Crossover coupe

Mercedes combines coupe styling with SUV bulk to present the GLE Coupe

Sports coupes are typically sleek and nimble, but not exactly commodious. Sport-utility vehicles, on the other hand, offer a commanding road presence and loads of space, but lack agility.

Seven years ago, BMW figured you could have your cake and eat it too when it launched its radically styled high-riding X6 - a car that is a cross between a coupe and an SUV.

Mercedes-Benz may be late in the game, but it now has its very own high-riding racey crossover - the GLE Coupe.

Like the X6, the GLE Coupe takes up as much road space. Its styling is similarly polarising, even if its crease lines make it seem more streamlined and a little less edgy compared with the X6.

The GLE450 AMG tested here is the mid-range version, slotting in between a base GLE400 Coupe and the real McCoy - the V8 AMG GLE63 S Coupe.

  • SPECS / MERCEDES-BENZ GLE450 AMG 4MATIC COUPE

  • Price: $382,888 with COE

    Engine: 2,996cc 24-valve V6 twin-turbocharged

    Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with paddle shift

    Power: 367bhp at 5,500rpm

    Torque: 520Nm at 1,800-4,000rpm

    0-100kmh: 5.7 seconds

    Top speed: 250kmh (electronically limited)

    Fuel consumption: 8.9 litres/100km

    Agent: Cycle & Carriage

The heart of this new beast is a muscular 367bhp 3-litre twin-turbo V6 with an equally impressive torque spread of 520Nm from just 1,800rpm.

Power is transferred via a new column-mounted nine-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters. Its permanent all-wheel- drive splits torque 40/60 between front and rear axles, while an anti- roll feature called Active Curve makes for sportier handling.

Through a new Dynamic Select system, you can dial in your preferred driving style. The system varies air suspension, gearbox, throttle response, steering and exhaust settings to suit your mood.

In Sport+ mode, the GLE450 is alarmingly fast and entertaining. It packs sharp responses, tenacious grip and a crackling exhaust soundtrack. It even outsprints the X6 (xDrive 35i version) in the century sprint at 5.7 seconds (0.7 of a second faster).

In practical daily use, Sport is more than enough - you get a taut yet compliant ride. There is still a hint of its Italian-sounding exhaust note. But, otherwise, extraneous noise levels are well suppressed, despite the car's extra-wide tyre footprint.

Comfort mode will be the default setting for cruising and relaxed commuting. At 90kmh, the engine is barely ticking over at 1,350rpm in top gear. This latest nine-speed gearbox shifts quickly and seamlessly, always finding the highest optimum gear.

With 50 per cent of the test-drive spent cruising on expressways, 20 per cent hard-driving and 30 per cent town crawling, I managed 11.3 litres/100km, which matches the car's urban fuel consumption claim. That is impressive for a 2.2-tonne SUV with sports car prowess.

Build quality is on a par with Mercedes' usual standards. But its upright and fussy dash layout looks rather dated and seems to miss the luxe-touch present in more recent Mercedes models.

The GLE Coupe seats five, although taller rear passengers will have to compromise on headroom with its sloping roofline. Likewise, the small rear hatch aperture limits reverse vision, so one will have to rely on the parking-camera aids.

It has a best-in-class 650-litre boot, though. This can be expanded to an estate-like 1,720 litres, with the rear seats folded.

Mercedes' GLE has an interesting split personality - sporty or comfy - and offers more pace and space (for luggage) than its competitors.

Like Merc's string of recently released new models, this car is clearly reaching out to a trendier market segment. And it may well succeed.

•The writer is an occasional contributor to Torque, a motoring monthly published by SPH Magazines

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 12, 2015, with the headline 'Crossover coupe'. Print Edition | Subscribe