When is an SUV not an SUV? When it’s the new Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe, a question and answer that could equally apply to BMW with its M6, and an indication of a global trend towards sporty SUVs with highly sophisticated engineering and systems, wrapped in a bodyshell that might appeal to buyers less than 50 years of age.
Based on the GLE (which was the SUV in the E-Class segment formerly designated M-Class), the GLE Coupe is due to be publicly unveiled at the 2015 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The top variant, the gasoline 270-kW (362-hp) GLE 450 AMG 4-Matic, is described by Mercedes as introducing a new Mercedes-AMG product line: “the AMG sports models.”
There are those who might consider that already more or less exists, but apparently not in quite the way Mercedes wants. It’s subtle stuff and strengthens the AMG message.
However, there is little subtle or understated about the (to European eyes), bruiser of a cruiser that is the GLE. The 450 AMG sits on a 2915-mm (114.8-in) wheelbase, with a length of 4900 mm (192.9 in), width of 2003 mm (78.9 in), and height of 1731 mm (68.1 in). Its 3.0-L V6 engine delivers 520 N·m (384 lb·ft) of torque from 1400 to 4000 rpm, drives through a 9G-Tronic (nine-speed) automatic transmission, and puts all this on to the road (or track, or field, or muddy morass), via optional 22-in wheels and a 4-Matic permanent all-wheel drive (AWD) system. Front/rear bias of the 4-Matic AMG version is 40:60; lower powered GLEs get a 50:50 split.
A 245-kW (329-hp) version of the bi-turbo engine is available in the GLE 400, and there is also a 3.0-L V6 diesel producing maximum torque of 620 N·m (457 lb·ft) from 1600 to 2400 rpm.
Successfully melding two model classes, an SUV with a coupe, which is what Mercedes says it has done with its new arrival is not easy, and the company’s descriptive phrases such as “the engine produces the whole range of sounds from sporty and dominant to poised and reticent”, and the car “can create a superior feeling of calm, coupled with unshakably serene driving dynamics”, sound a little quaint and out of kilter with the company’s advanced design and engineering message.
Although based on the GLE (M-Class) architecture, much of that has been subjected to extensive development to bring mechanical reality to the sobriquet “coupe.”
Significant in this are the chassis and transmission electronics. Via a Dynamic Select system, the driver can choose, using via a rotary control, five settings: Individual, Comfort, Slippery, Sport, and Sport+.
“The system networks all the control systems, generating different sets of parameters: Sport and Sport+ turn the GLE 450 AMG into a sporty, dynamic vehicle with pronounced longitudinal and lateral dynamics,” states Mercedes. Comfort gives sedan-like cruising with energy efficiency, and the sensibly termed “Slippery” speaks for itself. As with some other Mercedes’ models, the Individual setting facilitates driver programing for personal control strategies.
Dynamic Select looks after powertrain, suspension, and steering settings and also what Mercedes terms, again rather curiously, “soft skills.” These include engine sounds, instrument displays, and “dynamic control of the driving lights”—the active light function of the all-LED headlights.
In Sport+, gear shifting is described as being “acoustically accentuated,” with downshifting making a double-declutch sound, and the car’s large 8-in central Comand TFT display provides graphics of longitudinal and lateral acceleration plus steering-wheel angle via a photo-realistic motorsports graphic.
Depending on model and specification, the suspension offers steel springs or Airmatic systems.
Airmatic is available for the first time with a continuously variable damping system called ADS Plus, operating in combination with Dynamic Select.
Operating conditions are monitored via a steering-angle sensor, four turn-angle sensors, the driving speed from the ESP signal, and information from the brake pedal switch. The control unit uses the signals to infinitely adjust the damping force at each wheel. Sport Direct-Steer is fitted with a ratio of 17.4:1.
The car also has Mercedes’ Active Curve System, which uses active roll control when Sport or Sport+ is selected. Active anti-roll bars are fitted front and rear, and are said by Mercedes to compensate successfully for asymmetric effect such as striking a pothole.
The lower powered GLE 400 4-Matic and diesel GLE 350 d 4-Matic come standard with Agility Control. Coil spring steel suspension is standard, with an amplitude selective damping system. Airmatic is an option with ADS Plus.
The GLE Coupe’s styling carries some of the visual cues of other Mercedes models, including the latest generation C-Class, which will also appear as an SUV in 2015. The rear of the car is influenced by design lines of the S-Class coupe with slim lights.
The car’s glasshouse is relatively narrow, with a belt line gently rising towards the rear. The rear window is rounded off at the top, which is a long established Mercedes’ signature on load-carrying models.
The nose of the car carries the three-pointed Mercedes’ star with single central chrome louver.
Interior of the car can be lightened by an optional opening glass panoramic glass roof. AMG sports seats are fitted in the top version. At 1650 L (58.3 ft³), the GLE offers the largest luggage compartment in its class, claims Mercedes. A fully electric extendable and retractable trailer coupling, which includes ESP trailer stabilization, is offered. The GLE can tow a 3500-kg (7700-lb) braked trailer.
With the launch of the GLE, Mercedes has clarified its model range nomenclature. The five core model series are A, B, C, E, and S. All SUVs will now have GL in their name. So the GLA is the SUV in the A-Class segment; GLC is the SUV in the C-Class segment that was formerly GLK; GLE is the SUV in the E-Class segment that was formerly M-Class; GLE Coupe is the SUV in the E-Class Coupe segment; GLS is the SUV in the S-Class segment that was formerly GL. The long-established G Wagen remains unchanged. If you are still confused, talk to your local dealer.
Tobias Moers, Chairman of the Board of Management of Mercedes-AMG, is definitely not confused: “The new product line from Mercedes-AMG has allowed us to make true sports car technology and the fascination of motorsports more accessible.”