Merc’s new SUV hits the sweet spot
High-riding SUVs with coupe-like rooflines make little practical sense but have strong appeal to luxury car customers.
Buyers of the new Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe are "very unlikely to consider other cars in the range", so says the brand.
BMW invented the genre with its X5-based X6 before manufacturers such as Mercedes, Audi and Porsche followed suit. Purists might question the logic of compromising cargo capacity and rear passenger room for the sake of style, but the popularity of these cars is plain to see in wealthy suburbs.
Mercedes says the GLE Coupe suits a different customer than conventional SUVs and wagons. More interested in motorsport, tech-savvy and keen to own something special, they're likely to buy a high-performance AMG model - and spend more money than your average Benz owner.
Compared with a regular Mercedes-Benz GLE wagon, the new coupe has a raked-back windscreen, shorter wheelbase and faster steering response. The front end is bluff, while the rear is clipped short.
Drivers sit low in an opulent cabin packed with 64-colour ambient lighting, twin 12.3-inch high-definition digital displays, a panoramic sunroof, wireless phone charging and more.
It's a beautifully finished space, and the new model brings more passenger legroom than the previous car.
Customers can choose from three models. The entry-level GLE 450 coupe costs about $148,000 drive-away, mid-range Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 models are about $185,000 drive-away and the range-topping Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S is about $238,000 drive-away.
The standard car has a turbocharged 3.0-litre in-line six-cylinder petrol engine with 270kW and 500Nm, along with an AMG styling pack, 21-inch wheels and an impressive array of toys to play with. It costs about $20,000 more than an equivalent GLE wagon, but brings extra features such as a Mercedes-AMG styling pack as standard.
Mid-spec Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 models add mild hybrid tech such as an electric supercharger and new integrated starter generator that increase power to 320kW and 520Nm, plus multi-mode air suspension, a performance exhaust, high-quality leather and more.
Enthusiasts will gravitate toward the range-topping GLE 63 S and its thunderous twin-turbo V8. Offering 450kW and 850Nm outputs, the top model also brings 22-inch wheels, launch control, track-minded apps and premium cabin finishes. The V8 variant is due to arrive in January, while the cheaper GLE 450 is on sale in October, so we took the GLE 53 for a spin.
It looks imposing in the metal, with a bluff grille, huge wheels and pumped haunches that suggest this is a different kind of SUV.
Quieter than most AMG models, the mid-range variant has a smooth six-cylinder engine that sounds a little flat around town, but inspiring when you stand on the throttle.
It feels brisk enough without pinning you in the seat the way its V8-powered sibling might. The stop-start function of its clever hybrid system makes the GLE 53 more socially acceptable around town.
Fast responses from its flat-bottomed steering wheel join with clever active roll bars to make the big Benz feel nimbler than it should. Colossal high-performance Michelin tyres bring truly impressive grip, tenaciously hanging on to the road in a way no two-tonne SUV should. The down side is that those huge wheels thump over bumps, adding an unwelcome edge to its ride on lumpy roads.
Fast, fun to drive and packed with impressive tech, the GLE 53 Coupe hits a sweet spot for SUV buyers looking to stand out from the crowd.
MERCEDES-AMG GLE 53 COUPE VITALS
Price: About $185,000 drive-away
Engine: 3.0-litre six-cylinder hybrid, 320kW/520Nm
Warranty/servicing: 5-year/unlimited km, $5200 for 5 years
Safety: 5 stars, 9 airbags, auto emergency braking, active cruise control, lane keeping assistance, rear cross-traffic alert
Cargo: 655 litres
Originally published as Merc's new SUV hits the sweet spot