Imitation is the best form of flattery they say, more so if it’s by your arch rival that joins the segment you created eight years ago. Meet the GLE Coupe, Mercedes’ blatant take on the BMW X6, the car that pioneered the crossover-coupé niche. But what sets it apart?
What does it look like?
The transformation of the M-class into the GLE has spawned not just a facelift but a four-door coupé body style as well. Apart from taking up the same amount of road space as the regular GLE on which it is based, visually it is completely different and more like a CLA that’s been pumped up. In fact, all the sheet metal is different to get the right proportions and sitting on those massive 21-inch wheels, the GLE Coupe will turn heads wherever it goes. It’s another fine product born out of the new thinking in Mercedes’ school of design that has transformed the image of the company.
The insides are very familiar and as expected there’s a lot borrowed from the GLE. In fact, the dashboard is identical. But given the sporty nature of the car, the seats are a lot more cosseting and there’s a greater sense of luxury thanks to the perforated Nappa leather. As expected, the rear isn’t madly spacious but it’s not too cramped either. There’s a surprisingly generous amount of knee room, and headroom isn’t bad either. Mercedes designers have done a great job balancing the swooping coupé roofline with internal room. Unlike the regular, the coupé version is strictly a four-seater. You can squeeze a passenger in the middle but the way the seat contours jut out makes this quite uncomfortable.
What’s it like to drive?
Who would have thought that a big, powerful, fuel-guzzling petrol is politically more correct than a torquey and frugal diesel? But with the anti-diesel sentiment at an all-time high and a ban on big diesels in Delhi, that’s just how it is. Mercedes has cleverly launched the GLE Coupe with a petrol only option (for now), and it’s not just any petrol but the 450 AMG version. But don’t let the AMG badge completely mislead you. This isn’t the completely mental 63 AMG version with the no-holds-barred 550bhp 5.5 litre twin-turbo V8, but the much milder three-litre turbo-petrol that delivers a more sedate 362bhp.
First impressions when you lean on the nicely sprung throttle pedal is that it's not madly quick but then this heavy crossover weighing a portly 2.2 tonnes isn’t going to take off like a sportscar. That said, the V6 will wind quite freely to its 6,200rpm redline propelling this four-door coupé to 100kph in a more than respectable 5.7 seconds What was seriously impressive though was the 53kgm of torque and the creamy way its delivered from as low as 1,400rpm.
The nine-speed automatic gearbox responds quite well and is quick to kickdown. The last two gear ratios are seriously tall which allow for very relaxed cruising at highway speeds but all it takes is a small flex of the right foot for the 9G-Tronic transmission to rapidly shift two, even three gears down for a quick overtaking manoeuvre . It’s only at city speeds, when you’re on and off the throttle, that the gearbox gets caught out and feels a bit hesitant.
The V6’s sound track is a bit of disappointment – it isn’t AMG enough. There’s a bit of a burble but you miss the throaty growl of the full-fat V8. Truth is that the GLE in its 450 AMG version has all the power you need but it doesn’t feel exciting enough even in the most aggressive ‘Sport +’ mode and is a bit too soft for true enthusiasts.
The ride and handling balance too is tilted towards comfort and that was immediately obvious in the first 100 metres of driving the car. Even on 21-inch wheels shod with low profile rubber the GLE Coupe soaked up potholes and bumps with remarkable ease. There’s plenty of ground clearance which can be further increased with the suspension lift mode that is standard. Clearly this is a car that’s well suited to Indian conditions.
The trade-off, however, is a bit of a wallowy ride on uneven surfaces and a fair bit of body movement. It also tends to rock from side to side and doesn’t feel as settled, especially at the speeds the car is capable of.
This doesn’t suggest the GLE Coupe is unwieldy, it’s just that in this echelon it's up against some rivals that are dynamically far more accomplished – the Porsche Cayenne Turbo being a good example.
Should I buy one?
The GLE450 AMG Coupe isn’t as thrilling or sharp to drive as we would have liked, but the reason to buy this crossover is not just to go fast from A to B. The appeal lies mainly in its crossover-coupé styling (which can be an acquired taste for some) and its road presence without having to pay an absurd price. And for that the GLE 450 AMG, which goes on sale later this month at an estimated sub-Rs 1 crore, will do just fine.