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Mercedes-AMG GLE 2021 review: 53 Coupe

Are Coupe SUVs the new 'sports cars' to cashed-up mainstream buyers? The GLE 53 asks: "why not?"
EXPERT RATING
7.9
Some enthusiasts will get all up in arms, but the Coupe SUV's popularity speaks for itself. Can all the technology residing under this new GLE Coupe win them over, though? We find out...

You might have some traditional notions of what a 'sports car' is.

Low and light, slick and aerodynamic, purely mechanical and centred around the driver. These notions may have held true for a long time, but in an age where Lamborghini makes a Touareg-based super SUV is there room for those parameters to move?

Especially with consumer sentiment indicating the somewhat oxymoronic idea of a low-slung coupe SUV with an AMG powertrain is more than just a niche.

Mercedes told us the previous generation GLE coupe was a major success, amassing up to 25 per cent of the model line's sales split, and its research indicated  a buyer of this massive SUV was drawn to its "performance, style and technology" and was even "a motorsport fan."

Sounds like this buyer would have once been looking for a 'sports car' and like it or not, performance coupe SUVs are here to stay. But does the new GLE 53 Coupe really make for a compelling experience behind the wheel? We found out at its local launch.

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?   7/10

Does price matter when it comes to a machine like this? The GLE 53 variant with which this generation of Coupe will launch is the mid-grade car in a three-variant line-up.

It wears a very premium MSRP of $171,800. Soon it will be joined by the only non-AMG badged variant, the GLE 450 Coupe ($137,000) and the top-spec V8 bruiser, the GLE 63 S ($222,700).

To put those numbers (and this car's very existence) in context, it's best to look at its direct competitors.

  • Included are the standard fitments from all new Benz models, including the headline dual 12.3-inch screens adorning its massive dashboard. (image: Tom White) Included are the standard fitments from all new Benz models, including the headline dual 12.3-inch screens adorning its massive dashboard. (image: Tom White)
  • The media screens come complete with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, built-in navigation and voice activation. (image: Tom White) The media screens come complete with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, built-in navigation and voice activation. (image: Tom White)

You'll likely know of its arch rival, the BMW X6. Another Coupe SUV at the pointy end of the price scale, the closest rival variant to our GLE 53 is the M50i starting from $159,900.

Other rivals in this rapidly growing space include the Porsche Cayenne Coupe S at $166,200, and the yet-to-arrive Audi SQ8 which has not yet had its pricing locked in for the Australian market. See what I mean? Coupe SUVs are beyond just an oddity.

So, it's more expensive than its direct rivals, but does it have good reason to be? The GLE 53 is equipment laden from the get-go.

It comes with ‘multibeam’ LED headlights. (image: Tom White) It comes with ‘multibeam’ LED headlights. (image: Tom White)

Included are the standard fitments from all new Benz models, including the headline dual 12.3-inch screens adorning its massive dashboard, complete with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, built-in navigation and voice activation, real leather interior trim with fully electrically adjustable heated and cooled front seats, 21-inch alloys, 'multibeam' LED headlights, AMG styling items, a wireless charging bay, head-up display, and, of course, a panoramic opening sunroof.

An impressive list, but the technology under the skin of the new GLE goes a step beyond. Read about its engine and transmission tech and impressive safety suite later in this review.

Is there anything interesting about its design?   8/10

Hate the very concept of a large SUV coupe or not, you have to at least agree this second-generation GLE Coupe looks infinitely better than the model preceding it.

This time the Coupe version was front of mind from the outset of the GLEs development and is significantly different from the wagon version in more ways than just a sloping roofline.

The wheelbase has been cropped in 60mm compared to the wagon, and the GLE Coupe is a full 7.0mm wider and 39mm longer than its predecessor.

  • Are Coupe SUVs the new 'sports cars' to cashed-up mainstream buyers? The GLE 53 asks: "why not?". (image: Tom White) Are Coupe SUVs the new 'sports cars' to cashed-up mainstream buyers? The GLE 53 asks: "why not?". (image: Tom White)
  • Hate the very concept of a large SUV coupe or not, you have to at least agree this second-generation GLE Coupe looks infinitely better than the model preceding it. (image: Tom White) Hate the very concept of a large SUV coupe or not, you have to at least agree this second-generation GLE Coupe looks infinitely better than the model preceding it. (image: Tom White)

All this adds up to an imposing and more resolved SUV Coupe. I especially like the way its bootlid flicks up into a spoiler, and how the tail-lights round out the profile nicely.

Still, there's always going to be something a little off about the proportions when it comes to a coupe SUV this big, and it's certainly a re-imagining of what a sporty vehicle should look like.

