It’s important to keep an open mind when road testing the new Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe. For many enthusiasts, such cars are the devil’s spawn: a high-riding, heaving SUV on stilts pretending to be a sports car. But others are attracted to the look-at-me styling and like the alternative vibe. Certainly, BMW has ploughed a commercially successful furrow with its groundbreaking X6 – and now Mercedes is piling in.
A quick recap first. The GLE is the new name for the ML-class, the large SUV lined up against the likes of the Audi Q7, BMW X5 and Volvo XC90. It was relaunched this year with a new name, but remains essentially a mid-life facelift rather than an all-new model. And this time they’ve added a coupe derivative, to spread the range’s appeal.
This review is focusing on the cheapest GLE Coupe, the best-selling diesel-powered 350d 4Matic. Click here for our first drive of the GLE450 Coupe.
Talk us through the specs and prices
Badge numbers and engine specs gave up talking to each other years ago in Stuttgart, so it’s worth establishing exactly what we’re driving here. The 350 moniker masks a 2987cc V6 turbodiesel, mustering 255bhp and 457lb ft at just 1600rpm, driving all four wheels through a nine-speed automatic gearbox.
It might be the starter GLE Coupe, but its £60,680 price tag clearly indicates lofty ambitions. This is an expensive range, and ours sports the Premium Plus Package, Driving Assistance Package and Entertainment Package inflating the price to £68,865.
It looks… interesting!
Far be it from us to tell you what to make of the GLE Coupe’s design. Suffice to say, it is pretty huge, stretching to 4978mm long and a lofty 1731mm high. On the road it dwarfs most cars this side of a Range Rover although it doesn’t feel too bulky to hustle along a back road.
Just watch out for chunky A-pillars that obscure a surprising amount of your view out – we were reassured by the Active Parking Assist with Parktronic and clever 360deg camera, which projects a bird’s eye view of your surroundings on to the iPad-style digital read-out.
The cabin feels strangely compromised: it’s a mix of old Merc and new, lacking the super-smash-hit modernity of the C-class range and betraying its in-between, facelift-plus status. The Comand rotary controller and rear entertainment TV system prove there’s tech aplenty, but tap the alloy-alike strip across the dash and it sounds hollow and cheap. It’s a decent cabin, but hard to love.
Doesn’t having a squashed roofline damage the space for people?
Fortunately not too badly. There’s loads of space up front and – more surprisingly – plenty of room in the second row for even tall adults, once they’ve ducked their heads low to slide under the swooping roofline. When installed, there’s plenty of space for grown-ups in the rear and it’s made of decent quality materials. With only a shallow transmission tunnel, you’ll even get three kids in the back without too many complaints.
The boot is pretty vast at 650 litres, though you’ll ultimately fit more into the regular GLE SUV – and there’s an annoyingly high lip to lug your luggage over when packing for a trip away. Your dog will have to be quite athletic to jump in unaided. Electric operation of the tailgate is standard and it can be lazily opened from the key fob.
How does the GLE Coupe drive?
It’s fair to say the Mercedes carries its 2250kg kerbweight with some difficulty, this SUV feeling heavy of foot and ponderous on your favourite A-road. Better to switch the dynamic set-up to Comfort and let the air springs iron out the bumps and lumps in the road from under the huge 21-inch alloys, the steering and engine settings relaxing to a smoother gait.
Performance is remarkably blunted by that bulk, although Mercedes quotes a 7.0sec 0-62mph time. But the V6 diesel is refined and never intrudes and the nine-speed auto means it’s barely woken up as it spins to just 1200rpm at 60mph in top gear. This muddy coupe is better enjoyed as a cruiser than a bruiser; its dynamics, responses through corners and general agility are knocked into a cocked hat by the likes of a Porsche Cayenne or BMW X6.
Do we regret Mercedes spawning a love child of two opposing genres, all bling and running boards? We shouldn’t, for our roads are all the more interesting for seeing new bodystyles and we have to (somewhat begrudgingly) applaud the ambition of broadening the GLE’s appeal. But does the muddy coupe carry it off? Not as brilliantly as we might have hoped. The 350d is fine, but that’s what my wife says when I’ve done some sub-standard domestic chores. One to store under ‘could do better.’