If you don’t get the coupe-SUV thing, stand back from the rabbit hole.
The new Mercedes-AMG GLE53 4Matic+ Coupe has already abseiled into the dark abyss and poses a deeper range of questions for buyers wanting their stylised, sporting, family-friendly fix.
Even if you’ve whittled it down to deciding you want a Merc-badged sloped-back behemoth, there’s still much to weigh up and unpack.
Like… Does the polarising new design sway you? Is the tech boost – in myriad areas – worth the fair step up in price over the old version?
Does its larger departure from GLE wagon dimensions – particularly with its shorter wheelbase – make it sportier as Mercedes claims? Or pose enough distinction and separation? If it’s larger than the old GLE Coupe if more compact than the wagon, is there much tangible difference (or point)? And is it practical enough for an SUV?
Importantly, does it go/sound/feel like a proper AMG? Does a ‘real’ AMG SUV dare to fit a six-cylinder engine? Is the six-pot different enough to the six-cylinder non-AMG GLE450? And is it, within reason of its hefty SUV-ness, actually dynamic enough to be considered sporty, or should you even expect it to be?
Even with a strong impression of ownership interest, there’s much to ponder. Especially when GLE53 Coupe is trying to tick so many boxes that’s its more price-savvy GLE450 Coupe has on its own hit list. In short: how badly do you want that AMG badge cachet, all things considered?
One thing is for sure: the AMG GLE53 Coupe will hit its mark with certain buyers more than others.
As the middle child and launch variant of the revamped GLE Coupe range, the 3.0-litre straight-six-powered AMG53 lists for $171,800 before on-road costs.
That’s a whopping $26,000-odd increase over its logical predecessor, the V6-powered third-generation GLE43, though it promises a quantum leap in technical sophistication. Opting for AMG GLE53 in regular wagon form brings the price down by $5100 to $161,700 before on-roads.
It’s a fair jump down to the Benz-badged 450 ($137,000 list) and a decent leap up for the mighty bent-eight GLE63 S ($222,700 list) in the new all-petrol Coupe range.
The elephant in the showroom here is that the 450 also has a 3.0-litre twin-turbo straight six and a host of AMG accoutrement – wheels, exterior and interior styling – as standard gear for what’s a tidy saving of around $35,000.
The 450 lacks the badge cachet, the outputs/performance and AMG’s deft fettling, but if you’re in it primarily for general look, vibe and presence there’s your no-brainer cross-shop.
Key large, premium SUV coupe rivals include the V8 diesel Audi SQ8 ($165,500 list), the V8 petrol BMW X6 M50i ($155,900 list) and turbo V6 Porsche Cayenne Coupe S ($172,500 list), all a small lease payment tweak away.
There’s a host of options available, from the ‘63’-style 22-inch wheel upgrade at $4600 to expanded Entertainment ($6000) and Innovation (MBUX High, $1100) infotainment packages, as well as a towing package with a fulsome 3500kg of braked-towing capability ($2000). Temperature-controlled front cup-holders? That’s an extra $500.
Popular Polar AMG white paint is standard and there’s a choice of seven no-cost metallic finishes, while fancier designo red ($1100) and special Bright White ($1700) are extra. Further, the interior trim comes in a no-cost choice of black or black/red two tone.
As you’d expect for its near-$172,000 ask, the AMG GLE53 Coupe is highly if not quite fully loaded with nice gear. The again, a cursory glance at specs suggest that the Benz GLE450 is too. What does the former get to justify the $35,000-odd jump?
The powertrain is AMG-enhanced, including an extra 50kW/20Nm of output, a performance active exhaust system with dual outlets and an AMG specific Speedshift TCT nine-speed automatic transmission. The all-wheel drive system has an AMG calibration, it rides on air suspension rather than steel springs, and it augments its Active Ride Control with 48-volt active anti-roll hardware.
Elsewhere, the 53 differs from the 450 with its Panamericana AMG grille and boot spoiler, a specific AMG multifunction wheel, AMG-grade Nappa leather trim and extended interior trim enhancements, heated/cooled seating, a boot luggage partition, and an anti-theft package with interior monitoring.
