AMG’s high and hefty GLE Coupe gets a mild hybrid injection
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Subtract some usefulness, add some to the price; this is the cruel but concise summary of the Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe, the swoopy spin-off of the German brand’s big (but not biggest) SUV.
Still, there’s an appreciative audience for high, heavy and hefty-looking kinda-coupes sharing the foundations of more practical and popular SUV wagons.
Built in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, as with all GLEs, the new Coupe is due next year to replace the version unveiled in 2015.
That first SUV coupe from Mercedes-Benz set out to copycat the success of the BMW X6, the model that in 2009 started the whole trend. Love them or loathe them, they’re here to stay.
Mercedes decided to make the coming GLE Coupe even more different, starting with less distance between its front and rear axles than the 2019 GLE wagon. The 60mm shorter wheelbase makes the Coupe feel a fraction more agile but it also cuts into interior space.
Inside, the Coupe is only slightly more roomy than the outgoing model. Cargo capacity is similar but the compartment gets lower loading height, extra length and more width between the wheel arches.
The local line-up is expected to rely heavily on Mercedes-Benz’s latest in-line six-cylinder engines. Bestseller in the previous line-up was the GLE43 Coupe, powered by a twin-turbo 3.0-litre V6 from the AMG high-performance division.
Its replacement, the AMG GLE53 Coupe, gets a twin-turbo 3.0-litre in-line six with mild electrification. We also expect to see the GLE450 Coupe, with a less powerful version of the new six.
Not yet officially confirmed, a GLE63 Coupe with AMG’s fire-breathing twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8, is a sure bet to top the range. Its engine is a cracker. The six features some still-novel technology. There’s a turbo-like electric compressor to deliver instant boost and surging power from low revs, while the second exhaust-driven turbo is building up speed.
Between the engine and transmission is an integrated starter-alternator, a compact 48V component that can briefly add a 16kW power boost, making the GLE53 Coupe a hybrid. It also delivers smooth and lightning-fast idle-stop restarts and, in alternator mode, powers the 48V electrics.
ON THE ROAD
With its plentiful power, eagerness to please and rich exhaust note, there’s a lot to like beneath the GLE53’s bonnet. The AMG-upgraded nine-speed auto and all-wheel drive make sure the six’s talent isn’t wasted, even on icy mountain roads. This is a superior set-up indeed.
Handling is truly impressive in the Coupe, even at a tubby 2000kg-plus, and so it should be. Mercedes-AMG threw a lot of technology at the chassis; air suspension, adaptive shock absorbers and active anti-roll bars to counteract cornering lean and smooth out bumps (as with the compressor, these run on 48V power).
The Coupe’s steering is more direct that in the GLE wagon and the chassis upgrades work in harmony to enhance grip and cornering prowess alike.
The ride isn’t bad, either. There are seven driver-selectable modes, including Trail and Sand for off-road use.
As it impresses, the GLE53 Coupe also infuriates. Rearward vision is poor and, looking ahead, the curve of the bonnet makes it mostly invisible from the driving seat, even when it’s jacked up enough to see over the elevated instrument panel. Rear headroom is adequate.
And the inherent compromises add cost. The outgoing model was more than $10,000 dearer than its SUV wagon equivalent and there’s no reason to imagine this premium will change very much with the new GLE53 Coupe.
Prices are not yet decided — the launch in New Zealand is a long way off — but something in the vicinity of $150,000 would be a safe-ish bet.
There’s no familiar aircon belt curled around pulleys on the GLE53 Coupe’s engine. The vehicle’s EQ Boost-branded hybrid tech makes it redundant. The electric motor hidden between engine and transmission also generates the 48V current to run the compressor.