Its power is impressive; its convenience is less so.
There were some complaints back in 2015 when Mercedes-Benz changed its naming structures for its SUVs from GLK, ML and GL to GLC, GLE and GLS, but really it just made their locations in the lineup easier to pick out. Like the C-Class, the GLC is the small SUV. The GLE is medium like the E-Class and on from there. At the same time it introduced the new names, it also introduced this GLE Coupe to do battle with the BMW X6s of the world. This fourth generation (first MLs, then GLE) began in 2019 and there's both a lot to love and lot to hate about the latest model.
Styling is a personal preference, but for us, this coupe-shape makes no sense on an SUV. We know Mercedes was just following its German rival into the segment, but viewed from a three-quarter angle, the GLE just reminds us of an egg, or a jellybean. And despite those shapes being suited perfectly for cheating the wind, they just don't look that great curbside.
We do appreciate the new Panamericana grille on the GLE, it's certainly better than the original nose it put on. But the back looks both too plain and too fat to our eyes. From certain distances, it really looks like a poorly proportioned sedan drawn by a child. The wheel arches are also squared off, making the gap between the fender and the tire look strange.
As much as we loved the 6.3-liter V8 in the old SLS, and the 5.5-liter in the first GLE AMG, this 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 is the best performing of the bunch. It might not be the best sounding, that honor again goes to the 6.3, but the GLE 63 S still sounds like a race car at full tilt. And shifts from the nine-speed multiclutch transmission crackle when done near redline, especially when using the thick metal paddle shifters on the steering wheel.
It's output of 603 hp and 627 lb-ft will snap your head back on acceleration from zero mph, from 50 mph, and from 80 mph. Delivery of that power is the best in sport mode. Comfort takes a split second and sport plus and race will give you whiplash if you're not paying attention. It has a top speed of 174 mph, though we didn't get near that in southeastern Michigan.
The reason SUVs exist is for space and terrain. The GLE Coupe can do terrain. It actually has a slightly higher ride height than the SUV, but it gets killed in storage. The GLE SUV has a cargo space of 38.2 cubic feet when the second-row seats are up, and 80.3 cu-ft when you fold them down. This is drastically more space than the GLE Coupe, which has 23 cubes with the seats up, and 60.7 cu-ft with the seats down.
In day-to-day operations, it would probably be fine. But when the family is packed up for a road trip and you can't fold those second-row seats down, you'll be wishing for SUV levels of cargo. It will affect tall cargo the most, as the space shrinks going towards the back. We'll admit that several suitcases and a few soft bags will fit, you might just have to crush some stuff.
Mercedes' new MBUX system is probably the top of the food chain in infotainment. Though it uses a touchpad, which is our least favorite way to control a system, it added touchscreen capability in addition to the voice and steering wheel controls. The twin 12.3-inch screens are bright and colorful, and the action is quick with no delays after poking or swiping.
The menus are broken up into the usual categories: media, navigation, settings, comfort, etc., and after a few minutes it was easy to find what we needed, when we needed it. Helping that are the redundant mode buttons to get to your main screens. The AMGs have a selection of racing functions too with lap timers and g-meters and the like. Those are fun to have on the screen even when you're not on track.
Overall, the GLE Coupe is easy to get comfortable with and easy to love. But for our money we'd go with the GLE SUV. Between the extra space and better looking exterior, it ticks more boxes for us. The GLE SUV also starts way less than the coupe, by about $20,000. Now, that's because the GLE Coupe starts with the AMG 53 while the SUV lineup features non-AMG models.
As much as we love the manic 4.0-liter V8, the inline-six with the 48-volt electrical system is probably the one we'd go with if we had to choose the coupe. It's not as fast as the V8, delivering only 429 hp and 384 lb-ft, but the powertrain is smooth and quiet, and the stop/start system is barely perceivable. That one starts at $76,500 and is the sweet spot of the coupe-shaped SUV lineup.