Mercedes puts foot to floor in SUV market
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CARMAKER FILLS WEAK SPOT IN LINE-UP IN TYPICAL FASHION — WITH A TOTAL AVALANCHE OF VARIANTS
For a while now Mercedes-Benz has lagged behind obvious rivals BMW and Audi in one key area — SUVs, particularly those in the fast-growing small and medium segments.
But Mercedes are determined to fix that particular weak spot in the most German way possible — to jam as many different variants into as many segments as possible.
The traditional wagon version of the GLE is pretty much an extensive facelift of the ML that has done successful business for Mercedes in this segment for a number of years now, but the Coupe version is the added twist.
While the wagon gets a new bonnet, grille, LED headlights, taillights, front and rear bumpers and a new interior, the Coupe gets an all-new body in the form of a BMW X6-style sloping-roofed five-door “coupe” that, well, never really worked well on the BMW, although that has never exactly stopped them selling and clearly selling enough for not only BMW to make a smaller version in the form of the X4, but also for Mercedes to commit a bit of sincere flattery with the new GLE.
The Mercedes-Benz GLE 63 Coupe takes extensive style cues from the BMW X6.
The wagon gets the widest rage of engines and spec levels, with the wagon-only GLE 250d kicking off the range at $104,900. Packing a 150kW/500Nm 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel engine, the 250d also gets Mercedes’ new 9-speed automatic transmission.
The GLE 350d can be had in both wagon and Coupe body styles and costs $124,900 and $139,900 respectively. It gets a grunty 190kW/620Nm 3.0-litre turbo diesel V6, as well as the 9-speed transmission.
The GLE 400 is a wagon only and lands at $131,900. It boasts Mercedes’ excellent 3.0-litre twin turbo petrol V6 with 245kW and 480Nm and a 7-speed automatic transmission, while the GLE 500 is the first of the V8s in the range and costs $154,900. The 4.6-litre twin turbo V8 pumps out 320kW and 700Nm and is also hooked up to the 7-speed auto.
The Coupe-only GLE 450 AMG costs $153,500 and features an AMG-breathed-on version of the petrol V6 wound up to produce 270kW and 520Nm and hooked up to the 9-speed auto.
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The Big Daddy of the range is, of course, the fire-breathing Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S, available in either wagon or Coupe form. With its 5.5-litre twin turbo V8 pumping out 430kW and 760Nm it uses an AMG version of the 7-speed transmission and costs $205,900 jumping up to $210,000 in Coupe form.
Much like the X6, the GLE Coupe has restricted rear headroom and the front is noticeably impaired, particularly upon entering or exiting, with the aggressively sloping A-pillars proving very adept at getting in the way of your head.
This, of course, is not a problem in the slightest for the more traditional GLE wagon, which positively bursts with ease of access and practicality in comparison, making it the more sensible choice.
But while sensible choices are commonplace in the SUV segment, at the heady heights of $200K performance SUVs they are far less prevalent, making the Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 Coupe a startlingly silly, yet eminently desirable beast.
Bristling with power and quite openly shouty about it, the GLE 63 in both its forms is rather remarkable. In “Sport +” mode it is brash, loud and handles in the exact way that SUVs shouldn’t.
The GLE 63 corners with a simply incredible absence of body roll, with sharp, precise steering and the kind of agility usually not associated with big, tall SUVs.
All the cars fitted with the Airmatic suspension (all coupes and both V8 wagons) handled in a similarly impressive fashion, but the noise and blatant speed of the AMG car just made it all the more impressive. Upshifts are accompanied with a flat, basso explosion of noise, while downshifts rattle and boom like a quiet round of aerial bombing.
This makes the GLE 450 AMG a seriously quick, remarkably agile almost-AMG with even more of the staccato exhaust outbursts than the big V8. A loud machine gun rattle accompanies every downshift, along with the customary exclamatory boom when shifting up under heavy acceleration.
Although it is brilliant fun for a while, the GLE 450 is actually better left in “Sport” mode, which drops the somewhat contrived explosive exhaust response, but keeps all the silky power and remarkable handling intact.
The release of the new GLE impressively improves one entrant — and adds an equally impressive new version — into Mercedes’ SUV line up, solidifying its growing strength in this market. Powerful, comfortable and spectacularly well built, the GLE takes the fight right back to BMW and Audi.