German automakers have a collective reputation for being a pragmatic bunch.
Where every one of them goes in a decidedly different direction is with the so-called “SUV coupe” – an increasingly popular sportback body style that trades some of the inherent practicality of a sport utility for a look that’s (debatably) more fashionable. Others have tried it – the since-discontinued Honda Accord Crosstour and Acura ZDX were practically pioneers – but it’s brands like BMW, Audi, and Mercedes-Benz that nurtured the look, with Porsche and Volkswagen rounding out the list of German brands to get in on the action.
Now in its seventh year on the market, the 2022 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class Coupe is a glowing example of what happens when the back end of an SUV is slashed in the name of style. It retains most of the sensibilities of its conventional sibling, though there’s a price to pay for this fashion-first choice.
An apt analogy for the SUV coupe in general is that it’s akin to cutting the heels off a pair of sneakers. Sure, they’ll still work as shoes, but any activity that’s even remotely athletic – running, for instance – is out of the question. In the case of these sleek sport utilities, the emphasis on aesthetics comes at the cost of utility, with the sloped roofline cutting into cargo space and headroom. There’s still more of both than a comparable sedan offers, but there are serious limitations to contend with.
In the case of the GLE-Class, there’s 779 L of cargo room behind the back seats of the coupe version compared to 943 L in the conventional version. More than volume, though, the space itself in the coupe is hindered by the shallow slope of the tailgate, with nowhere near as much overall height in the back.
With sensibilities that are oh-so German, the rear seats fold in a 40/20/40 split, so the two outboard back seats remain functional even with the centre section stowed for moving skis or, say, a rolled-up carpet. Stashing the rear seats altogether results in 1,790 L of space – significantly less than the 2,121 L in the standard body style. Even so, it’s a useful space in such a configuration, maximizing the GLE-Class’s footprint when required.
This coupe version also sacrifices nearly 50 mm (two in) of rear headroom, although legroom is just as generous regardless of shape (plus, there’s way more than the E-Class offers as either a sedan or wagon). The dark headliner here led to some feelings of claustrophobia for this author in both rows of seats, even with the panoramic sunroof’s sunshade open, but occupant accommodations are what this midsize Mercedes does best.
There’s a price to pay for putting form ahead of function, so consider this a lesson from the “less-is-more” school of economics. The 2022 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class Coupe starts at $86,600 before freight and taxes – a substantial $6,000 more than a comparable non-coupe model. That’s not as significant as the jump from the GLE-Class to the larger GLS-Class, of course, but where the difference between those two can be accounted for through both size and space, it’s all about aesthetics here.
To explore the price disparity a little deeper, the coupe only comes powered by a six-cylinder engine, skipping the conventional version’s entry-level turbocharged four-cylinder that starts at $72,600. Within the Mercedes lineup, there’s also the E 450 All-Terrain, a rugged wagon that offers similar cargo room to the GLE-Class Coupe, is powered by the same straight-six, and comes with standard air suspension – all for a starting price of $81,700.
Over at BMW, the godfather of German SUV coupes, the X6, starts at $83,500 before freight and tax, while the Audi Q8 kicks off at $85,700, and even the Porsche Cayenne Coupe carries a starting price of $88,900. As configured, the tester shown rings in at $96,800 before freight and tax. That pushes this well into the territory of the AMG version of this SUV, as well as well-equipped versions of those aforementioned rivals.
Considering its substantial asking price, this tester is reasonably well-featured, but it isn’t exactly teeming with stuff, either. Sure, it has a heated steering wheel, as well as three-stage heated seats both front and back; but it doesn’t have ventilation or massage settings for the front seats, both of which are part of a pricey upgrade package. Likewise, other goodies ranging from the 13-speaker stereo, surround-view monitor, self-parking system, and foot-activated tailgate release are part of an expensive add-on package.
Included in the asking price are the twin 12.3-inch displays that dominate the dash – the one on the right handles infotainment duty and is touch-responsive – as well as Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone connections, a subscription-based Wi-Fi hotspot, satellite radio, and integrated navigation with augmented reality functionality that overlays instructions on a live camera feed of the road ahead on the central screen. The twin cupholders on the centre console are also temperature-controlled to keep drinks hot or cold, while both front seats feature power adjustability and a trio of memory settings each.
Advanced safety features are decent after a dive into the options list, with lane-keeping and adaptive cruise control that works in stop-and-go traffic added to this tester. It can even automatically change lanes with the activation of the signal just like the E-Class sedan, and the system provides smooth steering input to keep the GLE Coupe centred in its lane of travel even through sweeping bends in the highway. Better still, sensors in the steering wheel are quick to recognize if a driver’s hands have been removed from the wheel, with audible and visual warnings issued and the system even shutting off as a result of non-compliance. That’s in addition to standard items like blind-spot monitoring, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, and a pre-collision system that can pre-emptively close the windows and tighten the seatbelts before an impending crash.
User Friendliness: 8/10
Mercedes has just about mastered the art of simplifying its technology to make it accessible to users of all aptitude. While the infotainment interface isn’t quite as straightforward as others out there, it’s mainly due to the lack of a traditional home screen that arranges the various features in smartphone-like tile icons; instead, it requires swiping through them or using corresponding controls on the console or steering wheel.
The touch display is bright and responds quickly to inputs, while most functions fill the widescreen format completely – with two glaringly frustrating examples: those smartphone connections. While other automakers have found ways to make Apple CarPlay and Android Auto work in such a format, Mercedes still uses nothing but black bars to fill the space. As cited in the past, it’s like watching an old 4:3 aspect ratio DVD on a modern 16:9 flatscreen TV.
