2021 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class Coupe
- Spring 2020
What to expect
- New "coupe" body style for the recently redesigned GLE SUV
- Debuts in six-cylinder AMG 53 form, followed by V8-powered GLE 63 S
- Sport-oriented suspension upgrades
- Part of the second GLE generation introduced for 2020
What is it?
While they don't enjoy the popularity of their more practical and conventionally styled siblings, so-called SUV coupes are big business for luxury automakers. So when Mercedes-Benz introduced a redesigned version of the midsize GLE last year, we knew it was just a matter of time before we saw a model with a windswept body style.
The coupe will initially be sold in the GLE 53 variant, followed by a GLE 63 S about six months later. Like other similarly named vehicles in Mercedes' lineup, the GLE 53's powertrain consists of a turbocharged inline-six engine paired to a 48-volt mild hybrid system. The engine is good for 429 horsepower and 384 lb-ft of torque, with the EQ Boost starter-generator providing an additional 21 hp and 184 lb-ft in short bursts. Mercedes says the powertrain lets the all-wheel-drive GLE 53 Coupe cover 0-60 mph in a respectable 5.2 seconds.
Though the powertrain sounds terrifically complicated, we've driven it in other Mercedes vehicles and have walked away impressed with the results. It produces plenty of acceleration in other applications, but the starter-generator also practically eliminates shock from the engine stop-start system.
The coupe naturally benefits from the improvements made to the redesigned GLE — including a more elegant and modern cabin design, as well as the excellent MBUX infotainment system — but it also includes a few unique, sport-themed upgrades of its own. Exterior enhancements include an aggressive aerodynamic body kit complete with a larger grille, side skirts, dual exhaust pipes, and a choice between 21- and 22-inch wheels.
The standard adaptive air suspension offers three distinct ride settings, ranging from plush and relaxed to firm and sporty. The optional Active Ride Control system further adds active roll stabilizer bars to the front and rear axles. Mercedes says this both reduces body roll in corners and enhances comfort while driving straight ahead.
Inside, GLE 53 Coupe-specific upgrades include the AMG Track Pace data-logging program, a steering wheel with red stitching and a red 12 o'clock marker, and heavily bolstered sport seats with a faux leather/faux suede combination upholstery.
You can expect the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S Coupe to include a lot of these enhancements, only with a much more powerful engine. Under the hood is a hand-built 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V8 that generates 603 hp. As if that weren't enough, the same 48-volt EQ Boost starter-generator adds another 21 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque when called upon.
In contrast to the significant increase in power, the GLE 63 S also addresses fuel efficiency with a cylinder deactivation system that can operate on four cylinders when demand is low.
Why does it matter?
Sales of SUV "coupes" are relatively low, but they command higher prices than their boxier counterparts. They also provide more options for SUV buyers. Many people just like the increased ride height of an SUV and don't necessarily need the cargo room benefits, so why not choose something that looks a little different? The additional underhood enhancements from these AMG-ified models give them the on-road chops to back up their looks.
What does it compete with?
The BMW X6 is a highly stylized version of the more conventional X5. Redesigned for 2020, the X6 features a drastically improved cabin and two powertrains — the six-cylinder produces roughly 100 less horsepower than the GLE 53, while the V8 makes about 100 hp more. There's also the new-for-2019 Audi Q8, which ditches the Q7's third row in exchange for a sportier driving experience.
Rounding out the direct competitors is the new Porsche Cayenne Coupe. It is the most dynamically impressive choice in the bunch, with a wide variety of powertrains — two V6 models, a V8, and both V6 and V8 hybrids. The V8 hybrid Cayenne Coupe is ferociously powerful, developing a whopping 670 hp, which should be a direct threat to the AMG GLE 63 S. Other high-performance rivals include the BMW X6 M, Audi RS Q8 and Jaguar F-Pace SVR
How does it drive?
The AMG badge is most commonly associated with Mercedes models bursting at the seams with horsepower. But as with its other 53 models, Mercedes' GLE 53 Coupe isn't quite so raucous. In fact, it's a peach in most situations. This SUV is maneuverable around town thanks to light and accurate steering. Head out on some twisty roads and the GLE offers a near-perfect balance of power and control. For such a large vehicle, it excels at sporty driving.
