How Merc's new GLE Coupé stole the show
First drive... in Austria: Mercedes GLE SUV and GLE Coupé
Imitation, they say, is the sincerest form of flattery. In that case BMW should feel chuffed. Because Mercedes have unashamedly mirrored the look of their X6 with their own new GLE Coupé.
Why they feel the need to is beyond me - I don't like the look of either. But there obviously is a growing and potentially huge market for them, especially in the US and China, so that puts my reservations in their place.
The Coupé is based on the successor to the M-Class, the large sports utility now called the GLE.
The Coupé is due in August and I'm told to expect prices in the mid-€80,000s - much the same as the BMW X6. The GLE itself is a September arrival and will start around the €70,000 mark.
I've just driven both fairly extensively and with a variety of engines and over a range of conditions. And no matter what I say about the Coupé I've got to admit it will be noticed.
While that heavily sloping roofline and strong front look give it real attitude, nothing prepared me for its performance.
My first test was in a 3-litre 258bhp diesel with a 9spd G-Tronic gearbox and permanent all-wheel-drive 4MATIC. It was stunning. No other word for it. What a drive we had through highway and byway. On the straight it was rock-solid but so fast and with massive energy. On twists and turns the traction, grip and balance were extraordinary.
I never expected a big Merc to drive like that. It is a worthy rival for the X6. And we felt it was even more so when we lashed around in the AMG 450 367bhp V6 (they are using the occasion to also unveil a GLE 63 AMG, V8, 557bhp and a special S version of that (585bhp).
That was one of the most memorable drives for a long time. Lovely big cabin too with loads of room and a depth of comfort. Like the GLE mothership, it has a big range of driver assistance, comfort and safety systems, including the Dynamic Select handling control.
There are different drive programmes depending on your mood and requirements. And most of the time our mood was good and requirements met. Watch out for this. Appearances are totally deceptive.
The GLE is a more classic type premium SUV. They've revised what was the old M-Class, tweaked suspension, added equipment and technology, improved off-road ability and generally smartened it up. They claim the cars are 17pc more efficient now.
We drove the GLE 500e plug-in hybrid version first. This has a 3-litre V6 (333bhp) petrol, electric motor (116bhp) and battery pack to give it enormous power and pace.
Emissions are as low as 78g/km but still three too many (75g/km) to get the €5,000 SEAI grant. But here's a thing: Mercedes tell me that they will turn out a new-model plug-in every five months for the foreseeable future such is the potential they see for getting emission levels down.
Meantime, the 204bhp 2.2-litre diesel 250d will be the mainstay for Irish buyers and we had it powering us when we went off-roading.
It showed impressive power, to be sure, but we don't foresee too many GLEs doing that sort of work. This is largely a SUV for tarmac users.
It certainly had plenty of on-road low-rev pulling power.
But the Coupe was the one that stole the show.