Now that it has confirmed demand for a GLE Coupe, Mercedes is launching a significantly slicker second generation. We tried the new C167 in diesel, hybrid and AMG flavours. Words Shane O’ Donoghue. Images Daimler AG.
NEW BLOOD FIRST RIDE New C167 GLE Coupes
FIRST RIDE We test a range of the new GLE Coupe models both on the road and off the road, from AMG to diesel.
The new model is tasked with even greater sales achievements and Mercedes has given it a design to help it reach its goal
When the car makers start messing with an established motoring word such as ‘coupe’, the traditionalists understandably get a little twitchy. Mercedes, however, isn’t afraid of taking a chance or two in the name of prosperity, and it seems there’s little as prosperous this decade as a company that’s selling SUVs of all shapes and sizes. The new GLB and GLA are joining the existing range of GLC, GLE and GLS shortly, but here the focus is on the second-generation GLE Coupe, codenamed C167, and arguably the most divisive car in the entire Mercedes-Benz line-up.
Saying that and regardless of the bulbous, over-inflated styling of the first iteration of the GLE Coupe, it was a considerable sales success, despite the fact that there are more rivals in the sector than before. The new model is tasked with even greater sales achievements and, thankfully, Mercedes has given it a design to help it reach its goal. In fact, from a distance, you’d be hard pushed to tell whether you’re looking at the GLC Coupe or the GLE Coupe.
But get close and it’s obvious, as this is a large car. To get the right proportions, it’s actually 39mm longer than the first generation, and 7mm wider. However, the wheelbase is some 60mm shorter than that of the GLE SUV, to assist with the agility. And while the Coupe is clearly from the same SUV school of Mercedes design as the regular GLE, it has a more raked windscreen and, of course, the sloping rear end. That’s where it’s more attractive than before, thanks to the smooth transition from the bumper (which holds the numberplate) to the large tailgate, offset by the elongated tail lights.
It’s also worth noting that all versions of the GLE Coupe sold in the UK will ride on 22-inch alloys, as the only trim level offered will be the exceedingly well-equipped AMG Line Premium Plus specification. That’s a relief, to be honest, as the base level cars sold in other parts of the world look a little weedy with their black plastic arches and smaller wheels.
Leave it in Comfort mode and it’s quiet and smooth and a perfectly reasonable everyday companion
The AMG Line look, featuring Multibeam headlights and the ‘chromed pin’ radiator grille, has far more on the road presence, which is surely what you want if you’re choosing a car platform such as the GLE Coupe in the first place.
Speaking of which, UK pricing starts at £72,530 for the GLE400d Coupe C167, rising to £80,615 for the Mercedes-AMG GLE53 Coupe. That represents a premium over the equivalent GLE SUVs of £95 and £405 respectively, though of course there’s far more choice of engine and trim line in the regular car. We do know that the Coupe line up will expand to include the 350de plug-in hybrid variant (see separate panel) before the end of 2020, but it’s not yet clear if other versions will be offered. Of course, one major difference between the GLE SUV and Coupe is the lack of a seven-seat option in the latter. No surprise there given the shorter wheelbase and sloping rear window.
Nonetheless, the cabin of the GLE Coupe feels remarkably similar to that of its more upright sibling. And nobody will complain about that, as the GLE’s interior is sublime. The widescreen MBUX dashboard initially dominates and while we’re familiar with its appearance and how it works by now, it still impresses with its sharp graphics, high level of customisation and several modes of operation. Some would prefer to have a touchscreen interface, but we get on just fine with the touchpad in the centre console and the thumbpads on the steering wheel, not to mention the ever-improving ‘Hey Mercedes!’ voice-control software. Meanwhile, the GLE Coupe gets a new sports steering wheel as standard, trimmed in soft nappa leather, complementing the standard sports seats with more lateral support than those in the SUV.
They’re trimmed in Artico (a man-made leather substitute), which also adorns the top of the doors and dashboard, incidentally. The GLE’s prominent grab handles either side of the centre console remain.
In terms of practicality, the rear door openings are larger than before (despite a 60mm drop in wheelbase in comparison to the SUV, it’s still 20mm longer than the previous GLE Coupe) and while you do have to heft yourself up into the cabin, there’s loads of space for adults in the outer two back seats. The middle rear seat occupant doesn’t have as much room, but neither would you call that spot cramped. The rear seat backrests split and fold 40:20:40, increasing boot space from 655 litres to 1,790 litres. That’s down from 690-2,055 litres in the GLE SUV, by the way. Mercedes has lowered the loading level by 59mm in comparison to the previous GLE Coupe and with the Airmatic air suspension (standard on all UK cars), it can be lowered another 50mm at the touch of a button.
Naturally, the interior of the AMG 53 variant is a little snazzier. It gets red stitching and red seat belts, while there are even sportier seats as standard, branded with the AMG logo and trimmed in a mix of Artico and Dinamica microfibre. There’s a specific AMG steering wheel, too, with beautifully tactile alloy gearchange paddles behind, and extra driving mode controls built in. Topping it all off is stainless steel pedals with rubber studs, special door sill panels and floor mats and, of course, lacquered carbon fibre trim elements. Externally, the AMG model isn’t as easy to spot as you might expect, though it does get its own design of alloy wheels and radiator grille, a modest bodykit and, most obvious of all, a quad exhaust system.
