First drive: 2016 Mercedes AMG GLE 63 S Coupe 4MATIC

Mercedes makes a 577 HP SUV so car-like, you should probably just get one instead

Mercedes successfully blends the SUV with sporty coupe performance, but loses a step by trying to be everything to everyone.

Having performed duty as an expeditionary vehicle in The Lost World: Jurassic Park and tenure as the Popemobile, the Mercedes-Benz M-Class has certainly proven its versatility. Now, with a name change to the GLE-class, the automaker’s mid-size SUV faces new challenges, mainly the growing market of luxury utility buyers who also want a sports car crammed in there, too. With liberal application of AMG magic, Mercedes was only too happy to oblige, crafting the Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S Coupe.

The AMG GLE 63 S Coupe is the range topper of Mercedes-Benz’s newly badge GLE-class. It comes in a conventional SUV configuration with a multitude of available models while the sportier GLE Coupe is the more performance-oriented iteration. This top-tier model houses AMG’s 5.5-liter biturbo V8 that produces 577 horsepower and 561 pound-feet of torque. Output is routed to the 4MATIC permanent all-wheel drive system via the AMG speedshift plus 7G-tronic transmission. I took the new performance GLE through its paces from its native homeland, road-tripping from the south of Germany though the lush alpine backroads of neighboring Austria.

Baby got Affalterbach

From the start, the beastly mid-sized utility vehicle sports a distinct coupe-like fastback design that clearly telegraphs the GLE Coupe’s sporty intentions. The front of the AMG differentiates itself from the standard GLE Coupe with a large chrome-edged “A-wing” that directs the air through the front’s capacious air apertures.

2016 Mercedes-Benz AMG GLE 63S Coupe

The tough-guy stature is helped by fitting 22-inch cross-spoke alloy wheels, painted black and home to distinct AMG-exclusive red calipers. This gives the 63 S the stature to match its muscular figure.

Coupe-like, not cooped-up

As imposing as things are on the outside, the interior is a much more serene experience. Top-notch leather and aluminum surfaces with contrast stitching is highlighted by AMG badging, reminding occupants that the comfort of the cabin can be disrupted with belts of biturbo power at any time. A thick, hefty steering wheel is the focal point of the driving position, easy to adjust and with multiple functions within thumb’s reach. Beyond that, the Mercedes-Benz COMAND system is close by to access every setting under the sun.

From its spot on the center console, the COMAND touchpad lets users cycle through functions as naturally as they do on a laptop, but without a cursor to keep an eye on. Car settings, navigation, and entertainment can all be configured, displayed on the tablet-like 4.4-inch multifunction display. The screen can even be configured to mirror the car’s gauges that are handy for a glance in performance situations.

As you would expect, the AMG GLE 63 S Coupe has packages of sophisticated safety technology that Mercedes equips its current lineup with. Things like Attention assist, collision prevention assist, surround view cameras are there to keep things from going sour.

Passengers both up front and in the rear have ample headroom, despite the sloped fastback nature of the coupe’s design. There’s also a solid 23 cubic feet of trunk space behind the second row, enough for a couple decently proportioned suitcases.

The hills are alive with the sound of horsepower

The AMG GLE 63 S Coupe felt as home on the autobahn as it did in the twisty alpine roads we would encounter shortly thereafter. On the highway, the full might of the AMG 5.5-liter V8 can be harnessed, opening up the 577 horsepower and climbing effortlessly past 100 miles per hour and upwards to speeds saved for derestricted German freeways. Depending on the driver’s settings, this can be a smooth, gentle climb or a boisterous blast of un-baffled exhaust barking.

Rain kissed mountain passes were far less harrowing than one would expect in a mid-size SUV.

A simple turn of the dial on the center console adjusts the engine response, suspension firmness, and the broadness of gear changes. Drivers can select presets from comfort, sport, or sport plus, or can configure those three parameters to their personal tastes. My GLE was also fitted with the optional performance exhaust system, which added a large-bodied soundtrack of burbles, barks, and crackling to the experience.

Sending the AMG GLE 63 S Coupe up windy, rain kissed mountain passes was far less harrowing than one would expect in a mid-size SUV, but not without its challenges. Mercedes’s 4MATIC all-wheel drive kept the hefty vehicle on track, but there’s still enough power to twist things wrong if you’re not careful.

2016 Mercedes-Benz AMG GLE 63S Coupe

The agility is thanks to the all wheel drive housing a specially designed transfer case that gives the GLE a 40:60 power split, pushing more from the back but giving stability up front. It certainly feels like the 63 S Coupe is pivoting around corners, plus sensors continuously adjusting the damping for each wheel keeps things smooth yet solid.

Conclusion

It’s time now to address the big Bavarian elephant in the room, which is that the GLE AMG coupe and SUV very much mirrors what BMW has done with the X5 and X6 M. In regards to the Mercedes Coupe, it runs afoul of addressing the very curious question of “can an SUV handle like a sports sedan,” only to be behind BMW who has already answered it. No matter how good the AMG 63 S is, and it is good, it will be slightly upstaged by the car that beat it to the punch.

Putting that aside, the AMG 63 S coupe is very much the model to go for when split between either buying the GLE SUV — which offers impressive off-road capability — or the S63 AMG Coupe, which brings S-class luxury in a high-performance package. Note though that the AMG GLE 63 S Coupe will scratch both itches, but loses what makes both exceptional in the process.

The Mercedes-Benz AMG GLE 63 S Coupe is competitively priced, starting at $109,300 without available options. These prices have yet to be announced, but we expect word soon as the full new GLE lineup becomes available early next month.

Highs

  • Full Mercedes luxury experience
  • Sports sedan performance with SUV stability
  • Satisfyingly snarly performance exhaust

Lows

  • Loses SUV utility for sport handling
  • Suffers the jack-of-all-trades problem
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