Not too long ago, the first-gen BMW X6 was likened to the character in Alice in Wonderland. The proportions were outright weird, it wasn’t practical and it couldn’t do much off the road. Nor was it the most sorted of the high-stance all-wheel drivers, yet it turned heads wherever it went and had a bomb of a 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 petrol that made people commit all kinds of illegalities.
Some 50,000 people every year associated themselves with the personality of the X6 — so much so that it warranted BMW to continue with this outlandish creation for another generation. This caught the attention of some of the marketing-types at Stuttgart and years of testing and spy shots of camouflaged examples later, the GLE Coupe was presented to a somewhat baffled auto journo fraternity in 2015.
There’s absolutely no need for a Sports Activity Coupe or an Uncomfortable Activity Coupe or whatever they call it. But needs live in the shadow of wants in the luxury car industry, therefore even if the GLE Coupe may have caused collective consternation among the interweb lot, it shouldn’t quite bother potential customers. Is the GLE a looker? It’s decently executed, but sorry Boris, I can’t agree with you on that tail section. It’s just not aesthetically balanced and despite spending the better half of a day trying to convince myself otherwise, I couldn’t.
Okay, so the GLE Coupe isn’t a very convincing overall design (in my humble opinion), though it’s offered in just one variant (GLE 450 AMG Coupe) and is a full Rs 19 lakh less than the X6 40d and makes more power, too. It’s a mite quicker, runs on petrol and the price difference is enough to buy you 309 tankfuls of petrol, or enough fuel for about 150,000 km, give or take.
Of course, most buyers won’t even get to that point in a car’s life, upgrading to something else in just a few years. So, as far as values go, the GLE has it pretty sorted. But how good is it, really? To answer that question, we strapped on a VBox and found the results pleasantly surprising. At 5.9 seconds to 100 kph, with all systems in the ‘go’ position, it’s just as quick as a Mini Cooper S with the JCW pack we tested in this very issue. To put that into perspective, the difference in kerb weight is just over a tonne, but the power-to-weight ratio is nearly identical, so the GLE surely isn’t a slowcoach.
What, then, is the AMG badge all about? It’s a go-between performance variant — doesn’t enjoy the cred of the full-blown hot mamma nor is it pedestrian in performance, either. It’ll soon get rebadged to GLE 43 AMG Coupe, a new nomenclature system that replaces the current AMG Sport branding. Under that hood is a 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 that produces 362 bhp — similar to the GLA 45 AMG’s 2.0-litre four-pot. Chanelling all that power to the four wheels is a 9-speed auto ‘box, similar to the one on the regular GLE and the LR Disco Sport.
It isn’t the most fun gearbox, mind you. Sure, it’s quick to shift and driveability is excellent, but at low speeds it becomes a bit fidgety, the first couple of gears being a tad too short, making quick clean getaways from annoying paparazzi or fans a bit irritating. Once you do get past that, it’s quick-ish through the gears, utilising nearly all of that 53 kgm rather well. Succinctly put, it feels very diesel-like in its responses, and the 6200-rpm rev limit is easily reached through the gears. That’s provided you have dialled in Sport on the console. In Normal, the shifts are a bit lazy, those in Sport+ much sharper.
In the sound department, too, the GLE 450 comes across as a half-house AMG. It’s what a strong case of flatulence sounds like, leaving you a bit puzzled at first, followed by bouts of laughter. Sure, it’s loud enough to get a whole bunch of onlookers curious, which can be perceived either as, depending on which side of the bed you get up from, ‘Wow, what noise’ or ‘Hmph! An AMG for posers’.
Does it drive like an AMG, then? There are two parts to that question. In Normal mode, the steering lacks in the sensory department, while it gets better in Sport or Sport+ mode, it’s not quite going to make you jump with joy. The handling is quite neutral for the most part of the dynamic envelope. It’s only when radii start decreasing and you apply more effort on the throttle pedal that understeer sets in. The ride, surprisingly, is pretty good. It settles rather well on most surfaces, with low-speed ride pretty much like any Mercedes. And if the going gets rough, fear not because there is a suspension lift mode that enhances ground clearance. Really, this is a practical sports activity coupe, if there ever were one.
That practicality shows on the inside, too. A cavernous boot means the sloping roofline hardly makes a dent on boot space, while head-room and leg-room for rear passengers won’t leave anyone with a sore neck or aching knees. It feels a touch old school on the inside, but the 8-inch screen with the multimedia interface brings things up to speed. It’s a bit more utility than flash and dash, unlike the BMW X6 here, but I guess that’s the price you pay when the platform that shell rests on is a touch older of the two.
For all it’s worth, the GLE 450 AMG Coupe is a bit of a mixed bag. It does the coupe thing well, is practical and has decent overall performance to boot. Trouble is, it’s a bit contrived in this spec — trying a bit too hard to be everything but not really excelling in most. That’s the trouble with luxury cars — they might be impractical, but expectations are always sky high. The GLE 450 AMG comes close, but doesn’t quite get it right. But is it good enough to beat the BMW X6? I can see a comparison test coming.
Mercedes-Benz GLE 450 AMG Coupe
Displacement: 2996cc, V6, bi-turbo
Max power: 362 bhp@5500-6000 rpm
Max torque: 53 kgm@2000-4200 rpm
Transmission: 9-speed auto
Type: Rack and pinion with EPS
Turning radius: 5.9 m
F/R: Ventilated discs/discs
Front: 275/45 R21
Rear: 315/40 R21
L/W/H (mm): 4891/2129/1719
Wheelbase: 2915 mm
Kerb weight: 2280 kg
Tank capacity: 93 litres
0-60 kph: 2.6 secs
0-100 kph: 5.9 secs
80-120 kph: 4.8 secs
100-140 kph: 5.6 secs
Top speed: 250 kph (claimed)
PRICE: Rs 86.4 lakh, ex-showroom, Mumbai