Too many performance SUV reviews on PH? We share your frustration, trust us - even as we bring you another. But this is the bit of the car market that posh manufacturers are throwing the most development spend at, plus one that an increasing number of buyers and lease form tickers seem to find irresistible. This is one review that is going to require an even more flame-retardant fireproof suit than usual, seeing as it is about a 1.7-metre tall car that claims to be a coupe as well...
Beyond the contentious sporty suffix, the rest of the Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe's name indicates that it is powered by the 3.0-litre twin-turbo engine that understudies for the V8 powered 63 version, this making 429hp and 384lb ft by itself and working in conjunction with a 48V mild hybrid assistance system that can add 21hp and 184lb/ft for brief periods. As such it is effectively a higher-riding version of the existing E53. It carries a substantial 305kg weight penalty over the already-substantial estate, but it does offer it's driver the ability to better see over hedges. Despite being one down from the top of the GLE tree the 53 is still stormingly fast for anything this size and shape: it's not many years since the claimed 5.3-second 0-62mph time would have made it one of the fastest SUVs on the market.
Let's skip past the coupe-ness quickly. There might be an elegant way to combine the blunt frontal aspect and ground clearance of an SUV with a lowered roofline, but Mercedes hasn't found it here. The nicest thing I can say about the GLE Coupe is that from some angles it looks less ridiculous than others; the rake of the rear tailgate is particularly egregious given the sheer quantity of boot and bumper that is stacked beneath it. During the launch in Austria I saw one parked next to a regular GLE, which suddenly seemed to be a spectacularly harmonious piece of design. But as coupe-SUVs since the original X6 onwards have proved, munting or even outright gopping isn't a barrier to success in this part of the automotive world.
The good news is that, once inside it, you don't have to look at the GLE Coupe's exterior - although large, reflective shop windows are still a risk. The cabin is vastly better. From the driver's seat only a lowered roofline and more restricted view from the rear mirror serves to distinguish the GLE Coupe from the GLE Normal. Architecture is identical: the same dashboard, the same twin-screen layout (with one 12.3-inch digital instrument pack and another joining it as a main display) plus centre console and switchgear. AMG-ness is indicated by some nicely executed carbon trim and a sports steering wheel incorporating two rotary controls with tiny integrated screens for the various dynamic modes; there are also some unique performance display screens. Seats are well-padded buckets, which are supportive without being too grabby. Beyond the usual grumble about Merc's over-sensitive central touchpad and somewhat confusing UX system, it's a seriously nice place to spend time.
The driving experience is similarly impressive, with the AMG requiring a minimal number of the "for an SUV" caveats that frequently litter tests of cars like this. The engine is as impressive here as it is in the E-Class, with brawn everywhere and an electric compressor working in conjunction with the twin turbochargers to effectively eliminate throttle lag at low speeds. The 53 delivers forceful levels of acceleration well before the throttle pedal is half way down, and with the gearbox upshifting before 3000rpm. The nine-speed autobox shifts seamlessly under gentle use, but with AMG-appropriate haste at higher commitment levels. Full credit to Merc for the beautifully weighted metal gear selectors behind the steering wheel, a detail that many rivals seem to struggle with.
Although fast, the GLE 53 doesn't have the ludicrous sensation of added speed that comes from the truly nutty performance SUVs. The engine revs willingly to its 6500rpm redline, and it makes a nice, hard-edged sound while it does so - especially with the exhaust switched to its louder mode - but it's not got the savagery or charisma of a 63 AMG. A result which the marketing department are presumably entirely happy with. More to the point it feels subjectively slower than the E53 wagon - because of Newtonian physics - which remains a considerably more athletic way to combine utility with this powerplant.
The rest of the dynamic package is good, though. The 53 Coupe rides on standard air suspension which gives it the ability to vary its height, lowering automatically at speed. The ride felt pliant on mostly smooth Austrian mountain roads - and despite wearing 21-inch wheels (with 22s an option.) An active anti-roll system fights cornering lean and keeps the body impressively flat under big lateral loads. My test car was wearing REF winter tyres and was mostly driven on below-freezing road surfaces, which was likely responsible for a marked lack of steering sensation compared to the AMG norm. But even on the sensible rubber handling was accurate and grip levels still strong, the GLE holding on gamely in slower turns to an eventual graceful transition to understeer. Mercedes claims a natural rearward bias to the all-wheel drive system, but you'll only get any sense of this on very slippery surfaces. Most of the time it just hooks up and goes.
Refinement is another strength, the ultra-tall ninth gear and snug cabin insulation making for quiet cruising at the sorts of speeds that were probably more appropriate to a German autobahn than the Austrian one I found myself on. The GLE 53 feels like it would be particularly well suited to long journeys at high average speeds. Only the coupeness really knocks the practicality, with a much more cramped rear seat than the regular GLE with limited knee room for adults and the need to duck to get beneath the low roof rail. Although still short on rationality, the normal GLE 53 is a far more practical choice.
It's not hard to take the mick out of cars like this one. You're welcome. Some of the details do seem pretty ludicrous, none more so than the fact this sod-offish off-roader gets the same data-logging Track Pace system as the rest of the senior AMG range, presumably intended to help owners really hone their way to that perfect lap time. (This only works on circuits, attempting to activate it in the Austrian Alps produced the stern warning "no racetracks found in vicinity!") If they add the roads around Harrods it might get a few users.
Yet the GLE 53 AMG is clearly not the answer to an unasked question, more like fingers reaching to squeeze a ripe, unpopped zit. People want cars like this, especially in parts of the world where wagons and conventional coupes do nothing. Mercedes wants to make money by selling them; it's hard to fault that commercial logic. You can dislike the idea and hate the styling, but the execution has been done with AMG's usual precision.
SPECIFICATION - MERCEDES-AMG GLE 53 COUPE
Engine: 2999cc, six-cylinder, twin-turbocharged, hybrid assistance
Transmission: nine-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): 429 @ 6100rpm (with 21hp electric)
Torque (lb ft): 384 @ 1800rpm - 5800rpm (with 184lb ft electric)
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
Weight: 2325kg EU