But as this is an AMG-developed model, there’s much more to it than an aesthetic overhaul. It shares Airmatic air suspension and adaptive damping with its lesser siblings, but with AMG-specific tuning and the addition of AMG Active Ride Control, which actively manages body lean to give better control in the corners coupled with better comfort on the straights. It’s highly effective too, allowing you get into a good rhythm on a twisting road, making the most of the big brakes and variable ratio steering to keep a quick pace up with little effort. It’s not an engaging or communicative sports coupe, obviously, but it certainly lives up to the ‘sporty SUV’ billing.
At the heart of it all is AMG’s wonderful M256 straight-six. This uses a 48V electric auxiliary compressor, as well as a conventional exhaust turbocharger, to help extract 429bhp and 384lb ft of torque from this three-litre unit. Not to mention the extra ‘EQ Boost’ given at low speeds by the integrated starter-generator. And if you toggle into the Sport+ mode, it makes a particularly sporty set of sounds through the exhaust, working in conjunction with the excellent nine-speed AMG SpeedShift transmission to encourage you to change down a gear or two for no reason other than hear the engine at work. Leave it in Comfort mode and it’s quiet and smooth, and a perfectly reasonable everyday companion.
This brings us to the rather more sensible diesel option. The thing is, the AMG Line spec GLE400d Coupe doesn’t look like the poor relation to the AMG 53. Sure, it does without some of the sportiest glitz, but ticking the right colour and trim options on the order form will remedy most of that. And, while the 400d’s straight-six turbodiesel’s peak output of 325bhp pales next to the AMG model’s 429bhp (before the electric boost), it retaliates with considerably more torque (516lb ft plays 384lb ft), which explains the irrelevant 0.4-second difference between them in the benchmark 0-62mph sprint. In reality, while the 400d doesn’t sound as special and doesn’t produce aural fireworks in any of the driving settings, it’s as quick as anyone needs their big SUV to be. What’s more, its performance is delivered in an utterly effortless manner, whether you’re attacking a mountain road or trudging from one end of the country to the other on the motorway. It’s quiet, smooth, fast when you need it to be and, of course, considerably less expensive to run than the petrolsnorting AMG variant. The standard Airmatic suspension is more comfortable, too, if not quite as flat in the corners.
And actually, as impressive an achievement as the GLE53 is, it probably garners more dislike from the Mercedes diehards than the ostensibly more practical diesel variant. The thing is, the creation of the GLE Coupe, whether it’s a diesel or something from the AMG factory, doesn’t mean the end of the coupe as we know it; it’s just a sign of the times we live in, where car buyers have more choice than they’ve ever had. And that’s especially true for those in the market for an SUV.
Mercedes-Benz GLE 350de Coupe С167
An intriguing new powertrain option for the GLE Coupe arrives after the launch models, called the 350de. This is a plug-in hybrid using the OM654 two-litre turbodiesel engine, mated with a 134bhp electric motor and a sizeable lithiumion battery pack. Its ‘system’ maximum outputs (when engine and motor are working hard in tandem) are rated at a chunky 315bhp and 516lb ft, but it’s a heavy car so it never feels as fast as those numbers suggest. What’s more, to extract such performance, you need to extend the engine, and the four-cylinder coarseness is no match for the silky-smooth straight-six in the GLE400d. Nonetheless, it comes with very low emissions figures and the potential for great fuel economy. The thing is, to get anywhere near the official mpg, you’d need to charge up the car from an external source regularly. Still, for a future that may well include cities with zones that only allow cars with zero emissions in, the 350de’s ability to drive on battery power alone for over 60 miles could well be its making. And of course, it still has an efficient diesel engine for the longer journeys. One to watch.
GLE350de Coupe (C167)
ENGINE OM654 1,950cc 4-cyl plus electric motor
MAX POWER 315bhp @ 3,800rpm
MAX TORQUE 516lb ft @ 1,600-2,800rpm
TRANSMISSION 9-speed automatic, AWD
TOP SPEED 130mph
FUEL CONSUMPTION 256.8mpg (NEDC)
All figures from Mercedes-Benz
The standard large displays suit the classy feel. Rear styling is in-line with current range.
Rear seats can fold 40:20:40 to improve load area.
With the seats up, there’s a 655-litre capacity. The rear seats offer plenty of legroom. Plug-in hybrid can be charged The GLE can manage 60 miles on one charge. Smaller wheels aid the ride quality but look puny. Working with the electric motor, it makes 315bhp. Front seats are supportive on all of the models. GLE53 offers a good mix of sporty luxury. Extra badges remind other road users its an AMG. Styling is more aggressive with this model. Centre grab handles hint it can handle the rough. Familiar M256 engine puts out nearly 430bhp.
Huge brakes keep the SUV in check at all times.
The car has plenty of ability off-road.
The cabin of the GLE Coupe feels remarkably similar to that of its more upright sibling.
JUST THE FACTS GLE53 Coupe (C167)
ENGINE M256 2,999cc 6-cyl plus electric motor
MAX POWER 429bhp @ 6,100rpm
MAX TORQUE 384lb ft @ 1,800-5,500rpm
TRANSMISSION 9-speed automatic, AWD
TOP SPEED 155mph (limited)
FUEL CONSUMPTION 30.3mpg (NEDC)
GLE400d Coupe (C167)
ENGINE OM656 2,925cc 6-cyl
MAX POWER 325bhp @ 3,600-4,200rpm
MAX TORQUE 516lb ft @ 1,200-3,200rpm
TRANSMISSION 9-speed automatic, AWD
TOP SPEED 149mph
FUEL CONSUMPTION 38.2 (NEDC)