We drive Mercedes' answer to the BMW X6 on UK roads for the first time

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As if it weren’t big, brash and lairy-looking enough for you to have figured it out, this is the Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupé, the Stuttgart firm's answer to the big sports SUV coupe conundrum and a direct rival to the BMW X6 and Range Rover Sport. Although the latter is set to make its own dedicated assault on the SUV-cum-sports-coupé segment in 2017.

The Mercedes GLE Coupé comes with a choice of three engines either the venerable 255bhp 3.0-litre V6 diesel or two petrol-powered Mercedes-AMG models - complete with a new nine-speed torque converter automatic gearbox, except for the range-topping GLE 63 S which comes with a seven-speed version. 

If you like the GLE Coupe’s particular kind of pomp and bluster, you’re not going to be disappointed with the finances or the way it drives

The GLE 43 comes with an AMG breathed-on 3.0-litre V6 petrol engine producing 362bhp, while the full fire-breathing treatment is reserved for the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S which comes with a 577bhp 5.5-litre V8 engine.

There are also two trim levels to choose from with the entry-level AMG Line coming equipped with heated, auto dimming and folding mirrors, parking sensors, reversing camera, heated front seats, climate control and a DAB tuner. While the flagship designo Line spec includes a panoramic sunroof, 360 degree camera, heated, cooling and massaging front seats, heated rear seats and a Harman Kardon surround sound system.

The AMG models each come with their own trim, although the GLE 43 is available with the designo standard equipment. The standard car gains all the standard equipment found on the AMG Line model but adds AMG-tuned suspension, 4Matic system and exhaust system along with an aggressive bodykit, while the GLE 63 S gets 22in alloy wheels, a high performance braking system, electronic body roll control, a more aggressive bodykit and a Harman & Kardon stereo system as standard.

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The handling is pretty decent. You get switchable driving modes as standard that affect steering, air suspension and throttle response, but it’s satisfying enough in Comfort, when the steering is still fairly precise and heavy, with a strong urge to self-centre as you wind off lock out of fast corners.

Sport mode brings even weightier response and holds a consistent heft through corners, but it’s not really any more entertaining or involving and ultimately still feels quite anodyne.

Even so, body control isn’t sloppy and there’s plenty of grip from the permanent four-wheel drive system, so the GLE certainly delivers thrills through sheer pace and lateral traction, even if it is more inclined to understeer than you might expect, and there’s none of the fingertip-sensitive response that the Range Rover Sport does so well.

And the ride comfort? Well, standard 21in alloy wheels even on the entry-level 350 d AMG Line model probably don’t help, so even with the air suspension softening the initial bump absorption, you still get a subtle shimmy and bounce over most urban roads. It settles to an easily ignored lope on the motorway, but while this is one of those cars that isn’t ever uncomfortable, it is never properly soothing, either.

The powertrain is great in normal use. A lazy throttle response on step-off could irk if you’re after a fast jump off the traffic lights, but there’s no hesitation, so if you're not in a rush it just feels enjoyably smooth. All of which is in keeping with the character of the nine-speed auto, which does shift quickly and in a timely fashion when you want it to but is at its best when it's left to slur through the ratios to keep the engine in its hearty mid-range, since it does occasionally pick an ill-advised ratio in harder driving.

Refinement is good, although the big wheels inevitably kick up quite a roar at higher speeds, to accompany noticeable wind flutter, but engine noise is very subdued and no one would accuse the GLE 350d of being remotely unrefined.

While the dash is a little busy, it feels lavishly finished, with top-notch materials in the right places and an appropriately indulgent sense of occasion. Having said that, the driver’s seat (which has standard electric adjustment) doesn’t drop as low as we’d like, the latest-generation Comand multimedia system can seem remarkably over-complicated at times and rearward visibility is abysmal.

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Rear passenger space isn’t so bad; children and average-height adults will be fine, although taller adults might feel uncomfortably close to the ceiling. The boot is big and will serve the purposes for family motoring, but it does have an inconveniently high load lip.

The GLE Coupé is a perfectly accomplished SUV. The control weights are good, the powertrain is really quite excellent, the standard equipment is hard to fault and the handling feels meaty and precise. Yet, when you consider the competition, the GLE seems short of any star quality. The Porsche Cayenne and Range Rover Sport cost more (albeit not much in this cash-casual sphere), but both are also blindingly good - more practical, more fluid and adjustable in their handling and, in the Porsche's case, dramatically faster. 

Perhaps more pointedly for those who won’t settle for anything less than an overtly coupe-like body shape to their SUV, the BMW X6 has a substantial edge on performance and efficiency, has even more incisive handling and costs roughly the same after you’ve added some extras that the GLE gets thrown in.

If ‘perfectly accomplished’ isn’t really worth your £60k in a class of similar-priced cars that will deliver that, plus a healthy dose of shock and awe and a load more practicality on top.

Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe 2015-2019 First drives