Inventing new and increasingly narrow automotive niches within niches has been raised to a high art form, but in the case of Mercedes-Benz, the path back to a more rationalised model lineup has already started in the face of budget cuts.
However, there is a bodystyle that has escaped the cull, and which has actually thrived as an outlier. The Merc GLE Coupe was always a definite for a second generation, thanks to its ability to attract a ‘particular type of buyer’. Merc’s words; not mine.
Based on the more affordable GLE SUV, the GLE Coupe is not merely a C-pillar-back restyling job. There’s a revised, more steeply raked windscreen that leads into a new roof skin, while the whole shooting match is slightly bigger than the previous generation GLE Coupe.
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It is, however, smaller than the regular GLE in one key area – 60mm has been lopped from the wheelbase, though this doesn’t come at the expense of interior space. As an example, luggage capacity is up a claimed 70 litres over the old car, and the 40/20/40 split/fold seats add practicality.
There are no levers to drop the seat backs, sadly, but there is a powered tailgate and a button in the cargo area to drop the air suspension 50mm to help your Siberian sled dogs hop aboard with no fuss. There’s sufficient space (just) in the rear seats for 185cm adults, though the sunroof lining robs valuable millimetres.
Up front, the $171,800 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe is a mix of enticing and frustrating, with a clever multimedia system that still appears to require three separate ways to access it. There is a lot of buttons to contend with, and familiarisation is not the work of a moment.
The exterior design is, despite the coupe execution, still quite subtle – well, apart from a three-pointed star the size of a deep-pan pizza dominating the nose.
The GLE 53 Coupe is the middle child of a three-variant range that will include a $137,000 base-model 450 with AMG trimmings and a potent $222,700 63 S version. Using Merc’s clever 3.0-litre turbocharged straight six with an electric compressor and 48-volt electrical system as a support act, the bulky 53 makes good use of the 320kW and 520Nm on offer (not to mention the 16kW/250Nm electric jolt). A sports exhaust adds theatre, while nine ratios send drive to all four corners with impressive alacrity.
Key to the 53’s skill set is the adoption of decoupling anti-roll bars, which work in simpatico with air springs and adaptive dampers to give the big coupe more poise than you’d expect. Its overall demeanour is more flowy than feisty, and it’s a dogged understeerer even at medium velocities, but there’s an abundance of mechanical grip, newfound poise and stability in what could unkindly be dismissed as the regular GLE’s smaller, flashier sibling.
Praise has to be heaped on the GLE 53 Coupe’s around-town skills, though; Merc’s assistance systems are a notch above anything else in the space, and its clever adaptive cruise control can ease to a stop in traffic more smoothly than most taxi drivers.
Vision forward is compromised a bit by the raked windscreen and a lot through the rear three-quarters. If you like the GLE Coupe, though, then you won’t need convincing of its merits, and luckily you’re not giving up much at all to make a style statement.
THE GOOD AND BAD
Plus: Surprising turn of pace; plenty of poise; comfort
Minus: Grille is in your face; plethora of cabin buttons; premium over regular GLE
MERCEDES-AMG GLE 53 4MATIC+ COUPE SPECS
Engine: 2999cc 6cyl, dohc, 24v, twin-turbo, 48v hybrid
Max power: 320kW @ 6100rpm
Max torque: 520Nm @ 1800-5800rpm
Transmission: 9-speed automatic
Weight: 2225kg (estimated)
0-100km/h: 5.3sec (claimed)
On sale: Now
THE RIVAL: BMW X6 M50I ($159,900)
Playing a constant second fiddle to the GLE Coupe must really grate in Munich, given that the X6 essentially invented this whole SUV coupe genre.
Now in its third generation, the X6 has more space inside (particularly rear headroom), and for around $12K less than the Benz, BMW offers the M50i with power and torque outputs from its twin-turbo V8 that shade the GLE53.