2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE and GLE Coupe First Drive: Two not of a kind

By Matt Degen on July 24, 2015 7:12 AM

The Mercedes-Benz GLE and GLE Coupe could be considered fraternal twins. They have similar DNA, come from the same parent and have nearly identical names. Yet you look at the two side by side, and they are clearly different.  

The GLE is the new name for the former M-Class, Mercedes' boxy and muscular mid-size luxury SUV. Like other SUVs in the German automaker's lineup, its nomenclature is changing with the 2016 model year in an effort to align the lineup with its sedan siblings. In this case the "E" parallels the E-Series midsize sedan. 

With the new name, the SUV formerly known as the M-Class gets a freshening for 2016 that includes new front and rear fascias, lighting treatments, and interior upgrades such as a larger infotainment screen and more ergonomic Comand touchpad/rotary input module. The biggest news for the 2016 GLE is the addition of a plug-in hybrid that joins five other powerplant choices ranging from a small 4-cylinder diesel to a monstrous gasoline V8.

The GLE Coupe, meanwhile, is all new. Meant to compete with the BMW X6, the highly contoured Coupe focuses on performance over utility and puts its individual style over everyday practicality. Mercedes-Benz invited us to preview both models over all manner of roads in Germany and Austria before they go on sale in mid-August. Here are our first blushes in each.

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2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe first review

Unlike the regular GLE-Class, the GLE Coupe makes your choice of powertrain easy: there are only two. The GLE450 AMG Coupe uses a 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 that makes 362 horsepower, while the brawny AMG GLE63 S Coupe is endowed with a 5.5-liter turbocharged V8 that corrals 577 ponies. Both come with Mercedes' 4Matic all-wheel drive system and have been blessed with styling and components from the brand's AMG performance division. But these two models, which are supposed to be the crossover SUV equivalent of the stylish E-Class Coupe, have a wide gap in price. Where the GLE450 AMG Coupe starts just over $66,000, the extra potency of the AMG GLE63 S comes at a price tag beginning over $110,000. (Pricing for the regular GLE will be announced in the coming weeks.)

If the 215-horsepower difference doesn't already jump out at you on paper, it will when you drive the two back to back. The V8-powered GLE Coupe may just give you a power trip. The growl of its engine is addicting, and its straight-line performance only gets better as you toggle up from Comfort to Sport then Sport+ mode. Step on the accelerator, make the AMG GLE63 S Coupe tick down a couple of its seven gears, and you'll cackle as the exhaust note crackles. 

This isn't to say the GLE450 AMG Coupe is a slug. Its 0-60 mph time of 5.6 seconds is nearly a second and a half behind its far more expensive brother, but swift nonetheless. It just doesn't provide the reservoir of power generated by the V8 GLE Coupe. One of the best surprises about this model was the smoothness of its 9-speed transmission. This kind of setup has felt unrefined in other vehicles, but in our exposure, Mercedes' 9-speed was surprisingly seamless. Another big surprise: Both GLE Coupe models clung to the road far better than you'd expect from a heavy, higher-riding quasi-SUV.

The GLE Coupe's styling, decreased cargo capacity and compromised rear visibility will no doubt turn off some buyers, but for individualistic types looking to make their own statement in a luxury vehicle for all seasons, Mercedes' newest crossover is the best rival yet to the BMW X6.

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2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class first review

We spent much less time in the 2016 GLE, and it was spread across three of the six available powertrains. Still, we came away mostly satisfied all the same.

Our first exposure was in the GLE550e 4Matic plug-in hybrid, which combines a turbocharged V6 gasoline engine with an electric motor. This plug-in hybrid SUV can travel some 18 miles on battery power alone, and has a total output of 436 horsepower -- plenty for quick acceleration and passing. Transitions between the gasoline engine and electric motor were smooth, and the SUV has the added perk of sublime quiet when traveling on electricity alone. One downside of this green SUV is less space under the rear cargo deck, where the battery pack resides. 

A plug-in hybrid isn't the only way to go farther on your energy dollar. An alternative is a diesel engine, and Mercedes makes some of the best. The GLE300d uses the familiar 2.1-liter 4-cylidner turbodiesel that was found in the outgoing ML250. Though small it size, it packs a lot of grunt in the form of 369 lb-ft of torque -- good for towing up to 6,600 pounds. But the real pleasure of a diesel is its fuel economy. In highway driving, this engine is rated up to 29 mpg -- an impressive number that we've found conservative in past models. The GLE300d isn't particularly quick with a 0-60 mph time of nearly 9 seconds, but it's still an excellent choice for those seeking a diesel SUV. 

Finally, we had a chance to take a Mercedes GLE luxury SUV where few buyers will roam -- but nevertheless can -- off-road. Using a turbocharged V6 GLE400 with the optional Off-Road Engineering Package, we had got a taste of what Mercedes-Benz's midsize luxury SUV is capable of when the asphalt ends. Dressed in all-terrain tires and with hardcore off-road components like a 2-speed transfer case and locking differential, this off-road luxury vehicle easily ascended and descended extreme grades and clawed its way over various terrain. 

With this package comes the Offroad+ drive mode that optimizes traction and, with the optional air suspension, grants up to 11 inches of ground clearance so the GLE can hop obstacles and wade through nearly 2 feet of water. Admittedly few American buyers opt for this setup, but we're nonetheless glad it's available. It's also indicative of the new 2016 GLE-Class lineup as a whole: Whether had as a roaring, V8-powered 6-figure SUV/coupe amalgamation, plug-in hybrid SUV or diesel-powered luxury utility vehicle, the new GLE-Class has models for a diverse range of tastes.

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