2015 Mercedes GLE Coupé driven
By Andrew English
MY goodness, this is an ugly car. Normally we say, “Ah yes, but it looks better in the metal,” but not in this instance we don’t. If BMW’s X6 previously held the award for biggest monstrosity in production car design, the Mercedes GLE Coupé has now comfortably lifted that title.
We’re talking here, of course, about the emerging niche of SUVs with plunging, coupé-like rooflines.
In this case the car is based on Mercedes’s new GLE, aka its M-class replacement. Although it’s not really that new: “We call it new because that’s more understandable for the customer,” says Andreas Zygan, director of development for SUVs at Mercedes. He explains that while the standard GLE is virtually unchanged apart from a revamped front end, the Coupé’s body is all new: lower, leaner, longer and wider, thanks in part to the wider track, which improves the handling.
So put a paper bag on your head and climb in. Here the GLE is a class act, indeed. The roof cuts cruelly down behind the rear-seat head restraints, but it’s a genuine five-seater in most other respects. The boot is easily up to the job of taking the luggage of five people, too.
I’m not sure about the black-ash dashboard, but otherwise Mercedes has scarcely put a foot wrong. The seats are comfortable, supportive enough and as big as armchairs. And from the twin-dial instrument binnacle, across the quilted, leather-trimmed upholstery and finely engineered panel gaps, to the sophisticated graphics on the display screen, it all speaks of painstaking work and a sure hand with design.
It’s odd, then, that the electronics in the GLE Coupé are pretty old hat, meaning, for example, that you can’t separate steering and suspension setting adjustment from the selectable driving dynamics, in the way you can on other Mercs.
Did I mention the selectable driving dynamics? That and the air suspension are standard on the GLE Coupé, whereas they cost extra on the standard GLE.
There’s just one specification on offer; anything extra that yo u want you have to buy from the options list, after consulting your bank manager and taking out a second mortgage, of course. So a Bang & Olufsen stereo upgrade will set you back £3,495. Similarly, a dubious carbon-fibre engine cover costs £1,495 and, in December, there will be a new Designo Line with a full-length sunroof, heated and air-conditioned seats, a heated steering wheel and special upholstery for £9,295.
The 254bhp 3.0-litre V6 diesel is one of two engines available, the other being an insanely powerful 577bhp V8 petrol in the £96,555 AMG GLE63. Next year these will be joined by a 362bhp twin-turbo V6 petrol model badged as a GLE450 and priced at £62,800.
The £60,680 diesel is likely to be the most popular model, but not by much. It weighs 80kg more than the 450 petrol version (the V8 weighs 120kg more than the 450) and most of that is in the nose. Add in the 450’s torque split, which is 40/60 per cent in favour of the rear wheels where the diesel splits exactly 50/50, and unsurprisingly the diesel feels stodgier and more reluctant to turn into corners. It’s the kind of car that makes the turns feel longer than they actually are; superficially sporty, but actually an exercise in weight management. And at 2.3 tonnes with a driver on board, there’s a lot of weight to be managed.
Those controllable driving dynamics help to mitigate the worst of the weight’s deleterious effects, but the Comfort setting is too soft and wallowy, and the Sport setting too harsh. And with the spectacular amounts of anti-roll built into the chassis you find your head tossing from side to side on badly surfaced roads. When fitted with the 21in wheels and tyres of our test car, the GLE Coupé is going to ride coarsely on typical UK A- and B-roads – funnily enough, the same problem afflicts the BMW X6.
The diesel engine gets the job done, delivering lots of torque in the lower parts of the rev counter, sometimes almost too much if you press the throttle inadvertently hard and the car surges forward. It matches the nine-speed automatic gearbox well, with smooth changes (in the Comfort setting), which can be sped up by using the steering wheel-mounted paddles. Again, Sport mode makes the gearbox almost too abrupt. On test we got 20.2mpg, although that included some stretches of flat-to-the-boards autobahn work.
A better bet, however, is going to be next year’s GLE450. A bit more money, yes, but an altogether nicer car; less ponderous, faster and generally more fun. There’s not even a big penalty at the pumps; against 31.7mpg official Combined economy, we got 20.3mpg.
A declaration of interest here. I don’t really approve of these things. Everything screams of compromise. The E-class estate is a better all-weather load carrier, the E-class coupé a better and much more attractive roadburner, and if you seriously want to go off-road there’s the GLE proper, which is an awesome piece of kit if specified with a low-ratio gearbox.
The GLE Coupé is God’s way of saying you’ve got too much money and not enough taste. As so often in the motor industry, the customer is not always right. -Telegraph.co.uk