Motoring press love to mock ‘coupe SUVs’ no matter how popular they become. In seeking to be both sports car and family car, they are prone to offer undercooked takes on both.
They offer an elevated driving position, presence to burn, and at least a nod in the direction of dynamics. That latter case is especially true when Mercedes-AMG gets its hands on one.
The new iteration of Mercedes’s coupe-SUV certainly looks less frumpy than its predecessor, with a more appealing stance and proportions on top of the familiar clean and fuss-free lines. It is also nine per cent slipperier through the air, with Benz citing a coefficient of drag of 0.32.
The design works best in the AMG form tested here, with its brasher grille, bonnet bulges, ‘A-wing’ front apron, subtle body kit, and big wheels measuring up to 22 inches in diameter.
While non-AMG versions of the GLE Coupe launch in Europe with inline-six diesel engines or an interesting diesel-electric plug-in hybrid (PHEV) drivetrain with a claimed 100km of EV driving range, the current topping 2020 Mercedes-AMG GLE53 will be the star in Australia.
Since its introduction, more than half of all GLE Coupes sold in Australia have been AMGs. The new GLE53 Coupe effectively replaces the outgoing GLE43 Coupe, which has been the single most popular variant over the last three years.
The AMG 53 runs a 3.0-litre inline-six petrol unit, which is a good start. Who doesn’t like the distinctive character of an inline engine? It has a conventional turbocharger spooled by exhaust gases, but also an electric auxiliary compressor to banish lag. Twin-turbocharging of a modern kind. Outputs are 320kW and 520Nm.
But it gets more complex. There's an electric starter-alternator-motor unit in the double-downshifting nine-speed transmission that adds a further 16kW/250Nm for short periods to plug gaps in power delivery.
The upshot is a 0–100km/h dash in 5.3 seconds and claimed combined-cycle fuel efficiency of 9.3 litres per 100km. Given many buyers simply no longer want diesel power, and given battery-electric-driven cars are expensive, it’s a middle ground.
Like a performance diesel, maximum torque is on tap across a vast swathe of the rev band (1800 to 5800rpm), meaning it just pulls, and pulls, and pulls. The variable adjustable exhaust flaps also yield lovely pops and crackles on overrun. It sounds far more aurally satisfying than any diesel.
Occasionally, you feel what I guess is the handover between the motor unit and the turbo. The response to throttle inputs is instant, then there's an occasional tiny gap like the drawing of a breath, then a secondary wave of power.
While it's not the animalistic turbo V8 that will power the imminent GLE63 AMG, for those after a slightly more subtle and modern take on performance, it's a real gem.
The start-alternator motor's other role is to power the onboard 48V electrical system, which harnesses regenerated waste energy, powers the car once the engine decouples in low-stress downhill 'glides', and replaces the start/stop system with far smoother electric roll-stops and roll-offs.
Dynamically, the new GLE Coupe is far better than before, and gives some credence to its design and its nomenclature. Mercedes has shortened the wheelbase by 60mm over the regular GLE to make it more agile, and fitted a more direct variable-ratio steering system with extra resistance.
Further enhancing the dynamic experience is the rear-biased but variable all-wheel-drive (AWD) system, comfort-enhancing air suspension that lowers the car in its sports setting, and active electro-mechanical roll stabilisers built into the suspension. These units run off the 48V power source.
As such, it turns in more quickly than the normal GLE, and stays flatter through corners than its predecessor since any loads that affect body control are countered by the two axle-specific actuators. It's disarmingly easy to hustle along, with a very high performance ceiling.
The ride quality was generally pretty good, with the odd hint of sharpness coming more from the slimness of the tyre sidewalls than anything else. We'd imagine the models on steel springs with big alloys would be notably less comfortable.
The 400mm twin-piston fixed-caliper front brakes, and 345mm single-piston rears, pull the weighty SUV up quickly, too.
One interesting driving mode in the software is called Slippery, which flattens the torque curve and numbs the throttle take-up. On a slippery and icy downhill trail it gave me confidence to push on and countered off-the-line wheel spin.
So, that's the driving addressed. What of the cabin? The driving position is certainly higher up and more commanding than a typical GT or performance car, though the chopped roof and small side/rear windows make seeing out of the car a pain.
Mercedes-Benz has a flair for drama, as our car's endless ambient light piping, carbon-fibre trims, microfibre steering wheel with lovely metallic pedals, and gorgeously stitched leather dash padding all showed.
The fascia comprises two huge screens contained in a single frame, one showing driver information and the other infotainment, both augmented by a projecting head-up display. There are various AMG-specific gauges and menus to muck about with, including g-force monitors and track timers.
The infotainment is controlled by touch, trackpads or 'Hey Mercedes' voice control that can perform commands like changing cabin temperature, placing calls, finding songs, modifying cabin light colours, seeking a destination, or even opening the sunroof.
There are also plenty of buttons and rocker switches around, controlling the air-conditioning, finding infotainment shortcuts, and changing the air suspension height. You can cycle through various driving modes using the toggles and switches tacked onto the steering wheel.
The capacity of the stowage spaces in the interior has grown to a total of 40L, and the panoramic sliding sunroof is much larger, too.
Although the wheelbase is 60mm shorter than on the GLE SUV, it is still 20mm longer than in the previous Coupe. The rear door entrance opening has also been enlarged by 35mm. Rear leg room is sufficient for anyone 190cm or below, while the scalloped roof gives you decent head room. I'm 194cm and was about at the limit before ducking becomes required.
The boot is less boxy than a proper SUV's, but the top-hinged tailgate and long loading floor mean you have a still-big 655L in standard configuration. Loads are concealed beneath a folding and removable cover attached with magnets.
The backrest of the rear seats with 40:20:40 folding split can increase the boot to up to 1790L – 70L more than in the predecessor – and allows a loading length of almost 2m. The loading sill is higher, but the air suspension can squat the car down by 50mm.
So, first thoughts. The Mercedes-AMG GLE53 Coupe will arrive in Australia around August 2020, so you'll need to wait a bit. The outgoing GLE43 AMG Coupe cost $145,829 before on-road costs, about $10,000 more than the equivalent GLE SUV 43 model. The price you pay for 'style'...
Expect this new 53 model to be a few grand pricier than this.
No matter what, while the first coupe SUVs were experiments, Mercedes-Benz has thrown the kitchen sink at this one now that it knows its audience.
It’s a high-tech powerhouse that can be both dramatic and subdued from behind the wheel, brims with road presence that entry grades can’t match, and cossets its occupants with a beautiful cabin.
If you’re a lover of this type of niche offering, then the Benz will float your boat.