SINGAPORE – ‘GLE’ is Mercedes-speak for the facelifted ML big SUV, and the GLE Coupe is the four-door coupe version of the ML – both were launched in Singapore in November. Its prime competition for BMW’s X6, which created the ‘four-door large SUV coupe’ segment, and has been its only occupant, since its own debut in 2008.
Some more segment sub-dividing first: The regular GLE 400 coupe has a 3.0-litre V6 biturbo engine with 333bhp, but if that’s not hot enough for you, this is the ticket: the 450 AMG 4MATIC version.
Like Audi’s S cars and BMW’s M Performance Line, having the hallowed three letters ‘AMG’ after the name denotes the hotter but not hottest model of the lineup -as opposed to say, Mercedes-AMG GLE Coupe 63, for the ‘proper’ AMG one.
Thus there’s 367bhp and 520Nm of torque (compared to 333bhp and 480Nm for the normal model) from the same 3.0-litre V6 engine. On the outside you get butch-looking additions, like the tiny AMG badges on the side, gigantic 21-inch wheels and even larger, wider tyres, specially-tuned air suspension with active roll damping, and selectable drive modes which now include Sport+.
That V6, now touched by the blessed hands of maniacs at AMG, is quite something. It sounds utterly pedestrian when taking it easy (think a low, lifeless drone) but switch the car to Sport+ and it gives a little shudder.
There’s a fruity sport exhaust, though you can’t engage it separately from the Sport+ mode, even if there’s an Individual mode. Above 2,000rpm it’s pure, grin-inducing fun, delivering a mid-range growl and hilarious pops and snaps on the overrun.
Torque is fed from the engine to a new nine-speed automatic gearbox and all-wheel drive system with 40:60 split for more enjoyable dynamics. Unfortunately, the nine-speed seems to have beginner’s nerves, as sometimes the tranny lurches noticeably on low-speed throttle application and the shifts aren’t the smooth, unnoticeable ones found on Mercedes’ 7G-Tronic Plus units.
There’s such massive grip from the wide tyres (275 front and 315 section rear, ContisportContact5) it’s almost impossible to get the car to unstick itself from the road, even on purpose, and trying to make the ABS engage during an E-brake proved surprisingly hard work too.
But making use of all that grip sometimes proves hard work. Like many German super-mobiles, give the GLE 450 German-grade roads and it’s an enjoyable master blaster. Yet when it gets bumpy – like almost all of Singapore’s tarmac these days – and tight, it starts to unravel a little. Heavy initial understeer becomes obvious, while the ride quality becomes more unsettled. Changing modes doesn’t eliminate the pitching and pogoing from the suspension and while it’s not terrible, it is noticeable.
All this would be acceptable on its own, but the problem is the BMW X6 M50d does none of these things and weighs the same (excess of two tonnes), yet behaves like a gigantic hot hatch, probably because of its crazily-torquey 740Nm diesel engine. Against this the Mercedes simply feels more loungier and less potent – though it is quite a bit cheaper, too against the BMW’s $411,800 with COE price.
Still all is not lost for the GLE Coupe, because the rear passenger room seems about the same size, and the boot space is larger than the X6’s at 650-litres, though it must be noted that the X6 comes with a more comprehensive infotainment system that includes navigation.
You’ve probably noticed we’ve left out obvious mention of the car’s looks until now. That’s because, according to Mercedes, most people who buy SUVs do so because of the way they look.
Somehow the ‘coupe on stilts’ thing seems to work better with Mercedes and its curvier design language. The huge wheels, vast amounts of sheet metal and small windows make the GLE 450 look almost like a caricature, or a monster truck, while its height and gaping front end lend lots of road presence and slight menace.
And given Mercedes with its recent success with good-looking models (the CLA for one) and swoopy design language, looks could be the GLE Coupe’s killer feature. But in that case, it’d be better to plump for the non-450 AMG 4MATIC model, the GLE Coupe 400 at $356,888 with COE and more modest performance that sits better with the original ML’s relaxed nature, which still seems pervasive despite the name change and ‘Coupe’ tag.
Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe 450 AMG 4MATIC
Engine 2,996cc, 24V, V6, twin-turbo
Power 367bhp at 5250-6000rpm
Torque 520Nm at 1600-4000rpm
Gearbox 9-speed automatic
Top Speed 225km/h
0-100kmh 5.7 seconds
Fuel efficiency 9.2L/100km
Price $383,888 with COE
Also Consider: BMW X6 M50d, Porsche Cayenne S