What do the 53 and 450 share? Outside, both have 21-inch wheels, AMG Line styling, full LED lighting, multi-beam headlights with auto high beam, keyless go, rain-sensing wipers, power-folding mirrors, heat-insulated privacy glass, front and rear parking sensors, a panoramic glass roof, and a powered tailgate with gesture control.
Inside, both the base and AMG53 versions get dual 12.3-inch digital instrumentation and infotainment screens, leather trim, fully electric seats with memory and heating, one-touch power windows all round, ambient lighting, inductive phone charging and four USB-C ports.
The MBUX system offers touchscreen, steering wheel and console controller interface and includes satellite navigation, DAB+ digital radio, front/rear/360-degree camera viewing options, Mercedes Me connected services, and wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
While much of the 53’s price rise over its 43 predecessor is somewhat vindicated by the spec and higher powertrain sophistication – more shortly – its value pitch is diluted a little given how much goodness the more-affordable 450 packs in for, let’s face it, key differences, if in limited areas.
As covered in our GLE53 wagon review, ANCAP rated the Benz-badged versions of the GLE five stars in 2019 though, technically, the AMG and coupe versions of the GLE remain unrated.
The wagon-bodied Benzes scored 91 per cent for adult occupant and 92 per cent for child occupant protection, with 78 per cent for vulnerable road user protection, and 79 per cent for safety assist systems.
The GLE coupe fits nine airbags that includes front, pelvis, window and driver’s knee bags for row one and curtain bags through both rows of seating.
Standard features include all-speed autonomous emergency braking (in conjunction with adaptive cruise control functionality), forward-collision warning, lane departure warning, lane-keeping assist, rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot monitoring, tyre-pressure monitoring and traffic sign recognition.
The technical eye candy celebrated in Benz and AMG interiors finds favour with buyers and CarExpert reviewers alike. Undoubtedly the huge tablet-style displays and impossibly ostentatious AMG wheel design, the two cabin centrepieces, will be deal-makers for a good many SUV shoppers.
Benz’s MBUX is to vehicle user interface what the Apple Watch is to timepieces: sharp, slick and achingly techy. But classy? Well.
It does make you wonder where Benz will take MBUX in future beyond merely making the screens larger still and attempting to sharpen the graphic resolution even higher that it is. Time will tell how gracefully this format ages.
The infotainment design is reasonably logical to navigate and some of its geeky content is actually useful. Yelp-sourced user-based ratings of (some) restaurants nearby, for instance.
MBUX packs a lot of stuff to bedazzle, though it’s a shame properly innovative features such as the excellent Augmented Reality navigation feature still warrant a $1100 charge in a vehicle this pricey. That said, features such as the 360-degree multi-camera parking system are utterly fantastic.
Instrumentation is highly configurable though it does lack a bit of quick-glance clarity regardless of how you set it. Thumb control from the steering wheel is handy but the button array around the console touchpad controller demands much distraction from the road.
Design wise, the cabin is a bit mixed. Dedicated climate controls are great… at least in first row, as you simply get air vents in the rear. Benz’s door-mounted seat adjusters are inspired, but changing lumbar settings requires jamming your hand in the narrow gap between the seat base and door trim.
The start button is obscured, the electric handbrake switch is fiddly and, as my partner discovered, the SOS emergency call button is right where you’d presume the sunroof controls are located in the overhead panel.
There are no regular USB-A ports but the USB-C ports are backed by a supplied adaptor, and the cramped inductive charge cubby makes extracting your phone a chore. Without wireless CarPlay, you also need to find a different place to put your cable-tethered device.
Nitpicking? Sure, as you perhaps should for this sort of money for this sort of vehicle.
The finished real open-pore oak trim could pass for plastic, the seat trim is nice rather than convincingly tactile, and only some of the lavishly metallic AMG steering wheel convincingly feels like actual metal, though its dial controls for drive and ride adjustment are a neat premium touch.
The new coupe is a little longer (20mm) than the old generation and while it’s probably not the roomiest large luxury SUV, it’s amply commodious for four adults. The outboard rear seating is roomy and comfy, with oodles of head and legroom.
Dual USB-C ports, air vents and dual cupholders in the foldable armrest feature in row two and there’s plenty of stowage in the door bins throughout the cabin, with decent cupholders and a nice large console bin up front.
