STUTTGART, GERMANY – And now for something different – a 2,500-kg (5,500-lb!) Mercedes-Benz sports coupe.
Well, it's a coupe in name at least. Called the Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupé, the company refers to its big new SUV-based GLE hatchback as an SUC (Sport Utility Coupe).
Spun off from the new GLE sport ute, which in turn replaces the outgoing ML-Class SUV, the newcomer has four doors so is not really a Coupé.
Rather, it is a five-door hatchback with the sloping rear roofline and profile of a Coupé coupe – not unlike the BMW X6, which follows the same formula and is also designated a coupe by its maker.
Emphasis on style
Intended to fill a small niche in the market, the GLE Coupé, code-named C292 internally, will come in three models with heavy emphasis on style and driving dynamics.
From the rear doors forward it is a clone of the new 2016 GLE. But the imposing rear quarter design is bound to be controversial, which should be enough to draw a fresh audience.
The big five-passenger vehicle is 77 mm wider, 96 mm longer and 28 mm lower than the current ML class SUV.
Production starts in July and the 'Coupé' will arrive in dealerships in the fourth quarter in three trim levels corresponding to their powertrains – 350d, 450 AMG and Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 Coupé. All will feature the latest version of Mercedes' 4Matic permanent all-wheel-drive system.
The 350d will be powered by a V-6 diesel engine while other two have V-8s fettled by the wizards at AMG. All three engines have twin turbochargers for tremendous low-end grunt allowing the heavy vehicle to behave like a much lighter one.
Although it's the slowest of the lot, the diesel hustles this heavyweight to 100 km/h from rest in seven seconds flat, thanks to a thumping 457 lb-ft of torque.
The 450 AMG gets there in 5.7 seconds and the mighty 6.3 crosses the century mark in barely 4.2 seconds, accompanied by a mellifluous bellow from the quad tail pipes. Those are numbers usually associated with high-performance sports cars, not SUVs!
The 350d and 450 AMG get the company’s new nine-speed automatic transmission while the potent AMG 63 has an AMG-developed seven-speed automatic.
Focus on dynamics
The GLE Coupé’s acceleration is not the only area where it can claim some sporty credentials. A dose of clever engineering has endowed it with an amazing ability to tackle the turns, seemingly defying the laws of physics as they apply to a tall, heavy vehicle.
There are several factors at play here, including massive wheels and tires (minimum 20-inches) and an optional AIRMATIC Suspension system with Adaptive Damping. Active Curve Assist with active roll control is standard on the AMG 63 and available on the AMG 450 model. The system reduces roll motion in the turns and provides greater articulation off road for better traction.
The GLE Coupé also comes with DYNAMIC SELECT, a switch on the console that allows the driver to alter many dynamics – Comfort is for everyday use, while Sport lowers the vehicle 15-mm and sharpens throttle, steering and transmission response.
The Slippery mode adjusts throttle and transmission sensitivity and ESP intervention points. The individual setting allows the driver to surf among a variety of settings to personalize things to his or her preference.
On the road
Over several hundred kilometres of twisty roads through the Alps near here, the big brute impressed with its alacrity. The steering is nicely weighted and the amount of traction provided by the 4matic system was appreciated on rain-slicked roads.
The AMG 63 S is wickedly fast, indecently loud and very much at home on the Autobahn. But just as impressive in its own way, even with its governed top speed of 210 km/h, was the diesel!
I witnessed consumption of just 10.1 litres/100 km with the diesel, including these high-speed antics. Didn't fare so well with the AMG!!!
The brakes on all models proved capable of erasing great gobs of speed, repeatedly, with ease.
As the halo model of the GLE line the Coupé has the full slate of Mercedes safety features including Intelligent Drive, which now combines Pre-Safe, Distronic Plus and other features introduced previously.
Using input from 3D stereo cameras and radar sensors around the vehicle, it keeps the GLE Coupé within its lane, an adjustable safe distance from the vehicle in front. It also monitors vehicles behind and approaching from the sides and watches for pedestrians and cyclists who might come into conflict.
If the system senses an impending collision it activates visual and audible warnings. If the driver applies the brakes, it calculates and applies the amount of added pressure necessary to prevent a collision.
If the driver fails to react, it will activate autonomous braking. If it senses a hit from the rear, it locks the brakes to prevent the GLE from being pushed ahead into another vehicle and initiates occupant protection measures.
Rich in features
Beside being a rolling showcase for technology and safety as applied to driving dynamics, the GLE Coupé boasts a raft of features suitable for a vehicle of this stature and status.
LED headlights are standard as is a next generation infotainment system, leather upholstery and Magic Vision Control which uses more than a dozen washer nozzles to ensure a clean windshield.
There are a variety of choices for interior colors and trim including two-tone leather, aluminum, poplar, dark graphite, open pore brown Ash or carbon fibre.
Prices have not yet been released but don’t be surprised if the top-of-the-line AMG 63 dips into six figures with a visit to the option list.
While its distinctive design may not appeal to all, it will ensure those who chose the GLE Coupé will stand out from the crowd.
Model: 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupé
350d –3.0 - litre turbocharged V-6 diesel, 249-horsepower, 457 lb-ft of torque
450 AMG – twin-turbo 3.0-litre V-6, 362 horsepower, 384 lb-ft of torque
AMG GLE 63 – twin-turbo 5.5-litre V-8, 577-horsepower, 560 lb-ft of torque
Transmission: GLE 63 – seven-speed automatic; others nine-speed automatic
Drivetrain: 4Matic all-wheel-drive
Length: 4,900-4,918 mm
Width: 1,998 mm
Wheelbase: 2,915 mm