High, Wide, and Handsome: the 2016 GLE

Axel Catton
The 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE range is a luxurious mix of style, performance and practicality

High, Wide & Handsome
The 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE range is a luxurious mix of style, performance and practicality
 
Article Axel Catton
Images Axel Catton and Daimler Media

 
Despite the fact that fuel prices have peaked and dipped, SUV sales around the world have remained surprisingly steady and risen in severals markets – reason enough for Mercedes-Benz to invite The Star to its recent model launches for the all-new GLC, as well as the face-lifted ML-Class, GLE, and its all-new cousin, the GLE Coupe.
With GL now denoting all Mercedes-Benz SUVs, the “E” in the new model name indicates this SUV is on the same level as the E-Class sedan. Similarly, the new GLC is based on the technical bones of the C-Class. And toward the end of the year, look for the massive daddy of all M-B SUVs, the GLS, based on ... well, you get the drift.

What’s in an SUV coupe?

The newest body style in this deftly face-lifted lineup is the GLE Coupe. Without getting into how a five-door vehicle can be called a coupe, here’s how it looks. Combining elements that would normally seem pretty uncombinable, the GLE coupe itself blends elegant, sleek proportions and a sizeable interior with five-door access, a low roofline and somewhat pronounced rear end with high ground clearance.

Mission accomplished: The coupe’s design is definitely distinctive and by far much better adapted to the base GLE’s DNA than BMW achieved with the design of the X6. It’s just a question of proportions between wheel height, panels and greenhouse: And Mercedes-Benz got them right. It doesn’t look like an afterthought; rather, a thoroughly executed design. Although it seems much lower than the GLE, overall height is only reduced by about half an inch. That lowered height, relative to the 22-inch wheels on our first test car, made it look tough despite its aspirations to being parked in front of a museum opening as opposed to hub deep in a muddy field.

In profile, the front half – with its slightly more raked windscreen – remains recognizebly GLE; the rear is all new. The sloping roofline required a more curved door top and a small triangular rear window extended above the rear wheel, giving it a lithe and sleek design.

From the back, the wider and thinner rear lights are more reminiscent of the S-Class than the GLE; the pronounced rear spoiler gives the rear hatch an emphasis of width, not height. Unfortunately, the hatch design makes for a high-load height; the hatch handle’s location beneath the rear bumper had us believing that getting muddy isn’t this SUV’s primary destiny.

The interior of the coupe is generally GLE style, with the superb 9G-Tronic transmission using the familiar Mercedes column-mounted selector. The top-end AMG model has a 200-mph speedometer with carbon-fiber face and a three-spoke steering wheel.

Over the top

Our first ride was the Mercedes-AMG GLE63 S 4Matic Coupe, the hilariously over-the-top, 5.5-liter AMG twin-turbo V-8 flagship model, which offered superb results: 577 horses and a stomping 561 pound-feet of torque spelled power.

The exhaust note – even in standard setting – is seductive. As you might expect, performance on the German Autobahn is sublime. Acceleration to 62 mph is estimated at 4.2 seconds (all estimates are for Euro versions). We couldn’t get enough of the mid-range punch, accelerating again and again from 50 to 150 in the blink of an eye. The brakes are equally responsive and do an excellent job of disguising the car’s 5,000-plus pounds.

But laws of physics are inescapable. While at autobahn speeds, the car handled our driving challenges in a superb manner, but it was unquestionably using all its electronic magic to maintain its hefty bulk level on track and in cornering. On twisty country roads, the massive 22-inch wheels (285/40 front, 325/35 rear) tended to follow ruts a little too happily, reducing our satisfaction.

Slightly saner variations

Next up was the GLE450 AMG. The 3-liter V-6 twin-turbo delivered a pretty impressive 362 horsepower and 384 pound-feet of torque. On country roads and motorways, we found this a more homogeneous and likeable package for everyday driving, especially with the higher-profile tires on 21-inch wheels.

We finished by driving the remaining GLE SUV variants, based more closely on the predecessor ML-Class, with their distinctive C-pillar. The more rounded front with new adaptive LED lights looks generally more modern while the rest of the car retains the chunky-looking, more angular shape of the previous model. The interior is upgraded and, as in the coupe, features a tablet-style 8-inch screen.

Our favorite engine in the GLE (and perhaps of the whole model lineup) was the 3-liter V-6 in the GLE400, which boasts 329 horsepower and 354 pound-feet of torque. This was a thoroughly likeable powerplant that is both confident and powerful when needed, yet quiet and smooth in everyday situations. We weren’t able to drive the diesel-powered version, which will also be available.

This launch also saw the world premiere of the GLE550e (all Mercedes-Benz hybrids are now simply called “e”) using technology currently employed in the S-Class, which will be available in California and other zero-emissions states. The clever combination of powertrain and nav system allows drivers to arrive at urban centers with a fully recharged battery to use the promised 19 miles of emissions-free mobility where they matter most.

Now remind me, what was the original idea for a sport-utility vehicle ... driving off the road? Mercedes-Benz was only too happy to oblige and sent us into a unused quarry with a selection of GLE350s. While customers were able to order an off-road package in the previous ML models, MBUSA says the take rate wasn’t staggeringly high.

We found that difficult to understand though, after driving two hours in the capable GLEs up and down steep inclines approaching 45-degree slopes. The electronic transfer case included in the off-road package allows for speeds as low as 2 mph to be selected for downhill driving without using brakes. From a quarry to an opera, we are convinced there is no place a GLE – with correct specs – would not be able to travel.

The GLE lineup will be available at North American dealers in late August, with prices starting at $51,100 for the 2-wheel-drive GLE350, $64,600 for the GLE400 4Matic and up to $107,100 for the GLE63 S AMG. The GLE Coupes will be also be available in August; prices have yet to be announced. The hybrid will be available in zero-emissions states in early September; those prices, too, not yet announced.

SPECIFICATIONS

2016 GLE63 S 4Matic Coupe
ENGINE: AMG 5.5-liter  Biturbo V-8
HORSEPOWER: 577  TORQUE: 561 lb-ft
TRANSMISSION: AMG Speedshift Plus 7G-Tronic
LENGTH: 190 in  HEIGHT: 71.5 in
ACCELERATION: 0-62 mph 4.2 sec TOP SPEED: (limited) 155 mph
 

2016 GLE450 AMG 4Matic Coupe
ENGINE: 3-liter Twin-turbo V-6
HORSEPOWER: 362  TORQUE: 384 lb-ft
TRANSMISSION: 9G-Tronic 9-speed automatic
LENGTH: 190 in  HEIGHT:  71.5 in
PERFORMANCE: TBA  FUEL EFFICIENCY: TBA
 

2016 GLE400 4Matic C-Pillar SUV
ENGINE: 3-liter Twin-turbo V-6
HORSEPOWER: 329  TORQUE: 354 lb-ft
TRANSMISSION: 7G-Tronic 7-speed automatic
LENGTH: 190 in  HEIGHT:  72 in
PERFORMANCE: TBA  FUEL EFFICIENCY: TBA

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