Boot space is 655 litres that expands to a fulsome 1790L with rear 40:20:40 split-fold seating folding impressively flat with an impressive two metres of load useable length.
By comparison, Audi claims 605L and 1755L respectively for its Q8. There’s also a lot of space under the flat floor in a wheel-shaped depression that looks suspiciously well-suited to a space saver wheel despite the GLE53 only offering an inflator kit.
The GLE53 Coupe uses an AMG-specific variant of the 3.0-litre twin-turbo straight six developing 320kW of power and 520Nm of torque, up 50kW and 20Nm on the version of the engine used in GLE450.
It features sequential boosting with an electric ‘auxiliary’ compressor for initial response and a larger conventional turbocharger that does the heavy torque lifting.
Backed by an AMG-fettled nine-speed conventional auto, the GLE53 – like the GLE450 – also boasts 48V ‘EQ Boost’ electric assistance via a starter-alternator unit housed between the engine and transmission, contributing up to 16kW and 250Nm of on-demand assistance.
“We don’t market it as a hybrid,” says Mercedes-Benz Australia. Even so, by definition alone it’s a hybrid with genuine petrol and electric propulsion.
Globally, its maker refers to it as that terrible technical oxymoron ‘mild-hybrid’ though the Benz/AMG application is a bona-fide hybrid in an engineering manner – which some so-called ‘mild-hybrid’ systems from rival companies certainly are not.
Do the petrol (320kW and 520Nm) and electric (16kW and 250Nm) combine for outright output figures? No. Their peaks ply themselves conditionally.
However, given peak engine torque arrives at just 1800rpm, it’s completely plausible that the powertrain will, just off the mark, create a total of 770Nm for a glorious moment or two.
The result? Zero to 100km/h in 5.3 seconds, four-tenths up on GLE. For 2.5 tonnes it’s no slouch, if not quite certifiably AMG-quick.
So is this turbo-six a ‘real’ AMG engine? Well, on output figures it comes up short against key V8-powered rivals like the (diesel) Audi SQ8 and (petrol) BMW X6 M50i, which have 0-100km/h times of 4.8 seconds and 4.3 seconds, respectively. AMG prowess hinges on real-world EQ Boost benefit and sonic satisfaction, then.
What’s undeniable is that it’s cutting-edge engineering and a fine demonstration of contemporary Benz/AMG engineering nous.
Its claimed combined consumption is 9.3L/100km, just 0.1L shy of GLE450 if significantly more frugal than the 12.6L/100km of the mighty 450kW/850Nm V8 bi-turbo AMG GLE63 S Coupe.
Frugality? The GLE53 Coupe isn’t as favourable as the SQ8’s 7.8L/100km if markedly rosier than the X6 M50i’s 11.5L/100km. But on test, it takes a special set of circumstances to keep the AMG in single figures and its average worked out in the 12s.
It’s a ‘mild hybrid’, then, if without much frugality on which to hang its hat on.
For all of this, though, the advancement in powertrain smarts over the old 43’s non-hybrid 3.0-litre V6 format goes some way, at least, in justifying the steep jump in price between generations.
How much of the investment in AMG money is pursuit of sonic glory? For many, it’s a large chunk. Sure, the rock-gargling growl associated with the marque’s bent-eight machinery is either glorious or offensive depending on taste, but if you’re buying into the ownership experience the neat (if nasally) rasp of this straight six mightn’t cut enough of the hot and spicy stuff.
It sounds pretty good. It just doesn’t reach through your rib cage and give your heart a squeeze as AMGs are known to do.
That said, I can’t help feeling it’s a much smarter option for everyday, around town use than a lumbering bi-turbo V8 where 12L/100km thirst is hugely optimistic even tooling about using a small fraction of its output and performance potential.
The instant electric boost assistance is immensely satisfying. How the starter-generator fills in off-idle torque is remarkable, even give the lag-reduction of the petrol six’s clever electric compressor system. If anything, the instant torque feed is quite sharp manning the battle stations, demanding concentrated throttle input for smooth take-offs in traffic.
