Beauty, goes the old saw, is in the eye of the beholder. Performance, others have said, shows up in the seat of your pants.
To our eye, it takes a bit of time to get comfortable with the, er, distinctive look of the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe. But it only takes a few minutes to fall in love with the way it handles and performs. The good news is that we had a full week to play with the coupe take on Mercedes’ original SUV – which many still think of as the M or ML model.
Overview: There is no question the looks are polarizing, and the fastback roofline of the crossover does sacrifice some of the functionality of the more traditional GLE body, but those who want the high seating position and other benefits of a crossover may not even notice, especially if performance is high on the list of desirable attributes.
To start with, the GLE 53’s turbocharged inline-six punches out 429 horsepower and 384 pound-feet of torque. But those numbers don’t fully tell the story. Thanks to the automaker’s new EQ Boost mild-hybrid technology that power comes on all but instantaneously. As you’d expect of an AMG edition, the coupe-SUV is surprisingly nimble, despite its height and mass, inviting you to flog it around corners with aplomb.
Exterior: Watching the GLE 53 Coupe come at you in your rearview mirror you might not notice the crossover’s distinctive back half. It’s pretty much the same as the more traditional version of the midsize mainstay through to the B-pillar. In line with the latest industry trend, the waterfall grille is bigger than ever and sports a massive version of the Mercedes tri-star. There are distinctive AMG touches, such as the large air scoops, with their twin, chromed rakes, on either side of the front bumper.
… It’s from the mid-section back that the GLE comes into its own, with a sweeping roofline that might remind some Benz fans of the CLS coupe-like sedan – where it raised another foot off the ground …
As up front, there are numerous AMG details, including the chromed quad exhaust pipes and various aero details, such as the spoiler lip on the low end of the tailgate designed to maximize high-speed downforce.
Interior: While Mercedes has stretched the latest-generation GLE Coupe by 0.8 inches compared to the outgoing model, it’s still 2.4 inches shorter than the traditional, square-back design. That, along with the sloping roof, primarily impact cargo space which, at 23 cubic feet behind the second row comes in 10 cf less than its sibling crossover. With the back row down, the Coupe’s cargo bay grows to 63 cf, about 12 less than the square-back.
The sacrifice in back means that passengers won’t notice much of a difference beyond a little backseat headroom. Otherwise, there’s plenty of room for up to five – depending on seating choice – to luxuriate. And luxury is the operative word. While AMG may have started out as a performance “tuner,” today’s models deliver lots of visual and tactile enhancements atop what’s stuffed under the hood. The includes supple leather and wood or carbon fiber trim, the GLE 53 order list having plenty of option boxes you can tick off.
Powertrain: We know you were waiting for this – and for good reason. The 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-six makes great numbers, as we noted earlier. And that new EQ Boost system makes the engine all the more responsive to your every whim, as expressed through your right foot.
The system relies on a secondary, 48-volt battery to power an integrated starter-generator that also serves as a motor assist at low speeds. Think of it as turbo enhancer, kicking in a whopping 184 lb-ft of torque and 21 more horses at low speeds, when you’d normally feel a bit of lag as the conventional turbo spools up.
This is not a plug-in, like the GLE 350 Coupe, which can run as much as 60 miles or so in all-electric mode. The EQ Boost, however, will occasionally let the engine shut off briefly when you’re cruising at highway speeds, boosting fuel economy.
Power is pushed through a nine-speed Speedshift, the AMG-tuned version of the stock Mercedes automatic transmission. It’s then directed to all four wheels, the crossover using a rear-biased, AMG Performance+ take on the standard Mercedes 4Matic system.
Technology and Safety: As with the broader Mercedes line-up, the GLE 53 Coupe is a technical showpiece. Slip behind the three-spoke AMG Performance steering wheel and you’ll quickly notice the twin 12.3-inch displays that effectively merge together across the IP.
The infotainment display can be operated by touch, with the pad on the center console or by voice using the new MBUX personal voice assistant. It’s a massive leap from the original COMAND system, though not quite as capable as, say, Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant. There’s also Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and lots of USB ports throughout the cabin.
There are plenty of advanced driver assistance systems, like forward collision warning with automated emergency braking, and you can add the semi-autonomous active traffic jam assist. Be aware that you can’t lift your hands off the wheel for long without getting a warning.
… Some of the new features can be useful but annoying, like a traffic sign recognition system that automatically slows you to the posted limit when speeds change, and another that will slow the GLE down, even on a freeway, when there are tight corners …
Drive Impressions: Our test vehicle featured AMG Ride Control, a performance-enhanced take on the Mercedes Airmatic air suspension. What’s surprising is how capable it is in a variety of situations. In Comfort mode, it makes bumps and minor potholes vanish. In Sport or Sport+, it glues the GLE to the pavement. You might forget the car’s height and 5,250-pound mass as you sweep through corners. There
are additional settings, like Slippery, for specific road conditions. The system can be raised up to 2.2-inches, and it lowers by 0.6 inches at speeds above 75 mph.
Steering is precise, with just the right level of boost, depending on the Driver Mode setting, with great road feedback.
Wrap Up: With the addition of the coupe, Mercedes added an intriguing option for midsize SUV buyers who wanted something a bit more distinctive than the GLE. We found the look grew on us during the week the crossover was parked in our driveway. Of course, the great performance and handling, and lavish cabin features – which even include an automatic scent dispenser – made the GLE 53 Coupe irresistible. For those who don’t mind the lost cargo space, this might be the way to go if you’re interested in a midsize Mercedes crossover.