BLUNDER-bus – Mercedes gets the 2016 GLE SUV Coupe all wrong

2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE 350d 4Matic

2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE 350d 4Matic

In the interest of full disclosure, I really like the Mercedes-Benz brand.  A 1983 300D, owned in the family since new, is part of the household fleet, and a 2000 E430 4Matic graced our driveway for seven years.  The E430 4Matic will go down as possibly THE most enjoyable car to drive that we will ever own.

So it was with great anticipation that this new, big Mercedes GLE 350d 4Matic was coming our way for testing.  And with Volkswagen’s recent diesel engine emission scandal, I was keen to test a diesel engine that does meet current emissions standards without resorting to illegal computer electronics ‘trickery’ that VW has admitted to.

This is a large, full-size SUV 5-door ‘hatchback’, which the marketing people at Mercedes have dubbed an ‘SUV Coupe.’  What a crazy name – the idea of a 4- or 5-door ‘coupe’ is an oxymoron monumental proportion.  Putting that aside, the GLE ‘coupe’ has a supposedly ‘sexier’ sloped roofline and power hatchback.  (The GLE also comes in a ‘true’ SUV version with a traditional, extended roofline and proper tailgate.)

GLE Coupe - Do you think I'm sexy? Obviously, 'style' is a matter of personal taste

GLE Coupe – Do you think I’m sexy? Obviously, ‘style’ is a matter of personal taste

The Good, the bad, and the ugly

The good

The GLE offers you everything you’d expect in a premium luxury SUV – outstanding build quality, superlative fit and finish,and beautiful materials used on the interior.  The front seats are classic German – firm, yet very comfortable.

High side bolsters on front seats mean you have to lift your posterior to get in. Seats are comfortable, though

High side bolsters on front seats mean you have to lift your posterior to get in. Seats are comfortable, though

On the road, the GLE feels like you’re driving a luxury bank vault.  Its 2,250 kg curb weight gives the SUV a supremely satisfying feel of solidity that’s perfectly cushioned to isolate the cabin from nasty pavement, yet the ride is controlled and inspires confidence when cornering.  Even fitted with the Pirelli Scorpion winter tires, the cabin is very quiet at highway speed, and the ‘coupe’ tackled the little bit of deep snow with ease.

The 350d’s engine helps move this big vehicle with aplomb.  The 3.0-litre turbo-diesel is a masterpiece of German engineering, punching out a respectable 249 horsepower and an impressive 457 lb-ft of torque at a low, 1,600 rpm.  Mercedes’ 9-speed automatic transmission works its shift magic with utter smoothness and chooses the correct gear for every situation; it never ‘hunts’ and as befitting it’s ‘German-ness’, is decisive in operation.

Cold weather starting and fuel economy

Diesel engines used to be renown for difficult starting in extremely cold weather.  During our test period, outside temperatures dipped to -20 Celsius, and I never plugged the block heater in.  The GLE started quickly with no issues at the push of a button.

The 350d turbo-diesel with automatic transmission and fulltime AWD is officially rated at 10.1/8.0 L/100 km (city/hwy.)  We obtained 11.4 L/100 km (about 80-20 highway/city), but fuel mileage was undoubtedly affected (negatively) by the extreme cold weather.

The bad

Where do I start?  There are so many design flaws with the GLE Coupe, I’m flabbergasted the GLE’s design was ever approved.  Perhaps the executives responsible were asked to sign off on the GLE Coupe’s design late, late on a Saturday night in the middle of Oktoberfest?

Awkward entry

I’m 5’7″ tall and Ingrid is 5’4″.  We are not tall people, obviously, but both of us regularly bumped our head entering the GLE.  Blame that on the low roofline (sexy, isn’t it?) and steeply-angled windshield.  Making matters worse, the front seats have quite deep side bolsters, which is great to hold you solidly planted when cornering aggressively, but these high bolsters means you can’t slide onto the seat; you have to lift your posterior over the seat bolster while bending your torso forward so you don’t hit your head.  Frankly, the GLE is the most difficult vehicle to get into in memory.

Very wide door sill makes entering/exiting GLE difficult

Very wide door sill makes entering/exiting GLE difficult

Awkward exit

Getting into the GLE is difficult, but exiting the SUV is equally difficult.  This is caused by the extremely wide door sill – the part of the floor pan that extends from the edge of the seat.  On a warm and sloppy winter day, I showed the new GLE to a friend who’s 6′ tall, and asked him to try getting in and out of the Mercedes, and because he was wearing a suit, I cautioned, “Watch your pant leg when you get out.”  Even forewarned, he smeared melted road guck on his trousers.

The GLE is nearly impossible to exit without soiling your clothes

The GLE is nearly impossible to exit without soiling your clothes

 

Tall 'lip' at trunk exacerbates already high cargo lift height

Tall ‘lip’ at trunk exacerbates already high cargo lift height

The ugly

While I’ll always defend other people’s right to like styles I don’t, I don’t like the GLE ‘Coupe’s’ fastback, 5-door style.  And to be equitable, I don’t like BMW’s similarly-styled X6 (or the Honda Crosstour from a few years back.)

And the final verdict is . . . 

The 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE 350d 4Matic makes me scratch my head.  This is a pricey, premium luxury SUV, with a starting price of $72,300.  With Mercedes’ gold-plated reputation for top-drawer luxury and quality, the GLE should be a very, very desirable vehicle.  But who is it built for?  Whether you’re tall, short or in-between, the GLE is so difficult to enter and exit, you’d really, really want the car’s outstanding 3.5-litre turbo-diesel 4Matic drivetrain to put up with inconvenience of using it on a daily basis.

For my money, I’d choose the GLE’s showroom sibling, the superb E250 4Matic turbo-diesel sedan, which starts at $64,500 and laugh all the way to the bank with my savings.

2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE 350d SUV Coupe – not recommended.

 

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