2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe first drive review

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In all likelihood, the 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe is one for which lines will be drawn; it's a baffling beast to some, a sexy one to others. Take the 'coupe' badging and tall-fastback form factor in context, and try not to bring too much of your gaze upon this model's cladding and rugged cues...and then just maybe it makes a little more sense.

Let’s face it, the term ‘coupe’ has been diluted to the point of ambiguity. Some purists are surely going to cry foul at luxury automakers’ persistent use of the term to describe a slightly swoopier version of sedans (like the Mercedes-Benz CLS), traditional two-door touring coupes like the E-Class Coupe, or now, here, a more rakish, flamboyantly styled counterpoint to the 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE (which was until recently called the M-Class, in case you haven’t been keeping up with all of this luxury brand’s nomenclature changes).

The GLE Coupe—including its high-performance Mercedes-AMG GLE63 Coupe variant—seems to live in this blissful muddled state. Just like the BMW X6, next to which it seems a sort of boilerplate tribute, it's far from subtle in its design details; and it definitely comes on strong at first glance. It perplexes by wearing the body cladding of a tough, trail-capable vehicle—and it actually steps up more cladding in the higher-performance models like the GLE 63 AMG we drove part of the time. Elsewhere in the body, there’s an overly chromed look that’s at its best in the fine grille detailing yet at its worst in the garish chrome bar that’s strapped across the back.

It’s all saved by the profile, though—a profile that, as we see it, looks even better than that of the new X6. Huge 22-inch wheels bring an almost concept-car look to the Coupe, and they really help make the profile ‘pop’ from the side.

The Coupe models do seem to wear that clashing cladding with a bit of irony. There’s no Off-Road Package available here as there is for the rest of the GLE lineup; it doesn’t even have a true diff-lock mode, so its 4Matic all-wheel-drive setup is strictly for performance-oriented traction, snowy driveways, and—possibly but unlikely—the occasional muddy path.

Awesome acceleration, (near) coupe-like handling

Stick to the pavement, and the GLE does everything right. It's the first model in the Mercedes-Benz SUV lineup to combine the use of an air suspension with an adjustable damper system, and on the road, we found the combination to work flawlessly. Individual, Comfort, Slippery, Sport, and Sport+ modes allow different settings for the powertrain response, steering, and suspension.

With its 5.5-liter, twin-turbocharged V-8 making either 550 horsepower and 516 pound-feet in the GLE63 or 577 hp and 561 lb-ft in the GLE63 S, these models offer great drivability yet near-supercar-level performance—with 0-60 times of 4.3 and 4.2 seconds to 60 mph, respectively, and transient response that’s astonishingly quick for a vehicle with a curb weight that exceeds 5,000 pounds.

There’s no way around it: These models feel portly, but no more, truthfully, than the X5 and X6. After spending a few hours with the GLE Coupe models on some narrow roads with choppy surfaces at times, we found ourselves liking the Sport setting better for the steering—it actually felt more settled and comfortable—so we think we’d use that at all times through Individual settings while varying the other settings to suit the conditions.


 
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