietest we have yet experienced and the immensely solid feel of all the fittings is proof that Mercedes-Benz is back to its legendary quality ways.

As is the case with the eye-catching bodywork, the interior is similarly pleasing to behold. Compared with the ML (soon to be facelifted and become the GLE), the control interfaces have been neatened and the detailing is superb. Plus, the GLE Coupe adds some surprise-and-delight features. We particularly liked the brown leather upholstery of this test unit, and the fact that the ambient interior light could be adjusted. Our test car also had quite a vast panoramic sunroof.

Great cruising capability

Powering the GLE350d Coupe is Mercedes’s 3,0-litre V6 turbodiesel engine. It develops 190 kW and 620 Nm of torque. Both those figures are impressive, but it needs to be pointed out that the BMW X6 xDrive40d offers considerably more power, but only 10 Nm more torque. The GLE Coupe’s maximum torque figure is already available at a low 1 600 rpm, so it gets going pretty swiftly off the line. The 0-100 km/h time of 7,0 seconds is certainly more than good enough for this type of vehicle but, again, that X6 is likely to show it a clean pair of heels in a straight sprint.

A bigger surprise is that the BMW is also considerably more frugal, consuming only a claimed 6,2 L/100 km compared with the Mercedes’s 7,2 L/100 km. During our extended test of the GLE we achieved an average figure of just under 9,0 L/100, not bad considering the performance on offer. The GLE has a massive 93L fuel tank, so a cruising range of more than 1 000 km is on offer.

You’ll certainly enjoy such cruises. Besides the mentioned cabin refinement, the engine is also silky smooth and the new nine-speed automatic transmission is a considerable improvement over the previous seven-speed unit widely employed in Mercedes-Benz products. The GLE Coupe comes standard with the new Drive Select system and adaptive air suspension. There are three modes but everyday use Comfort is certainly best. In this mode the GLE wafts along quietly. Switch to Sport and things get considerably stiffer. Driven enthusiastically the GLE Coupe impresses with its grip but ultimately this is a heavy car and it feels it. The GLE Coupe can’t quite match the sense of agility offered by a BMW X6.

Although very few people are likely to take a GLE Coupe off the beaten track, we did. You can raise the suspension very easily by pressing a button on the transmission tunnel, and there is hill-descent control, too. It coped well during some light off-roading. Fitted with more suitable off-road rubber, it may even be rather talented at this.

Conclusion and Summary

When it comes to a vehicle with such a clearly defined target as the GLE Coupe, one tends to measure it up against only that vehicle, in this instance the BMW X6. But doing so would be missing the point. Brand loyalty being what it is, the typical BMW buyer is unlikely to be swayed by the GLE Coupe. What this product does is to offer the more flamboyant Mercedes fans out there the option of something with more style and flair. And… it may very well lure some buyers away from other potential rivals, the Range Rover Sport and Porsche Cayenne, which the more conservative ML/GLE may not have done. Wherever the buyers will come from, they’ll be driving away in a very good new product.

Mercedes-Benz GLE350d Coupe Price in South Africa

The Mercedes-Benz GLE350d Coupe costs R1 006 774 and comes with a two-year/unlimited km warranty and six-year/100 000 km Maintenance plan.

Team Opinion

"There's no sincerer form of flattery than imitation, and the designers responsible for the BMW X6 must feel very flattered right now. However, Mercedes have deviated slightly from the X6 formula, adding in a good dose of off-road capability to the GLE Coupe; it feels like a car you might actually take off the tarmac. On the road it has all the manners and presence you would expect from a million-Rand Mercedes, and the interior is nothing shy of S-Class levels of luxury. All that said, I think I'd still opt for the normal GLE, I just can't get used to that sloping backside." - Ciro de Siena

"The GLE  Coupe offers a interesting alternative for someone looking to make a statement. It’s big, garish and not all that practical but, it has a great diesel engine and some solid road holding skills." - Ashley Oldfield

We Like: Build quality, Refinement, Spacious cabin, Stand-out design

We don’t Like: Not as powerful/economical as BMW rival

Also consider: Range Rover Sport, BMW X6

Compare the Mercedes-Benz GLE350d Coupe with the BMW X6 xDrive40d and Range Rover Sport TDV6 S here.

Mercedes-Benz GLE350d Coupe - Quick Specs

Mercedes-Benz GLE350d

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