This car's cabin is almost as confronting as its exterior. Up front you're met with an assault of chrome, a ventilation overload and a totally dominant expanse of screens.

It comes with 21-inch alloys. (image: Tom White) It comes with 21-inch alloys. (image: Tom White)

This all hints at the advanced tech which lies beneath, but the real wood and leather trims also elevate the cabin to something you might expect at the tall asking price.

It may appeal to a particular taste and makes the BMW X6's cabin look almost conventional.

How practical is the space inside?   7/10

In some ways, the GLE Coupe makes the most of its extra dimensions, but in other more obvious ways, it's quite compromised.

Benz tells us there's now 40 litres of combined cabin storage, and with the large door bins, centre console box, convertible cupholders, and glove box, I'm inclined to believe them.

The brand also told us much of the extra 39mm of body length has gone into the rear passenger space, and this seems true when it comes to legroom.

  • The GLE 53 Coupe’s boot is large at 655 litres, five litres up on its predecessor. (image: Tom White) The GLE 53 Coupe’s boot is large at 655 litres, five litres up on its predecessor. (image: Tom White)
  • It’s still a whopping 170-litres down on the wagon version, though. (image: Tom White) It’s still a whopping 170-litres down on the wagon version, though. (image: Tom White)

You definitely notice the decline of the C-Pillar, though, making an otherwise large space feel slightly claustrophobic, particularly with the 53's dark headlining and heavily tinted rear windows.

The almost absurd ride height does make peering over the bonnet a chore at times, although I enjoyed the adjustability and comfort afforded by the front two seats.

In terms of connectivity, front passengers get a plethora of USB-C jacks, a wireless charging bay, and a 12V power outlet. There's no USB-A connectivity, so you'll want to stock up on converters.

Rear passengers benefit from dual USB-C ports in a fold out tray, and also score dual adjustable air vents. Two extra climate control zones can be optioned for rear passengers ($1450), and there's also an exorbitant option package to include two screens and wireless headsets for the full business-class experience in the back seats ('Entertainment Package' - $6000!).

The brand also told us much of the extra 39mm of body length has gone into the rear passenger space, and this seems true when it comes to legroom. (image: Tom White) The brand also told us much of the extra 39mm of body length has gone into the rear passenger space, and this seems true when it comes to legroom. (image: Tom White)

You might be surprised given this SUV's shape, but a lot of thought was also poured into the design of the boot area. Thanks to a large footprint, the GLE 53 Coupe's boot is large at 655 litres, five litres up on its predecessor. It's still a whopping 170-litres down on the wagon version, though.

The boot lip has been lowered significantly to increase ease of use, too.

Our test car did not have a spare wheel, with only an inflator kit or run-flat tyres to be working with. This is despite a large area under the boot floor which, to my eyes at least, could easily have fit a space-saver spare.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?   9/10

Here's where this car gets particularly interesting. It's a hybrid. But not your gran's Prius. It's hybrid in a way which will make you re-think the technology.

Residing under the bonnet is a 3.0-litre, twin-turbo, straight-six engine mated to a very complex looking nine-speed (torque converter) automatic transmission.

Residing under the bonnet is a 3.0-litre, twin-turbo, straight-six engine mated to a very complex looking nine-speed (torque converter) automatic transmission. (image: Tom White) Residing under the bonnet is a 3.0-litre, twin-turbo, straight-six engine mated to a very complex looking nine-speed (torque converter) automatic transmission. (image: Tom White)

One of those two turbochargers is driven by an electric motor rather than the exhaust (in order to provide its peak benefits at the lowest possible rpm), and there's also an electric motor inside the transmission which takes the load off the engine at low speeds and between gears.

This isn't where the 48-volt tech ends, with the GLE 53 also sporting active anti-roll bars and dampers, which significantly adjust the ride and body-roll on-the-fly.

All four wheels are driven via Benz's 4MATIC+ all-wheel drive system.

How much fuel does it consume?   7/10

It's a performance car, so fuel consumption is probably not going to be front of mind for potential buyers. That said, the hybrid tech delivers a surprisingly good number.

The official combined cycle consumption number is ambitiously under 10L/100km at 9.3L/100km.

After three days of (roughly) combined testing and about 300km of distance travelled, our car was showing a dash-reported 14.1L/100km. Not near the claim, but is it really bad for a performance SUV weighing 2447kg? I would argue, not.

The GLE 53 requires the top-shelf 98 RON hydrocarbons to fill its 85-litre tank, giving it a maximum theoretical range of 726km between fills.

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?   9/10

It would be no good having a 2.5-tonne rolling tech showcase without top-tier safety to match, and the GLE 53 Coupe doesn't disappoint.

