► New coupe version of Merc's GLE SUV
► AMG range-topper (for now) has MHEV i6
► Rival to X6, Q8 and Cayenne Coupe
Back for a second generation, this is the curvy-reared version of Merc’s cornerstone SUV, the GLE. The coupe-SUV market has grown since the first generation, both in terms of sales and number of alternatives.
It remains a logic-defying style of car – why compromise on space by losing some of the back end? But people want them, and Mercedes and its AMG performance division are more than happy to oblige.
How different is it from the regular GLE?
A bit. The wheelbase is shorter, the lights are different, the rear haunches bulge a bit more, and the roof slopes down towards the back, reducing boot space and rear passenger headroom, but not drastically. It’s a five-seater; no seven-seat option, unlike the GLE SUV.
There was a coupe version of the previous GLE too. The new one is bigger than that, and introduces some interesting engines.
The star of the line-up is this AMG 53 version, powered by a 3.0-litre petrol straight-six. As well as a regular turbocharger, it also has an electrically driven compressor that plugs the gaps an inherently lag-prone turbocharger can’t.
The 53 is a mild hybrid, in the sense of having a 48-volt electrical system in which an integrated starter-generator multi-tasks: as well as starting and re-starting the engine on the move, it also directs recuperated braking energy into the extra battery and helps the engine out with a burst of extra power (about 20bhp) when needed. It’s a fantastically efficient set-up: not wildly economical, but relatively clean and frugal for a performance engine. Its claimed 30mpg seems achievable, based on our varied test drive.
What’s AMG’s role in all this?
The 53 engine comes from Merc’s performance division, rather than HQ in Stuttgart, and Affalterbach also provides the 53’s braking and suspension. Uniquely among GLE Coupes, the 53 has a performance-orientated suspension set-up featuring electro-mechanical anti-roll bars.
The AMG version gets a different grille, sportier exhaust, its own steering wheel and extra driving modes, ranging from Sport+ to Sand.
And in 2020, the range will be boosted by another AMG, the 63. Happy days. Not that the 53 is exactly short-changing you, with 429bhp and 384lb ft of torque, and a 5.3 second 0-62mph time. But if you like big, powerful cars, you’ll probably enjoy a bit more.
What other versions are available?
The other GLE Coupe available at first is the 400d, a 3.0-litre diesel straight-six. They’re both expected in the UK in the summer of 2020. Later in 2020 there will be a 350d, a slightly less powerful (but no more economical) version of the 400. And then there’s the 350de, a plug-in diesel hybrid.
All UK models come in AMG Line Premium Plus trim, which includes a 12.3-inch instrument screen that joins up with a 12.3-inch central touchscreen, augmented-reality sat-nav, excellent voice activation, very fancy LED lighting and questionable 22-inch wheels. All aside from the AMG come with air suspension. Prices had not been confirmed at the time of writing, but expect them to be £2000-£3000 more than comparable SUV versions of the GLE; the 350 is likely to start around £75,000.
What’s it like to drive?
Once you’ve got used to the US-built GLE’s weight and width, and got over the novelty of the 53’s artificially sporty exhaust note, it’s a blast. As quiet and sophisticated as you like when cruising around, it can accelerate very quickly and relishes being thrown into bends.
The 53’s ride quality is much better than either of the other GLE Coupes we drove, the 400d and 350de, and its engine is more immediately responsive. Its transitions between petrol propulsion and engine-off coasting are utterly seamless.
And the interior is superb. Well built, logically laid out, with the fantastic MBUX infotainment system.
Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe: verdict
Like any AMG-developed 4x4, there’s something showy and dramatic about the GLE 53 Coupe. It’s not for wallflowers. And in losing a little luggage space and passenger room it becomes slightly less practical.
It’s not an absolute rocketship, like we expect the 63 to be, but it has glorious amounts of usable power. It’s also fine off-road, with good ground clearance and suspension that’s about more than just dynamic on-road excellence.
It’s on the expensive side, with no low-spec version available; you get the kitchen sink, like it or not. But given the immensity of Merc’s 4x4 line-up, it doesn’t need to be everything to everybody. As it stands, it’s a great blend of fun and function, and provides a serious alternative to coupe-SUVs from Porsche, Lamborghini, Audi and BMW.
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