Test driving the Mercedes-Benz GLE 450 AMG Coupe
Big, curvy, star-studded, the new GLE Coupé is a cocktail of Mercedes metal, style and technology that never fails to assert itself
What happens when you want to combine sports-car dynamics with SUV capability? It's like trying to mate a cheetah with a shark to create a really fast alligator-like amphibian that can swim as well as sprint, without losing control. BMW tried it with the X6, and the first one, didn't quite deliver on either front. The second-generation car has fixed a lot of these glitches and was a capable machine indeed, and Mercedes took notice.
Mercedes-Benz GLE 450 AMG Coupe
The GLE-Class replaced the ML, and the GLE Coupé is a sloping-roof coupé-styled version, which manages to have an enviable stance and impressive road presence wherever it goes. Few cars identify themselves as competition for a specific model as clearly as this one. The GLE Coupé would fit into the BMW X6's silhouette, tyres and all. The flared wheel-arches house massive 21-inch wheels wrapped in Pirelli rubber: 275/45 front and 315/40 rear. There is more under the skin than is initially apparent. The GLE Coupé is large and spacious. More importantly, this is a Mercedes-Benz with AMG inputs but isn't an out-and-out track monster.
The COMAND interface accentuates the posh feel. Pics/Sanjay Raikar
The interior impresses with the quality of leather and complementing wood trim. Together with the COMAND interface and info-display, it delivers a posh feel that is amplified by the quality of cabin insulation. Be it road noise or loud traffic, hardly any sound made its way into the cabin. The auto-climate keeps the ambience cool to suit the mood as well. Ambient lighting is another cool feature: it gets three selectable colours with five intensity levels.
The three-litre V6 BiTurbo unit makes 367 PS and 520 Nm
The flat-bottomed steering wheel with chunky grips and paddle-shifters all add to the sporty quotient, as does the Dynamic Select knob. It offers one of five settings, including an 'Individual' and a new 'Slippery' mode along with Comfort, Sport and Sport+. This new mode auto-activates when you hit the button to raise suspension. At the rear, the sloping roof deceptively hides head-room. There is enough room for two, even three adults, with part of the headliner almost scooped out. The boot is quite large at 650 litres and is expandable to 1,720 litres. It's quite practical, once you've gotten over the fact that it is, in essence, a fastback SUV.
The interior impresses with the quality of leather
And fast it is. The '450' engine is a three-litre V6 BiTurbo unit making 367 PS and 520 Nm. Peak torque kicks in as early as 1,800 RPM, and, in most drive modes, the gearbox keeps the engine bubbling at the right level, allowing for instantaneous acceleration. The GLE 450 boasts of Merc's in-house 9G-Tronic nine-speed automatic transmission driving the 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system. While that's a sure-fire way of increasing efficiency, it's quick, too!
The rear parking camera is neatly tucked away under the Merc badge
Roaring to 100 km/h from standstill in 6.4 seconds, the GLE 450 can go on to 250 km/h. For a 2.3-tonne car, that is quick. It does feel bulky and you can feel its weight with every change of direction. Thankfully, it has a 3D-sensor system mounted in the middle to deliver accurate dynamic data to the driver assist systems. That means the Active Curve Assist and Cross-wind Detection work very well to keep the big GLE on its intended course. We wouldn't say it handles like a sport coupé, but it does handle very well for its proportions and weight.
Switch to 'Comfort' mode and there is an immediate change in character. The revs relax with the 9G-Tronic shifting from fifth to ninth in the blink of an eye. The suspension softens and steering loosens up ever so slightly. Give it a second and you realise how supple the ride really is. The AIRMATIC air suspension provides a sublime ride. Step on it, even in Comfort mode, and, apart from a slight jump to launch when the revs are below 1,600, it effortlessly lunges forward. The onboard computer automatically selects 'Slippery' mode depending on the terrain and raises the car by as much as 55 mm. Light throttle, zero wheel-spin, the GLE tested the waters with its rubber feet. Even getting back out was nothing out of the ordinary, and the GLE Coupé was ready to hit the road again.
The GLE Coupé manages to play out all its roles well. It doesn't feel claustrophobic or too heavy. It behaves itself and looks great doing so. Style may mean different things to different people, but while many buy cars to impress others, there are a few who want something different, something that looks like few others and makes you feel good, not just about it, but, more importantly, in it. And that's a blend of luxury, sport, capability and presence that Mercedes has got right.