The turbocharged six-cylinder is a big reason why. It's impressively smooth and provides plenty of power right from idle. The nine-speed automatic transmission is also stellar. It's difficult to detect shifts, even if you're trying to feel them. The gearbox also does a great job of choosing the right gear depending on your selected driving mode and style. Paddle shifters behind the steering wheel let you take over with manual control. But the transmission's shift programming is so good that there's rarely any reason to do so.
If the past is any indication, we expect the AMG GLE 63 S to be just as well-mannered when driven conservatively, but the sound and fury of the V8 will surely change the GLE's character when you mash your foot into the accelerator. As you'd expect, the brakes and suspension have been upgraded and tuned to ensure the top-dog AMG stays on the pavement. When you'd prefer to intentionally leave the asphalt, Trail and Sand drive modes will allow for mild off-road excursions
How is the ride?
Mercedes has also included an impressive suspension setup. An air suspension is standard, and it shines when paired with the optional AMG Active Ride Control. The system has active stabilizer bars that adjust damping on the fly to keep things steady at speed. On our initial drive of the AMG 53, the GLE Coupe remained balanced and felt tight through corners. Mercedes says the EQ Boost 48-volt electrical system controls the stabilizer bars so that they react a lot quicker than a comparative hydraulically controlled system.
But there are some things that it cannot overcome. For highway driving, the GLE's ride is surprisingly bumpy, even in Comfort mode. It's harsher than you might expect from a sparkling SUV with this badge. Many of the cracks on the road are transmitted to the cabin. The standard 21-inch wheels with their skinny sidewall tires could be part of the reason. The GLE Coupe also has a shorter wheelbase than the regular GLE, which can lead to a choppier ride.
What's the interior like?
The cabin is beautifully appointed. It is nearly identical to the one in the regular GLE, with authentic materials, minimal but sensible controls, and twin 12.3-inch screens. There are also AMG-specific accents, such as sport seats and a thick-rimmed steering wheel, that add an extra shot of adrenaline to the interior. Five-passenger seating is standard, and a third-row seat is not available like it is on the regular GLE.
MBUX, Mercedes' latest infotainment system, is standard on the GLE 53 and comes with dynamic navigation maps and a front camera view that uses augmented reality to direct you on the right path as your turn approaches in real time. Since it is an AMG, the GLE 53 also comes with exclusive welcome menus, off-road pages, and the optional race-focused Track Pace that records your times and acceleration data.
How practical is it?
The benefit of losing the available third row is that the GLE Coupe has surprisingly deep cargo space for hauling large amounts of luggage or gear. The rear hatch opens high and wide, easily swallowing several suitcases at a time. The engineers made a lower loading sill compared with the previous generation, and there is a button on the inner cargo wall that will lower the standard air suspension an additional 2 inches for hoisting heavy items inside.
The typical downside of a sporty profile is that the roofline threatens to cut into headroom in the second row of seats. But the GLE Coupe offers comfortable space in the back, even for passengers who are up to 6 feet tall. The seats are supportive and plush. However, the center of the backrest is indented in a kind of half-bucket that ends just below the shoulder blades. Some adults may find that it provides extra bolstering and support, which is rare in a second row, but others will be slightly squished.
We figure the rear seats are still best suited for children. Speaking of kids, there are accessible anchors for two car seats and overhead latches in the back.
Forward visibility is good for such a sleek vehicle. The snub-nose design makes it easy to see over the hood. The thick forward pillars threaten to obstruct visibility when heading into turns, but the elevated driving position helps to see around them. Big side mirrors eliminate most blind spots. The larger problem is a laughably restricted view through the rear hatch. Thank goodness for high-definition rearview cameras.
What else should I know?
Mercedes says it decided to launch the 2021 GLE Coupe with the AMG 53 version in the U.S. because the previous-generation AMG 43 proved so popular with buyers. It's a worthy rival to competing SUVs with upgraded engines and sport packages, while the forthcoming AMG GLE 63 S is a counterpoint to other apex-predator performance SUVs.
For a certain segment of buyers, the sporty personality of the GLE Coupe makes a lot of sense. The new model backs up its claims as a hair-raising SUV that can get you and your stuff to the chalet with aplomb, and the standard equipment in the AMG model is the icing on the cake. It won't be cheap, but the AMG GLE 53 Coupe delivers. The AMG GLE 63 S will likely overdeliver in a most glorious manner.