A tiny island off the coast of Gander, Newfoundland with about 2,500 mostly sea-faring residents may just have been one of the last places on earth that any traditional cost/benefit analysis would place an architecturally stunning luxury hotel. But that’s exactly what former Fogo Islander Zita Cobb did after making millions in the high-tech fibre optic industry in Ontario.
Mercedes-Benz may just be taking a similar flier with the introduction of the 2016 GLE Coupe, a slightly swoopier version of the regular GLE, which itself is the mid-size SUV formerly known as the ML. This all-new GLE Coupe crossover runs the same formula that spun off the swoopier CLS ‘coupe’ so successfully, with a lower roof plus diminished rear seat and cargo room, though this same formula didn’t work out well at all for Acura’s ZDX, a short-lived but fairly attractive version of the more staid Acura MDX.
Mercedes-Benz Canada hosted the Canadian launch of the GLE Coupe at the demurely-named Fogo Island Inn that has become the centrepiece of Cobb’s cultural and economic revitalization effort, in an area decimated by a government-imposed moratorium on cod-fishing – the main economic staple of the island for decades, if not centuries. The Inn is not the only stunning yet visually jarring element of Cobb’s revitalization project: several angular post-modern pods have been placed around the island, all of them perched seemingly precariously by the crashing waves of the North Atlantic. But all of them reflective of the island or its maritime roots in some way, and are used by visiting artists as hosted design studios.
The GLE Coupe may be similarly post-modern to some eyes, an evolution of the traditional two-box SUV, but still with all the four-door practicality of a midsize SUV. Beauty is always in the eye of the beholder, and though it still has nothing to do with any true ‘coupe’ in the traditional/ proper two-door sense of the world, its lower roof height and tapered rear end does make it stand out more in a sea of quickly multiplying luxury SUVs.
And unlike traditional coupes, there’s little practicality penalty for more adventurous styling, outside of the GLE Coupe’s price that starts roughly nine thousand dollars north of where the regular GLE starts with the same 3.0-litre diesel engine. The base GLE Coupe starts at $72,300, and we spent most of time in Fogo with a diesel tester that came in with an as-tested price of $85,125. We also sampled the gasoline-powered GLE 450 AMG in Fogo, which starts at $77,600, and in the wake of the Volkswagen diesel scandal sounds like a very reasonable premium for a much smoother, more socially acceptable and more powerful 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 engine. The latter produces 362 horsepower and 384 lb-ft of torque.
Unlike most automakers that place a premium on diesel powertrains, Mercedes-Benz uses them as the base engines in its SUVs. This one off ers 249 horses, with an impressive 457 lb-ft of torque on tap at a low 1,600 rpm. Granted, it’s not the smoothest engine in Benz’s lineup, and there’s still a hint of turbo lag, as the 8.2-second 0-100 km/h time it recorded at the AJAC’s recent Canadian Car and Truck of the Year testing attests. That’s not necessarily slow, but at this price level, it’s certainly not quick.
Where the diesel obviously shines is in its fuel efficiency numbers: it officially averages 10.4 L/100 km in the city, and 8.2 on the highway, versus the GLE 450 AMG’s 13.6 and 10.2 numbers, respectively.
Both GLE Coupes revelled in the long highway drive north from St. John’s to reach Gander, packing away kilometres in smooth and luxurious comfort. The AMG in the 450’s name refers to its inclusion in the new AMG sports line, which turns the performance spiciness quotient up from the base GLE Coupe quite a bit, but down to medium from traditional AMG highs, with therefore less of a comfort and cost penalty, similar to rival BMW M Sport and Audi S-Line models. The GLE 450 comes standard with the rotary Dynamic Select knob that allows for a range of transmission, suspension and throttle maps, making it feel notably more responsive after hopping out of the GLE 350, even before playing with any settings, both throttle response and especially body lean much better controlled.
Space-wise, both my passenger and I manage to fi t fine in the rear seat, even if the headliner is more snug than the regular GLE would have been. Cargo space in the GLE Coupe is listed at 650 litres with all the seats up, compared to 690 in the more square GLE.
So, is the GLE Coupe worth the price premium and loss of interior room compared to the GLE? Or, perhaps more importantly, do its looks and performance seduce more than the BMW X6, its most natural rival? This all seems to depend largely on the eye of the beholder, and one’s own appreciation for the artfulness of these exteriors. Somehow, after driving these post-modern crossovers, the Coupe designation that seemed so wrong when first introduced in the context of swoopier crossovers, now at least seems like less of a risky flier than ever.
BY THE NUMBERS
2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE 350d 4MATIC Coupe
BASE PRICE: $72,300
AS TESTED: $85,125
ENGINE: Turbocharged 3.0L diesel V6
HORSEPOWER: 249 @ 3,400 rpm
TORQUE: 457 @ 1,600 RPM
CONFIGURATION: Front engine / all-wheel-drive
TRANSMISSION: 9-speed automatic
DRY WEIGHT: 2,280 kg
FUEL ECONOMY RATINGS (CITY / HWY.): 10.2 / 8.1 L/100 km
WARRANTY (MOS. / KM): 48 / 80,000
ALTERNATIVES: BMW X6, Infiniti QX70, Porsche Cayenne, Tesla Model X