Attraction of sophistication lost to compromise
Two variations on a similar theme here, first the Mercedes-Benz GLE SUV, which is new mainly in name (it’s a revised version of the ML-class off-roader subscribing to Benz’s new naming strategy), and then the GLE Coupé which, for Mercedes at least, is a complete departure.
The SUV came with Mercedes’ long-serving 3-litre diesel and even I, a man with very little love for large off-roaders, could appreciate how easy it was to live with and what a pleasant place it provided from which to watch the world go buy. Now fitted with a nine-speed gearbox, it had enough performance to provide useful point-to-point progress and consumption good enough to stretch the range of its large fuel tank for 500 miles or more. A Range Rover Sport offers more convivial surroundings and is better to drive and look at, but if you wanted such a car but chose not to make quite such a statement about yourself, the big Benz is classier though less entertaining than a BMW X5, and a better shot by far than the new Audi Q7.
But the coupé? Ever since BMW launched its first X6 I have found these cars, or more precisely the people who choose to buy them, impossible to understand. While I guess the GLE Coupé is better looking than the X6, the point remains the same. Why would you spend so much money on a car whose design is so compromised? You can call it sleek and rakish by SUV standards, but by Mercedes CLS standards it is upright and ugly. You can say it performs well for the kind of car it is, and, fitted with a strong twin-turbo 3-litre V6 petrol motor, so it does. But by the standards of conventional cars this amount of money can buy, it’s not quick at all. And of course when compared to normal SUVs, there’s not much space in the back and even less in the boot.
Even worse, the seating position is so high and the roof so relatively low that the first three times I climbed in I hit my head on the A-pillar.
As for the fuel consumption, I knew a 2.2-tonne car capable of hitting 62mph from rest in well under six seconds was unlikely to be frugal, but 25mpg if you drive it gently and something well into the teens if you don’t? Even if I could afford it, I’d not choose to spend so much to gain so little. Happily a diesel version does exist and if you must have a car such as this, I can see no credible argument for not choosing one.
It’s interesting to me how even today two cars sharing the same fundamental architecture can produce such dramatic results. The GLE SUV is an attractive, capable and sophisticated off-roader that should be near the top of the list of anyone looking for such a car. The GLE Coupé I drove was an expensive Jack of all trades, unsatisfactory in all areas of importance to me. Then again I said the same about the BMW X6, and it’s been a great success. By listening to customers who care only about how they believe such cars will allow them to be perceived, I expect the same will shortly be said for the GLE Coupé. While I’d like to, I can’t really blame Mercedes for that.
Engine – 3.0 litres, 6 cylinders, turbo petrol
Power – [email protected] rpm
Torque – 383lb [email protected] rpm
Transmission – nine-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
Weight – 2220kg
Power to Weight –163bhp per tonne
Top speed 155mph