Superbly built, supremely comfy, Merc’s GLE 450 Coupé is wonderful to drive

Mercedes-Benz likes to call its GLE the pioneer of the street-oriented Sport Utility Vehicle. This fifth-generation model comes in the choice of a 5-seat option with a cavernous boot or a real seven-seat version thanks to its longer wheelbase and a far more spacious cabin. Or you can have it like this. In GLE Coupé get-up.

Let’s First Discuss a Little GLE History

Originally developed to replace the G Wagen 25 years ago, Mercedes-Benz soon realised that its new concept would appeal to a completely different owner profile. So the ML was born its own car. That proved a masterstroke and became an overnight success that not only saw Mercedes’ burgeoning street-oriented sport utility range mushroom to the myriad new models it is today. It also had every rival man and his dog sniffing out a slice of an exploding new car segment.

Of course the great G-wagen lives on as the icon of the Merc 4×4 portfolio that quite literally exploded as Benz pioneered that SUV potential. ML meanwhile morphed into GLE a generation back. When Merc decided to differentiate all its SUVs by a common nomenclature.

That also links to its sedans and this fourth generation E-Class sized wagon started the next generation of a broad base of Mercedes-Benz SUVs. From GLA, GLB and GLC, through this GLE to GLS and there’s even a Maybach coming. And offshoots like this coupé.

There is Only One Original

There’s only one original though and our GLE 450 4Matic AMG Line cut through the wind in elegant record aerodynamic form. It rode on optional Active Body Control suspension with 48 volt electrics and best Mercedes safety. GLE is now longer, wider and lower and has a longer wheelbase to deliver a bigger, more spacious and more comfortable cabin. It has a handy 7700 lbs braked towing capacity and luggage capacity that grows cavernous with the 40:20:40 split second seat row stowed, too. Yes. It’s big!

This 286 kW 500Nm three litre straight-six turbo petrol GLE 450 gets EQ Boost 48V mild hybrid assistance and carries all the typical ML/GLE traits forward. That means all the latest Benz tech. Which also makes it amongst the quickest of the 3-litre turbo-six über-SUV’s we’ve tested. Never mind, Mercedes has also stolen the dynamic high ground of late.

Ten years ago X5 was mighty. Both as an SUV and as a driving tool. So much so that it made a mockery of the rest of its early, flabby and feelingless SUV rivals. It earned that self-acclaimed Sport Activity Vehicle tag. Roll a couple of generations and I’m afraid it’s all change…

Chopped off Trunk Makes Little Difference

The chopped off station wagon bit makes little difference either. The trunk is still cavernous anyway. And GLE’s command driving position, peerless infotainment and a wafting, elegant motoring experience comes with proper performance and impressive dynamics.

Our GLE 450 also of course came with Starship Enterprise-like latest generation ‘Hey Mercedes’ MBUX artificial intelligence infotainment spread out across the dash. Benz’s crisp, cavernous current cabin steals the show for sure.

The best thing about all that, is its latest steering controlled infotainment. A tiny touch pad on each stalks run everything. The infotainment left and the right to look after what you control on the dash. Quite brilliant, actually. Keeps the Merc right on top the top of the infotainment pile in our minds.

Getting Down to GLE Coupé Nuts & Bolts

Getting down to nuts and bolts, Mercedes has gained ground over the years and this GLE 450 Coupé proves that conclusively. It has a regal feel about it on the road, with cool cutting edge thanks to this one’s coupé roofline.

GLE Coupé is extremely versatile both on and off the beaten track with E-Class luxury, a splendid ride in a serene and silent cabin. The original SUV certainly delivers on its promise of great road agility and superior 4×4 ability in one sublime package.

GLE’s 4Matic Plus four wheel drive is optimised traction whatever your driving situation. Torque is split front to rear depending on road conditions and driver inputs. That’s backed up by a standard electronically controlled rear differential and there are up to eight driving modes available for whatever road conditions you may encounter.

PutING GLE Coupé Through its Paces

We put our GLE 450 to the test over a wide variety of local roads. There’s no noticeable over or understeer or any real body roll when driving quickly over a good, tight and sweeping tar road. GLE also feels surprisingly lighter – smaller than it is at more elevated velocities. It goes like a bastard. And it stops on a proverbial tickey, too. All of which earns a level of driver’s trust way beyond what you’d ever expect from a vehicle of this size.

It tames any road surfaces too, from smooth highways to rutted, pot-holed and speed bump infested stretches with aplomb. Those huge tyres and electronic damped suspension simply suck it all up.

It’s quite exceptional on the other side of the spectrum too. Faced with maximum off-road driving situations, the big GLE 450 Coupé is reassuring and fun to drive. Scaling the scariest inclines is a synch. No settings, no fuss, just feed it a constant gentle throttle and steer. And this massive car does the rest all for you. Electronically controlled DSR traction and Braking system basically makes massive declines child’s play too.

Axle articulation, traction and pliability are also seemingly limitless. All four wheels took turns to lift way up off the ground as the diagonally opposite side dipped deep into holes as we slowly crawled along one severely rutted road. And we came anywhere near these incredible car’s limits. It rather tested ours!

The Pioneer Has Reasserted Itself

Yes, it is expensive and it is heavier on fuel than some rivals. Although there are cheaper and more frugal options too. But overall, if you’re looking for a premium SUV, this thing screams it. And it flies that three pointed star with great aplomb.

It’d be a big deal to call any car the King of the Road – that’s a risqué call to make. But if ever a more or less everyday car has had all the elements that you’d need to call it that, then this Mercedes-Benz GLE 450 pretty well fits the bill.

Superbly built, supremely comfortable, the Mercedes-Benz GLE 450 is safe as houses, great to look at and wonderful to drive, whatever the conditions. If nothing else, the pioneer has reasserted itself as the leader. And that’s good enough all on its own… — Michele Lupini

Images: Giordano Lupini

ROAD TESTED: Mercedes-Benz GLE 450 AMG Line Coupé
Engine: 286 kW 500Nm 3-litre turbo petrol I6
Drive: 9-speed Automatic AWD
0-60 km/h: 2.11sec
0-100 km/h: 5.25 sec
0-160 km/h: 13.22 sec
400m: 13.4sec @ 167 km/h
80-120 km/h: 3.55 sec
120-160 km/h: 5.18 sec
VMax: 250 km/h
Fuel: 9.4 l/100 km
CO2: 214 g/km
Warranty/Service: 2y Unl./5y 100K km
LIST PRICE:       R1.646M
RATED:            9
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