Swoopy Utility Vehicle

BY Haney Louka . May 20 04:00 am

 

I thought I’d never see the day a high-ranking auto exec would look at the BMW X6 and say “we need one of those.”

More expensive and cramped than the X5 on which it’s based, I can only assume that some folks think the “crossover coupe” looks better and value the exclusivity. But I don’t get it.

And Mercedes-Benz is now following that same formula. The GLE 350d Coupe we tested starts at $72,300, a full nine grand more than the better-looking, roomier GLE 350d on which it’s based. We can debate forever on whether the word coupe should even be used to describe a jacked-up crossover with four doors, but the Germans have made up their minds.

At least the GLE Coupe is easier on the eyes than BMW’s rendition. Taking design cues from the company’s true coupes (you know, the sporty ones with two doors), the GLE has a smoothness and elegance that the X6 lacks. I’m still not convinced that the coupe’s sloped roofline suits crossover proportions or is anywhere near as pretty as that of the SUV, though. And the attendant loss in passenger and cargo space (the coupe’s cargo hold is about 15 per cent smaller and rear seat headroom suffers) means the question still remains: Why?

Thankfully, getting into and driving the GLE, coupe or not, remains a strong suit for the successor to the popular Mercedes-Benz ML-Class.

The diesel powertrain in our tester is one of three engine options available on the GLE Coupe, and it’s a beauty. Despite the dark cloud currently hanging over the ‘d’ word, this is not one that should be overlooked. With peak power output of 249 hp, this is not a horse count that will get a lot of attention. But as with all diesels, it’s all about the torque. And with 457 lb. ft. of the stuff available at a low 1,600 rpm, there’s enough grunt to yank the GLE beyond any legal speed with nary a bead of sweat on its brow. A claimed zero to 100 km/h sprint of seven seconds flat backs up the seat-of-the-pants feel.

That’s not too shabby for a “base” engine, and indeed, there is much more power available on the GLE Coupe menu. The GLE 450 AMG Coupe is fitted with a twin-turbo V-6 and 362 horses, and there’s the twin-turbo V-8 in the Mercedes-AMG GLE 63S that cranks out a pavement-wrinkling 577 horses at the behest of its driver’s right foot. (Note: if the AMG is after the model name, it’s a trim level; if it’s designated as a Mercedes-AMG, it’s the real deal, complete with hand-built engine.)

But we’re piloting the diesel here, and it’s an unbeatable package for folks looking to get great power delivery without the heavy fuel consumption of the gassers. With combined fuel consumption of 9.4 L/100km, it’s downright frugal. And with my own experience in the 12s under city conditions in late winter/early spring, it would be easy to match that number over a longer time frame.

When I read specs that include a nine-speed automatic transmission, the first concern I have is whether the slushbox will be hunting around too much trying to find the right ratio. This one is well sorted, however, and allows the torquey diesel to do its job with minimal intrusion.

Front and rear axles get equal treatment from Mercedes’ 4Matic all-wheel drive system, which doles out the power at an even 50:50 split in normal conditions; automatically adjusting as traction requirements dictate.

So the GLE Coupe certainly has the hardware to offer a premium driving experience, and with the assistance of the company’s Dynamic Select driving-mode system, allows for a tailored experience based on driver preferences. Drivers can choose between sport, comfort, snow and individual settings to fine-tune the vehicle’s response accordingly.

As expected, the GLE Coupe’s standard equipment list is exhaustive, but of course, there’s more: our tester benefited from every available option package. The $4,250 premium package adds park assist, heated rear seats, a 360-degree camera, a Harman/Kardon surround-sound system, and other goodies. $2,600 bought the interior sport package, throwing in sport seats and steering wheel, Nappa leather, and stainless steel pedals. Another $2,600 nets the sport package, for 21-inch wheels, air suspension, and adaptive damping in the suspension.

And for good measure, we were treated to the $2,700 intelligent drive package, making us realize just how close the autonomous car is. With radar cruise control and active steering assist to keep you in line behind the vehicle ahead and in your own lane, the GLE really can have a mind of its own. The package also includes active blind-spot detection, cross-traffic alert and autonomous emergency braking.

The odd proportions of this coupe-SUV mishmash may not speak to me, but all that is good about the GLE Coupe is also available in a GLE. So the choice is yours.

autoreviews@mymts.net

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