Standard is autobahn-spec auto emergency braking, which combined with lane change assist is beyond just the radar cruise in most cars, it's truly autonomous.

Don't try this at home, but the GLE is capable of completely driving itself on the freeway should you... theoretically... let go of the wheel.

Also included is blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, traffic sign recognition, and driver attention alert.

There's a top-down camera suite, too (will help maneuvering given it's tough to see over the dash and out the back), and a compliment of nine airbags.

You won't be surprised to hear the GLE range is covered by a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating to the stringent 2019 standards.

Warranty & Safety Rating

Basic Warranty

83.25 years / 60,000 km warranty

ANCAP Safety Rating

ANCAP logo

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?   8/10

Mercedes has recently made a jump to the front of the luxury segment, offering an industry-wide standard of a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty. Here it is only rivalled by Korean newcomer, Genesis.

Service intervals occur once every 12 months or 25,000km and prices can be pre-packaged at a discount.

A three-year service plan can be had for $2800 ($3500 if you choose to 'fix' the price), four years can be had at $3800, while a full five-year plan will set you back $5200. Not cheap, but then, neither is the car itself...

The GLE Coupe isn’t going to click with a traditional enthusiast but will appeal to a new age of mainstream performance buyers. (image: Tom White) The GLE Coupe isn’t going to click with a traditional enthusiast but will appeal to a new age of mainstream performance buyers. (image: Tom White)

What's it like to drive?   8/10

This Benz feels about as imposing from behind the wheel as it is to look at. Straight away, you'll notice you tower over the road. I felt as though I was sitting high enough to be on the roof of passing hatchbacks, so there's nothing traditionally 'sporty' about it from the get-go.

I know you're probably thinking visibility is average with that roofline, and you'd be right. You just can't see much, full-stop, out the back.

Thankfully, an array of sensors and very wide-angle mirrors help with overall visibility, so you won't have to be too paranoid about unseen vehicles in your blind spots.

I'm pleased to report all the technology which goes under this SUV's skin is evident when it comes to the drive experience.

It comes with 21-inch alloys. (image: Tom White) It comes with 21-inch alloys. (image: Tom White)

The hybrid tech is ultra-slick and impressive in every department, from trawling in traffic to the curvy stuff and the open road.

The responsiveness of this powertrain is something to be experienced (with the pre-spooled turbo) and the way the hybrid motor in the transmission smooths out shifts removes all the worst characteristics of a traditional torque converter automatic.

One thing to note about the GLE 53 – while it's quick, it's not quite a fire breather. There's no getting around this car's almost two and a half tonne weight, and while I love the smooth feel and note of the 3.0-litre straight six, it's simply not as thunderous or full of theatre as I imagine the 63 S will be.

Despite its height and weight, the altered steering ratios and 48-volt driven suspension and anti-roll systems cause a suspense in belief when it comes to the corners.

Up front you’re met with an assault of chrome, a ventilation overload and a totally dominant expanse of screens. (image: Tom White) Up front you’re met with an assault of chrome, a ventilation overload and a totally dominant expanse of screens. (image: Tom White)

And grip levels are certifiably absurd with those gigantic rear tyres also pitching in to do their part to help something this large deny gravity and physics.

It's not all amazing though. You really feel every millimetre of this SUVs width, and at the end of the day there's no getting around it. It just doesn't feel anything like a sports machine in the traditional sense.

When it comes to ride quality, the GLE impresses, but has its limits. Sure there's air suspension at work, but it offers up nowhere near the ride quality of the more comfort-tuned GLC 300e I recently tested.

The wheelbase has been cropped in 60mm compared to the wagon, and the GLE Coupe is a full 7.0mm wider and 39mm longer than its predecessor. (image: Tom White) The wheelbase has been cropped in 60mm compared to the wagon, and the GLE Coupe is a full 7.0mm wider and 39mm longer than its predecessor. (image: Tom White)

Seems as though there's an inevitable cost to keeping the GLE feeling well and truly planted at all times.

On the freeway the GLE Coupe is ridiculous in the way it can basically drive itself, so this offers up a real plus for those looking for a balance of performance and sensibility for longer trips.

Verdict

The GLE Coupe isn't going to click with a traditional enthusiast but will appeal to a new age of mainstream performance buyers. It's a total tech showcase and you can feel all of those 48-volt benefits from behind the wheel.

Love it or hate its shape, then, you have to appreciate how Mercedes has gone to the nth degree on the details on an SUV it probably could have sold on looks alone.

EXPERT RATING
7.9
Price and features7
Design8
Practicality7
Engine & trans9
Fuel consumption7
Safety9
Ownership8
Driving8
Tom White
Journalist

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