The overarching byproduct is meaty and unfussed thrust everywhere you need it around town without demanding many revs. It’s a markedly more dignified and efficient means than a thirsty and choked bi-turbo V8 straining on its leash, and well-suited to propelling a big SUV in the manner most owners drive them most of the time.
This leaves the GLE53 Coupe somewhat at odds with itself. It wants to demonstrate sportiness – because AMG – so it finds ways to be a bit less comfy, polished, refined and dignified as it could otherwise be. It doesn’t aim to be as nice as the 450, so there are a few rough edges you’d bet AMG engineered into the package on purpose.
For instance, the Comfort mode of the air suspension isn’t really pliant enough. The 53 sits on ridiculously broad 275mm front and 315mm-wide Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres that do the stance wonders, but pick up every small imperfection and thud loudly over expansion joints and the suspension happily allows it. Why? Because the taut sense of body control as a byproduct gives it a ‘feel’ sporty.
The 48-volt system integrates active anti-roll hardware – considerable engineering investment right there – but it only works its magic in Dynamic and pays dividends chucked through a corner with extreme haste.
Frankly, it sits so flat and generates such tremendous grip in Comfort, complete with impressively direct and clear steering control, that you’ll likely never find the need to push on so hard to notice the active anti-roll effect. Outside of the racetrack, you’re never going to throw GLE 53 Coupe around but its inclusion adds a little justification to the heady sticker price.
The sheer weight of the thing apart, the GLE 53 Coupe does feel dynamically fit. I imagine it’s the sort of the machine that would sit rock solid approaching its v-max tapped out on an Autobahn, perhaps save for the brakes, which offer strong power but suffer a little from a spongy pedal feel that might cause a few grey hairs in a big stop even if their one-hit effectiveness is surely ironclad enough.
Its 60mm shorter wheelbase (over the wagon) is designed to enhance cornering but the jury is out as to how, if at all, it improves upon the 53 wagon. That said, the coupe rotates well through tighter corners despite its weight. Push on and it keeps tabs on its lateral inertia impressively well, though you sense that poise and control could come unstuck fairly quickly if the road surface gets a little slippery.
Coupe or wagon?
The more aggressive look of the GLE53 won't be to everyone's tastes, but it's distinctive.
It doesn’t really shrink around you over time and it’s not the easiest SUV to wield in tight spaces. The bonnet slopes away, the A-pillars are very thick and the view through the rear screen is limited. Fortunately, it has extremely clear multi-viewing angles from its impressive array of cameras and you’ll be thankful for them during every drive.
If you like a sense of substance, the big AMG is worth its weight in, well, sheer weight.
The GLE53 is covered by a five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty, which is superior to some of its direct premium rivals.
Servicing is required every 12 months or 25,000kms, with the first three services capped at $800, $1300 and $1400 respectively ($3500 total) if you pay as you go.
Mercedes-Benz also offers upfront packages for three ($2800), four ($3800) and five ($5200) years, saving a chunk of outlay in the longer run.
Australia has a particularly strong desire for AMG-fettled machinery – indeed, we’re home to the world’s first dedicated AMG dealership, in Brisbane. And Mercedes-Benz Australia reckons a good many buyers specifically want coupe versions, regardless of how nonsensical they might seems to the detractors.
On paper, the 53 is the ‘balanced’ GLE Coupe that’s sportier than Benz stock but less excessive and more real-world sensible than the quarter-mil 63 S, and it appears to be the smart and compelling option.
Fair enough. I’m just not quite convinced the balance is struck well enough across the right areas for the money the GLE53 Coupe asks for. It should be comfier in ride driven at a dull roar and it should roar a bit louder when doing so.
I can’t help feeling a bit more mojo under the bonnet and a more tempered ride-handling balance would be, in overall schemes, a marked improvement for what’s probably not a huge adjustment to affect. The problem is, it doesn’t address the credibility issues of the GLE53 simply being slower to march than key rivals from Audi and BMW.
In isolation it’s a fine machine, if all a bit AMG decaffeinated. And given Benz already plies a bit of AMG vibe to the $35k more affordable GLE450 Coupe, I can’t help but wonder whether the more affordable stable mate might tick more of the right boxes for buyers of this sort of luxury-sport SUV proposition.