Mercedes GLE Coupe: copycat gets the cream?

When BMW first introduced its X6 model back in 2008, the car community was almost immediately divided. Some people (myself included) applauded BMW for producing what was a very outlandish and distinctive vehicle, and one that seemingly defied the laws of physics at that.

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The BMW X6 was a controversial model when first introduced

But many more enthusiasts saw the X6 as a step too far in terms of niche vehicles — a car that offered no benefits over its more conventionally proportioned sibling, the BMW X5, and in some eyes one of the ugliest vehicles on sale too.

The buying public seemingly agreed with the likes of me though, and the X6 sold in far greater numbers than BMW had ever hoped for. However that doesn’t mean many rivals jumped on the 4×4-Coupe bandwagon, and in fact the first generation X6 only had to compete with the Acura ZDX…a car that flopped badly in the States and has since been discontinued.

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Acura’s ZDX was withdrawn from the market after just 3 years

Mercedes likes a challenge though, and has recently launched their GLE Coupe, a coupe version of their GLE SUV (itself a facelifted ML). Competing against a brand new X6, does the Mercedes have what it takes to avoid becoming just another copycat?

Exterior

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Mercedes has been going through a bit of a design revolution recently, and its latest models are noticeably more cohesive and bold than the manufacturer’s previous efforts. Being based on the already-3-year-old Mercedes ML means that there are few surprises here, but the GLE Coupe is still an attractive car.

The Coupe undoubtedly apes the slanted-back design of the BMW X6, but does so in a slightly less brash way than the original version of that car did — instead there are flowing curves, and posh LED lighting front and rear to let peasants know that you’re driving an expensive car.

What helps is that Mercedes has endowed the GLE Coupe with a standard AMG-Line package, meaning 21-inch wheels and various bits of bodykit…all giving quite a menacing appearance, but with a bit of sophistication added in. Given that the latest X6 has toned down its appearance, and the GLE Coupe comes across as the looker in an admittedly small segment.

Interior

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The GLE Coupe’s interior is a bit of a mixed bag — on the whole it’s a nice place to be, but in certain areas the dated underpinnings shine through, and that can be quite frustrating when you look at the outstanding interiors of the X6 and other more conventional rivals such as the Range Rover Sport.

The basic design is very similar to the older ML’s, and as with the regular GLE, the Coupe gets an updated fascia with noticeable larger infotainment screen (now a tablet style mounted in dash) and simplified buttons. There is also a beefier steering wheel, and the COMAND controller now has touchpad input and a newer design…hopefully the system itself has been improved too!

It’s just a shame that the layout comes across as a little dated, and some of the plastic qualities lower down the dashboard trim leave a little to be desired. If you pay enough though, Mercedes will cover everything with leather.

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Practicality is actually quite impressive, as despite that lowered roofline, this is still a car that can seat 5 people in comfort — the rear seats have been lowered to compensate for the roof, but be aware that taller passengers may still have their knees very high up.

There’s also a very sizable boot space, with nearly 600-litres of space meaning it offers as much as many rivals with more practical shapes. OK so fold the rear seats flat and you’ll have a little less volume than those cars, but on the whole this is a very practical car.

Driving

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Like the standard GLE, the GLE Coupe is built more for refined cruising than backroad carving. In all honesty this is how most of these cars are going to be treated — the berserk GLE 63 AMG is of course a more sporty car to drive, but the standard versions are probably best described as comfortable.

That may be surprising considering that all versions will have wheels at least 21-inches wide, but the standard-fit air suspension helps to absorb bumps and pot-holes in most circumstances. It also gives drivers a choice of firmness, but most owners will be just fine with standard or even comfort.

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The standard GLE comes across a little softer

Handling for this two-tonne-plus beast is probably best described as predictable and safe. It doesn’t rewrite the rules of physics like the X6 does, but it isn’t quite as detached as the standard GLE or full-fat Range Rover. Again the vast majority of buyers are going to be very happy with what their GLE Coupe can do, a good car on most roads that can hold its own in town.

Engine choices are quite limited but all are decent — 90% of buyers will go for the 350d, which has a 258hp 3.0-litre V6 diesel engine that goes from 0-60mph in 7.0 seconds. Then there is the 367hp 450 AMG, which has a 3.0-litre V6 Turbo that covers the same sprint in 5.7 seconds. The 63 AMG is bonkers, and has a 5.5-litre V8 Turbo with 585hp and does 0-60 in 4.2 seconds. The two less powerful engines get a 9-speed automatic as standard, and the V8 gets the older 7-speed version.

Costs

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This could be the area where the GLE Coupe starts to struggle a little, as it is rather expensive in the face of rivals. The cheapest version is the 350d AMG Line, which is around £60,000 without any added options (though it is reasonably well equipped). The 450 AMG is a little more expensive, at £63,000-ish, and then Designo line trim can be added to either car for around £7,000 — mainly consists of upgraded leather.

The 63 AMG is an equally berserk £96,555, but then at that price it’s comparable to other vehicles like the BMW X6 M, and Porsche Cayenne Turbo. Mercedes can be very competitive with their finance packages though, so expect to see reasonably high discounts quite quickly.

Running costs are similarly a little higher than rivals, but vary from model to model — the 350d returns 39mpg and will currently cost £265 a year. The 450 AMG isn’t too bad either, with 31mpg apparently achievable and £290 road tax being manageable too. The 63 AMG quite understandably only returns 23.5mpg in ideal conditions, and costs £505 a year to tax.

Verdict

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The GLE Coupe is never going to be one of those vehicles that appeals to everyone, but it’s undeniable that Mercedes has created a distinctive and well rounded vehicle, that if you can afford it, is a very nice car to own.

In my opinion, the more distinctive styling makes it a better bet than its rather dull GLE sibling, but whether it is a better car than the BMW X6 is again down to personal choice. The styling of the Mercedes is more distinctive and probably better resolved, but the BMW has the nicer interior even if it’s a little less practical.

What separates the two is their driving experiences — the BMW is definitely more entertaining but the Mercedes also has its merits, and on the whole would make a more comfortable cruiser. If you’re lucky enough to be able to afford either of these cars then you should definitely check them out in the metal.

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