When the BMW X6 launched in 2008, critics across the board pretty much agreed that the concept of a “sports activity vehicle” was about as nonsensical as it was damaging to retinas and savings accounts alike. Yet when people started buying the X6 in droves, it seemed like only a matter of time before other brands would jump on the bloated bandwagon.
At this year’s New York auto show Mercedes finally got in on the action, and we first laid eyes on the 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe. The words “shameless knockoff” were thrown around liberally. Now, only after pummeling across the German autobahn and through the Austrian mountains inside the 2016 Mercedes-AMG GLE63 S and GLE450 AMG, can we decide how well the GLE-Class Coupe lives up to its promises of more invigorating driving dynamics in a stylish package.
Hello flash, goodbye function
What you see is what you get with the 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class Coupe. Flair is most certainly prioritized over function for this vehicle, which Mercedes acknowledges is the more “emotional” choice compared to the standard GLE (formerly called the M-Class). The GLE Coupe’s plunging roofline results in a predictable reduction in rear headroom, rear visibility, 19.6 cu ft less in cargo space, and a narrower load floor opening. If you plan on using the GLE Coupe for a family vacation or a haul at the hardware store, also plan on experiencing emotions like “frustration” and “reckless anger.”
But we digress, because Mercedes has admitted that its target customers for the GLE Coupe don’t expect a high degree of utility. Benz is expecting that affluent empty-nesters or younger families with one child or none at all will happily live with these compromises. In return they’ll get a sportier take on the ever-luxurious Mercedes-Benz style, while delivering the higher ride height and purposeful look that are so in vogue. Interior appointments will not disappoint the three-pointed-star faithful, either. Fine leather and aluminum abound as usual, this time joined by large swaths of carbon fiber, and the latest in Mercedes-Benz infotainment is on tap alongside safety features like Distronic Plus adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assist, collision prevention assist, and attention assist.
We opt for the 2016 Mercedes-AMG GLE63 S when we hear that our first jaunt leaving Allgau will take us on the autobahn. Bursting forth from its hand-built AMG twin-turbo V-8 engine is 577 hp and 561 lb-ft of torque, and where else can you exercise that much power except on delimited sections of German highway?
Before we have time to check whether this isn’t some bratwurst-induced fever dream, reality is rushing past us at triple-digit speeds. The 5.5-liter V-8 sends its maximum torque from as early as 1,750 rpm, providing spectacular acceleration past 60 mph in just 4.2 seconds. (Don’t tell the flighty speedometer needle, but the GLE63 S weighs 5,180 pounds). On the behemoth’s thunderous march to an electronically limited 155 mph, the optional performance exhaust system barks and bites with each crisp shift from the seven-speed automatic transmission, emitting the richly deep roar only a V-8 can provide.
Even at these speeds, the 2016 Mercedes-AMG GLE63 S maintains its comfortable, calm, and composed demeanor. For this effect, Mercedes turns to a suite of advanced tech, including Airmatic air suspension with automatic variable damping and active roll stabilization. These systems can be adjusted using a drive-selector knob, but the addictive capabilities of the highest Sport Plus mode are the most enjoyable by far.
Less really is less, sometimes
It feels like we’ve barely settled into the heavily bolstered leather seat before we’re turning off the autobahn and are forced to once again mind pesky speed limits. In turn, we swap the GLE63 S for the only other option us Yanks will have for the GLE Coupe at launch–the 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE450 AMG.
While 362 hp and 384 lb-ft of torque from a twin-turbo, 3.0-liter V-6 is hardly a pittance, the 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE450 AMG still weighs 4,894 pounds. The sprint from 0-60 mph takes 5.6 seconds this time around, which means you’re much more keenly aware of how well the active suspension and damping systems manage to pull the wool over your eyes concerning how this car behaves. Through mountain passes extending from Germany into the low-hanging clouds and quaint villages of western Austria, the GLE450 AMG is impressively competent, especially with the all-wheel-drive system’s 60/40 rear-torque bias helping guide the car around tight bends.
But no amount of electronic trickery can disguise the car’s size, and we found that out the hard way on a one-lane lakeshore road. We’d normally be salivating over such lovely scenery, smooth pavement, and numerous twisting blind turns, but we were instead white-knuckling and minding our blood pressure, carefully threading the needle between the mountainside to our right and oncoming traffic to our left. It might be sporty to drive, but the GLE Coupe still lacks the nimbleness and agility of a real sports car. At least with the GLE63 S, a 577-hp punch provides endless fun in most any environment.
Conquest is better than substitution
Mercedes knows that fans of the old ML will remain content with the newly dubbed GLE, but it hopes that the GLE Coupe’s adventurous styling and sportier on-road dynamics will lure customers from BMW and Porsche. Vice president of SUVs and sports cars Wolf-Dieter Kurz won’t speculate about overall volume, but he says expects GLE Coupe sales to be about 25 to 30 percent the regular GLE’s numbers.
It’s been nine years since the BMW X6 launched, so why is now the right time to launch the 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe? For one, the growth of the Chinese market is a battleground where Mercedes hopes to sell 30 to 40 percent of all GLE Coupe models worldwide. Not only was that buying market not nearly as developed back in 2008, but Mercedes was at the time focused on different goals. “We were trying something different with the R-Class on one side of things, and on the other side we had the goal of increasing sales at the entry level with vehicles like the A-Class and the B-Class,” said Kurz.
There’s no doubt that the GLE63 S is the more thrilling model, but even the GLE450 AMG is reasonably entertaining for a nearly 5,000-pound SUV, and its extroverted looks and luxury flair should succeed at reeling in plenty of buyers. It’s definitely more of a fashion statement than a proper SUV, and given how well that same formula has worked for the BMW X6, we expect the 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe to find just as many new buyers.
2016 Mercedes-AMG GLE63 S 4Matic Coupe; 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE450 AMG 4Matic Coupe Specifications
- On Sale: August 2015
- Price: N/A
- Engines: 5.5L twin-turbo V-8 DOHC 32-valve V-8/577 hp @ 5,500 rpm, 561 lb-ft @ 1,750-5,250 rpm; 3.0L twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve V-6/362 hp @5,500 rpm, 384 lb-ft @ 1,800-4,000 rpm
- Transmissions: 7-speed automatic; 9-speed automatic
- Layout: 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD SUV
- EPA Mileage: N/A
- Suspension F/R: Strut-type, air springs
- Brakes F/R: Vented discs
- Tires F/R: 285/40R-22 / 325/35R-22 Continental ContiSport Contact; 275/45R-21 / 315/40R-21 Continental ContiSport Contact
- L x W x H: 193.6 x 78.9 x 67.6 in; 192.6 x 78.9 x 67.7 in
- Wheelbase: 114.8 in
- Headroom F/R: N/A
- Legroom F/R: N/A
- Shoulder Room F/R: N/A
- Cargo Room: 23 cu ft / 60.7 cu ft
- Weight: 5,180 lb; 4,894 lb
- Weight Dist. F/R: N/A
- 4.2 sec; 5.6 sec
- 1/4-Mile: N/A
- Top Speed: 155 mph