2017 Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S Coupe
– Very, very quick
– Ride and handling
– Cabin trim and features
– Very, very expensive
– Love-hate styling
– Some awkward ergonomics
There goes Mercedes-Benz again, creating another niche that nobody asked for. First they came up with the A-Class supermini, an undesirable, overpriced economy car that proved to be successful in Europe only. Then there was the CLS-Class four-door coupe, a marketing gimmick that’s now been copied by numerous carmakers. Then they came up with the disastrous R-Class crossover-minivan, a concept that failed to catch on due to its sky-high price. They took a decade-long break after that, until the GLE-Class “Coupe” debuted in 2015. However, it’s just a mild reworking of an idea that BMW came up with way back in 2007. The Mercedes version aims to be a bit more practical.
The GLE “Coupe” is essentially a GLE-Class unibody SUV (formerly known as the M-Class) with a lower egg-shaped roofline. In fact, the entire vehicle looks like an egg on wheels now, but it’s still a bit of a head-turner, and looks powerful in AMG trim with big bumper intakes, quad exhaust tips and massive 22-inch alloys. In fact, Mercedes has chosen to offer the petrol-engined GLE “Coupe” only as AMG models. And the car we are driving is the top-dog Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S.
The GLE Coupe’s interior is mostly shared with the boxy SUV version that was facelifted in the middle of 2015. The facelift added some new tech, most prominent being an iPad-style screen on the dash. The trim is typical AMG, with generous amounts of leather upholstery and padded surfaces strewn all over the dash, doors and armrests. Furthermore, plastic-looking carbon-fibre trim replaces the more-attractive matte wood found in lesser GLE models. There’s some alcantara too, limited to the steering-wheel grips for some reason. The dash design is very nice and fairly uncluttered, even with the odd decision to continue having a full phone keypad on the centre-console.
Once you get into the vehicle, which has a high step-in height and daftly-designed side-steps, you notice that the GLE “Coupe” manages cabin space a bit better than its arch-rival, the BMW X6, largely due to its less-swoopy roofline. There is more than enough space for tall adults up front, while rear headroom and legroom are average. Three passengers can cram into the rear seat, even if the middle passenger gets less thigh support. Some wide people may also whine about the heavily-bolstered sports seats up front, but then again, it’s an AMG. However, the bath-tub feeling is pervasive as the seats are low while the window-sills are high.
The lack of a third-row means the boot is massive, although upward volume is obviously compromised compared to a regular SUV, and the carry-over height is high. Folding down the second row is a bit tedious as the seat-bottoms have to be flipped forward first before folding down the seat-backs. Practicality is pretty good, with large storage cubbies, lots of grocery-bag hooks, several seat-back and door pockets, enough covered cup-holders, and even a place to keep your small belongings within reach.
Being a top-spec vehicle, the GLE 63 S is loaded to the hilt with gadgetry, although some of it may be extra-cost options. Our tester got everything from power headrests to rear LCD screens. The Harmon Kardon stereo is excellent, plays iPods and USBs, runs Bluetooth audio and phone, has navigation and is generally easy to use, at least for basic functions, although the numerous controllers for the multimedia system can get overwhelming if you delve deeper. The tri-zone a/c is very good, better than most other German cars.
Other features include a giant glass roof, vented power seats, keyless entry start, adaptive cruise control, rear camera with guiding lines, HID headlights with LED running lights and tails, power tailgate, tyre-pressure monitor and a full set of airbags. Further features on our tester included blind-spot monitoring, lane assist, adaptive brake lights, fuel-saving auto start-stop and a 6-disc DVD changer, among other things. Apparently standard is a system that detects drowsiness, showing a coffee symbol that grows bigger in the gauge-cluster the more erratic your driving.
Even though the “63” badge still hints at a 6.3-litre engine, it really is a twin-turbo 5.5-litre V8 nowadays, updated to now kick out 557 hp at 5750 rpm and 700 Nm of torque from 1750 rpm all the way up to 5500 rpm. Ah, but you see, our car is the “S” version, which means an upgrade of 585 hp and 760 Nm of torque, which officially only shaves off 0.1 seconds off the 0-100 kph time for a price difference the size of a little Kia.
The GLE “Coupe” may look like a turtle, but with the help of a smooth, quick-shifting 7-speed automatic and all-wheel-drive, we fired off a 0-100 kph run of 4.7 seconds in cool December weather. This thing is ridiculously quick for a 2350-kg SUV, and the second-quickest we’ve ever tested, well behind the much-pricier Bentley Bentayga. Still, there’s just power, power and more power at any speed. Switch to “sport” mode, and the exhaust lets out an earth-shaking V8 growl that borders on the illegal. We also burned a whopping 18.5 litres/100 km of “Super” RON98 fuel, a bit better than the last ML 63 AMG we tested.
Mercedes-Benz is finally starting get the handling part of their cars just right, and it’s clear in the GLE AMG “Coupe”. There is hardly any perceptible body roll, and with its moderately-weighted sharp steering as well as strong brakes, it feels almost like a high-riding hot-hatch when driven fast on long curves or when taking on tight turns at 80% of its limits. Attempting to reach its grip limits on tighter twisties still results in the stability control kicking in, but those limits are much higher now compared to the pre-facelift ML 63 AMG which used to understeer rather early. The humongous tyres, 285/40 up front and 325/35 in the back, finally get to stretch out their capabilities more without being overly restricted by the ESP nannies, although the barely-there steering feedback means there is some guesswork involved in exploring those cornering limits.
The GLE 63 rides with reasonable smoothness for a vehicle riding on 22-inch wheels with low-profile tyres, but it can indeed occasionally feel firm on certain bumpier surfaces, and even a bit crashy over sharp speed-bumps. It is very quiet on the highway, but there is the constant muted drone of the engine, getting very loud on throttle application. The steering firms up further at speed. The auto start/stop system works well enough, shutting down and restarting the engine every time you stop, while keeping the a/c going.
It is easy enough to park thanks to the rear camera and sensors, but rear visibility on the move is rather limited due to the tiny side-mirrors, possibly an aerodynamic compromise, and made up for with a beep-happy blind-spot monitoring system. You also have to watch out for the delicate wheels which could easily get damaged on curbs. And you have to get used to the excessive number of stalks behind the steering wheel — one for indicators/wipers, one for cruise control and one for the gear-selector. Several times, we turned on cruise control while trying to use the indicator, and we once picked the wrong stalk and shifted into neutral at high speed while trying to spray water on the windshield!
While flat beaches and gravel trails are okay, there is no scope for serious off-roading here, even if Mercedes-Benz thinks their 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system is up for it. The front bumper lip is pretty low, and the height-adjustable air suspension doesn’t go high enough to increase ground clearance by any meaningful degree. If you do venture onto the dunes with those low-profile tyres, not getting stuck would require a great deal of skill, but if you do, there is no low-range gearing to pull you out. This AMG likes to sit at the lowest ride-height setting as standard, and would prefer to be treated as a sports sedan instead.
The GLE “Coupe” is a vehicle that didn’t need to exist, but in some weird way, we don’t mind seeing it around town as something that stands out of the regular crossover crowd. It’s not particularly attractive in the traditional sense, but it makes a statement, kind of like a Hawaii shirt in a business meeting. Good luck finding a place to unleash that immense power though.
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