The trackpad on the centre console is no longer required, yet it’s a holdover from Mercedes models past. It’s easy enough to ignore – or use, for those who would prefer – although it’s far too prone to accidental inputs, even should a connected smartphone cable brush across its surface. And the twin thumb pads on the steering wheel are even more finicky, requiring a level of patience that almost makes their inclusion counterintuitive since they don’t make anything quick or easy. Pulled from the BlackBerry parts bin, the sensor on the right side of the wheel is used to manipulate the infotainment system, while the one on the left runs through the various functions of the digital gauge display.
Accessing the front half of the cabin itself is as easy as any other SUV, with large door openings and narrow running boards on both sides ($750). The back doors are nowhere near as easy to use, tapering sharply towards the sloped rear end. That’s also where outward visibility could be improved, with nothing but a narrow rear window to look through that’s akin to peeking through a mail slot.
Whether this GLE-Class Coupe is objectively more stylish than the regular version of this midsize SUV is up for debate. It certainly cuts a more striking profile, with the raked roofline still enough to turn heads despite seven years on market. But the tapered nature of the top end also manages to make this version look like it rides a little taller than its GLE-Class contemporary despite sharing mechanical underpinnings and identical ground clearance.
It’s modern Mercedes-Benz inside, with the twin 12.3-inch screens dominating the dashboard and simple flowing lines tying the space together. Ambient interior lighting can provide a splash of personalized colour to the proceedings – plus, it lights up either red or blue when the temperature is changed – but the beige upholstery in this tester keeps it firmly rooted in the world of old luxury.
Notwithstanding the absence of massage functionality up front, the seats in the GLE Coupe are firmly comfortable in a manner typical of German automobiles. There isn’t much contouring to the chairs, but the wide bolstering is good for keeping occupants from sliding around without constricting them, while power adjustability and motorized kinetics settings aim to reduce fatigue. This tester also came equipped with an upgraded seat-heating packaging ($1,200) that includes heating elements in the door armrests and console bin lid.
Another of this tester’s absences was air suspension, with the brand’s coil springs doing a decent job of absorbing road imperfections at highway speeds, although it tends to feel a little jarring around town. For the few thousand dollars it adds to the price tag, opting for the air suspension is recommended though not explicitly required.
Since the GLE-Class Coupe skips the conventional version’s more affordable four-cylinder, the only option is a 3.0L inline-six-cylinder – and it’s fantastic. Available in two flavours, it’s a sultry powerplant that’s paired with a mild-hybrid system that reduces system draw by having the various electrical components run on a corresponding 48-volt system.
Serving up 369 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque – the Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 generates 429 hp and 384 lb-ft of torque from the same setup – this straight-six is a model of smoothness and balance. It manages to move the mass of this midsize sport utility with ease, with an eagerness when called upon that’s almost enough to make the AMG version a moot point (but only almost). While the nine-speed automatic transmission this motor is paired to was prone to the occasional rough shift during testing, nothing similar was present during any previous experience with this powertrain. Chalk it up this GLE-Class still being within its break-in period during testing.
Fuel Economy: 7/10
With all-wheel drive and a six-cylinder engine, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect merely OK fuel economy from this Mercedes. And while it still runs on pricey premium-grade gasoline, it’s impressively efficient both on paper and in practice, turning in sub-10.0 L/100 km results during testing.
Officially, it’s rated to burn a combined 9.6 L/100 km, nearly a litre better than a comparable BMW X6 that’s also powered by an inline-six, and two better than the closest Audi Q8 and Porsche Cayenne Coupe models. Credit the mild hybrid system that allows the GLE-Class to coast with the engine off, as well as the ignition stop-start system that shuts it off while idling (unless it’s too cold, of course). During a 210-km evaluation drive spanning major and secondary highways, with some city driving sprinkled in, combined consumption registered at 9.4 L/100 km, while the full week of testing finished at 10.5 across about 480 km.
Driving Feel: 8/10
A sportback this may be, but the GLE Coupe isn’t especially sporty (at least not outside of the AMG version). Instead, it feels very much like an SUV from behind the wheel, which is by design. While the unsprung weight of this tester’s 20-inch wheels often pulled noticeably at the suspension on uneven surfaces, there’s a strong sense of substance and stability here – hallmarks of premium German SUVs. Add in a nicely weighted steering system that provides adequate resistance, and the GLE-Class is a satisfying sport utility to drive.
As thorough as this evaluation has been, two questions remain: is the 2022 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class Coupe truly a coupe, and does it even matter? There’s no denying that it’s different from the tall and upright version that exists in unison with this one, though by its very definition, a coupe is a car with “a fixed roof, a sloping back, two doors, and seats for four.” One out of four hardly seems enough to qualify this as a coupe, then, although Audi seems to have it right by calling similarly shaped Q4 and Q5 models “sportbacks.”
Putting aside the semantics, the question of whether it matters remains. Of course, needs vary as much as tastes, so there’s no single right answer. There are limitations that come with a swoopy sport utility such as this – there’s no denying that. The GLE-Class Coupe is still useful, it’s just not as useful as the conventional version. But the fundamentals are excellent otherwise, and both versions are among the most well-rounded entries in the segment. Sacrificing space in the name of style isn’t an outrageous idea, but it’s one that should be considered carefully before signing on the dotted line.
|Engine Cylinders||Turbo I6|
|Peak Horsepower||362 hp @ 5,500–6,100 rpm|
|Peak Torque||369 lb-ft @ 1,600–4,500 rpm|
|Fuel Economy||10.7 / 8.2 / 9.6 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space||779/1,790 L seats down|
|Model Tested||2022 Mercedes-Benz GLE 450 Coupe|
|Price as Tested||N/A|