PREVIEW: GLE drives Mercedes-Benz into new niche
Mercedes has delivered a solid product with the 2016 GLE.
THE PROS & CONS
- WHAT’S BEST: The base model is a diesel, which Mercedes-Benz does very well.
- WHAT’S WORST: The diesel is a bit balky in city driving, with a not very responsive throttle pedal.
- MOST INTERESTING: Driven in sport plus mode the GLE 450 AMG backfires with the power and frequency of a flatulent hippo—entertaining to the 8- to 12-year olds aboard.
FOGO ISLAND, NEWFOUNDLAND — What better place to launch a foray into a new class than an out-of-this-world location.
Newfoundland and Labrador’s Fogo Island provided a perfect backdrop to test Mercedes-Benz’s new GLE, its entry into the sports utility coupe niche.
The venue also almost overshadowed the car with its big skies, serene vistas, the ocean and old-school fishing villages. It seemed like a bucket-list location for the 30- to 50-something target market that Mercedes-Benz has aimed the coupe at: trendsetters with an active lifestyle.
Nonetheless, the island did allow us to drive the crossover on rough frost-heaved tarmac, as well as off-road on some gnarly tracks where the GLE easily proved its all-wheel drive credentials.
In spite of the coupe moniker, the 2016 GLE is a five-door, overgrown hatchback. It is large, and Mercedes even refers to its proportions as “impressive.” Wider, lower and longer than its ML predecessor, it looks much more like a car than an SUV.
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The base model in Canada is the 350 diesel, powered by a 3.0-litre V6 turbo. The vehicle is already available.
There are two additional models for the Canadian market, the 450 AMG with a 3.0-litre V6 twin-turbo power plant, and the Mercedes-AMG 63 S, which has a 5.5-litre, twin-turbo V8. All cars are all-wheel drive, and the 350d and 450 AMG are equipped with a new high-efficiency nine-speed automatic transmission. The 63 S has the older seven-speed transmission.
All models have four driving modes, including Sport, Comfort, Slippery and Custom. All but the base (on which it comes as part of the sport package) have standard air suspension, which lowers the vehicle in Sport mode. Sport Pus drops the suspension even further.
While you don’t notice the chassis lowering at speed, you do notice the extra grunt delivered through later upshifts and precise downshifts just as you need them.
The 63 S AMG model also offers active stabilizer bars as standard equipment (they are optional on the 450 AMG) to improve stability through high-speed corners, as well as enhancing traction in off-road situations.
On our Fogo Island drive we put the cars—the 350d and 450 AMG—through their paces on the highway. Both demonstrated that on a smooth length of tarmac, the car is planted and has the brakes to match the power.
From the driver’s seat there are a few quibbles with the GLE. The diesel model is a little balky at slow speeds, but smooth on the highway. This makes it a questionable choice for those with a lot of city driving to do.
There’s a lot of technology aboard, some of which can be intrusive. For example, the lane keeping assist program seems overly aggressive, actively muscling the car back between the lines if you stray.
This might be a good safety feature at times, but an evasive manoeuvre was limited by the technology and could have resulted in a collision if it had been allowed to take control. Fortunately, this feature can be disabled.
The interior is well appointed, and relatively innocuous. Lots of fancy materials are available to customize your car, but nothing will change the fact that headroom in the back seats is quite limited.
There’s good legroom for all passengers, front and rear. The luggage compartment is deep and wide, and it expands with fold-flat rear seats. It comes with a hard cover, however, which would need to be stowed outside the vehicle to accommodate large loads.
The 14-way power driver’s seat was uncomfortable no matter how it was adjusted. The GLE also exhibited more road noise than expected for a car in this price range.
Notwithstanding these small issues, Mercedes has delivered a solid product with the GLE. It’s practical without being stodgy, and is enough fun to drive that it will no doubt attract its own group of enthusiasts.
Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe
PRICE: 350d $72,300; 450 AMG $77,600; AMG 63 S $116,500
ADD-ONS: Freight and PDI $2,675
TYPE: Sport utility coupe
PROPULSION: All-wheel drive
CARGO: 650 to 1,720 L
TOW-RATING: 3,500 kg (braked)
ENGINE: 350d: 3.0L V6 TurboDiesel; 450 AMG: 3.0L V6 Biturbo
TRANSMISSION: 9-speed automatic
POWER/TORQUE: 350d: 249 HP / 457 lb-ft; 450 AMG:
FUEL CONSUMPTION: (350d — L/100 km): 10.4 city, 8.2 hwy.
BRAKES: Discs front and rear with ventilated fronts
TIRES: 20-inch alloy wheels with all-seasons
STANDARD FEATURES: LED head- and tail-lights, panoramic sunroof, power tailgate, keyless start, heated front seats, rear-view camera, leather upholstery, 14-way power adjustable front seats, heated steering wheel, collision prevention, blind spot alert, heated wipers, crosswind assist, brake assist, attention assist, eco start-stop, Bluetooth, Harman Kardon surround sound system, paddle shifters.
ACCESSIBILITY: Not great. The seats are far from the ground and the stiff, high thigh bolsters are an impediment to entry and exit. Also the height of the opening between the seat cushion and the top of the door meant that at least one test driver bumped their head getting in.
COMPETITION: BMW X6 ($68,890); Infiniti QX70 ($53,800); Porsche Cayenne ($67,400)
LOOKS: By no means a head turner, the GLE is nonetheless sleek. The AMG variant, in particular is a handsome car, with its little ducktail spoiler and more aggressive front trim.
INTERIOR: The cabin is sedate and well organized. Controls are well placed and there are plenty of upgrade options like temperature-controlled front cupholders.
PERFORMANCE: The base diesel offers good fuel economy, but it’s the AMG 450 that delivers the fun.
TECHNOLOGY: The touch pad recognizes hand gestures and characters traced by fingertip. The GLE is also loaded with safety technologies that are edging closer to taking over the driving from the humans aboard.
WHAT YOU’LL LIKE: The 450 AMG is really fun to drive, with enough power and handling to make twisty tarmac a joy. On the open highway both models we drove are comfortable cruisers in the grand touring tradition that will make any road trip fly by.
WHAT YOU WON’T LIKE: A few ergonomics issues: Entry and exit are not easy thanks to the low door openings and the high seat bolsters up front. There’s also low headroom in the rear.