Mercedes-Benz GLE AMG 63: Monster truck madness

The Mercedes Benz GLE Coupe isn't quite one of a kind, but the AMG 63 S version definitely stands out in any crowd.


For: High quality interior, stonking and bellowing performance, sharper to drive than a certain rival.

Against: Not as practical as the wagon it’s drawn from, roofline limits rear seat room and boot space.

Score: 3.8/5

SO what that they’re so often too much of a good thing for your personal lifestyle?

Sports utilities are the popular choice now and with no sign of this being set to change, there’s every chance that if there’s not one already in your driveway, its arrival is now less a matter of if than merely when.

In saying that, the chances of the Mercedes Benz GLE Coupe attaching to very many average Kiwi lifestyles is minimal: Benz product of this substance sits beyond the average wage and, even if it did not, how it shapes up at the kerbside also makes it a niche choice.

That’s not just the visual aspect but also the verve: While SUVs packing monster truck performance make for great wall poster material, realistically there aren’t that many of us who have the nerve – or the wherewithal – to live with a beast such as this.

The shape alone reminds why there is good reason for this machine. Benz will never admit that they’re simply following in the tyre tracks of a certain rival’s certain other offer, but parking this car anywhere near a BMW X6 will raise thought that Munich’s own controversial offer has created the impetus for Stuttgart to style up something that – in silhouette if not in the details – is, well, let’s just settle for ‘somewhat similar.’

Actually, it’s not just countering the X6 in look alone. The GLE is also to the same recipe as its main rival in sharing – as X6 does with X5 - a platform, drivetrains and major interior components with the GLE wagon but repackages to overt, more flamboyant body shape.

How will it do? Modestly, of course, if X6 sales figures are any barometer. That just 21 of the BMWs were registered nationally in 2014 suggests Kiwis are quite reserved about this sort of vehicle, so its surprising Benz feels the market condition can support three derivatives of its own offer.

We’ve gone straight to the top; bypassing both the entry 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 350d turbodiesel that costs $15,000 over its wagon equivalent (admittedly, that’s not just for a shape change as the spec is also higher) and the biturbo V6 450 to settle into the $210,000 63 flagship with a nutsy and always deep-throated, often bellowing 5.5-litre V8, kitting identically to its equal in the more family-friendly shape but with a $4100 premium.

Styling, image:

As a coupe version of the GLE wagon – the one that was until recently known as the M-Class and, before that, the ML) – this model puts extra emphasis on sportiness and style. That’s particularly obvious with the ‘63’ version; AMG cars are never going to be a wise choice for those seeking a quietly anonymous lifestyle but, assuredly, even among most the current Affalterbach offerings, this model stands out as looking especially extrovert.

Inevitably there will be thought about the effectiveness or otherwise of the styling. But it’s a controversy that cannot be ignored – nor, let’s face it, would Benz expect it to be. It wants to challenge; subdued looks would be an error.

 I heard plenty of opinion about the car’s look and, fair to say, it’s one of those cars that are particularly effective in proving that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

What I would suggest is that, if you are drawn to compare with the X6, then take into account that Benz’s bodywork detailing is much better than BMW’s and its cabin decoration and design is also superior.

It’s not just that the Coupe has a suitably high-quality interior, with some lovely brushed alloy enhancements are very nice leather, so much that it’s another Mercedes to benefit from an interior design treatment sweeping all Benz product that is simply brilliant in its look and ergonomic execution. You really feel like you get your money’s worth when you sit in these latest cabins. From the outside, the sole enhancement meted the test model, a $3900 Night Package, really seemed a suitable finishing touch. This provides the blackened elements for the wheels, the wing mirrors, a louvre in the radiator grille, beltline trim strip and twin tailpipes, and also addes 'heat-insulating' dark-tinted glass from the B-pillar back. Little touches, really, but highly effective.

Powertrain, performance:

You wany sensible? Buy the diesel. You want sensational? Well, it’s right here in this S flagship, a 5461cc direct injection biturbo V8 petrol handbuilt at AMG creating a stupendous 430kW at 5500rpm and 760Nm at 1750-5250rpm.

You know how, in the latest Star War film, Harrison Ford attests that every tale about the Force and the Jedi is true … “all of it.” Well, ditto for this engine. AMG is on a real high at the moment but the work they’ve performed with this car is especially impressive. It’s one thing to make a fast car, quite another to make a two tonne-plus house go indecently quickly, but by gosh they’ve done it here. The get full impression of how grunty this car can be, consider that the response even on just half throttle is enough to trigger extra-sweary involuntary utterances from unsuspecting passengers.

If it seems almost hilariously effortless then, wait until you give it the full beans: Overtaking is a doddle and there’s not much that will keep up with it in a straight line. If they fail to see it coming then they’ll certainly hear it go past and roar away; AMG exhaust systems are not that quiet even in their most subdued settings. The Coupe’s pipes can be set up to sound like a full-scale phwoar zone, with tons of basso boom plus a topping of snap-crackle over-run. Sometimes you’ll wonder if there’s a fullscale DTM race being run under the bonnet. It’s hugely anti-social and there’ll be times – late at night, or cruising past a cop trying to act sensible – when you’ll really wish it wasn’t quite as overt, but overall is great fun and entirely in keeping with what the car is: A bejewelled bogan.

Fuel economy? Don’t kid yourself about taking the maker claimed overall average of 11.8 litres per 100km seriously. I thought I did well to keep it in the 13s during an extended within-the-law drive on a heavily-trafficked (and policed) highway. A more adventurous backroads run earlier on during the test period reminded why the fuel tank capacity is 93 litres. You push hard and it gulps.

It might be a little less of a drinker had this model adopted the new nine-speed automatic that goes into the more mainstream Mercs, including the six-cylinder GLEs, but unfortunately, because of its huge torque loadings, the AMG engine requires the older, tougher but less efficient seven-speed.

Driving appeal:

No getting away from this being a mass attack: It’s a vehicle of substance and that’s just how it is.

Yet Mercedes’ suggestion of this being a sportscar-like SUV is not misleading. The substance and bulk isn’t wholly shirked – and, on narrow roads facing ongoing traffic, you’re very conscious off its girth, particularly in the face of oncoming trucks – but the impact of its dimension is diluted by some very good dynamic engineering. The steering is sharp and accurate and, while the AMG formula delivers extra ride firmness, even broken surfaces aren’t all that unsettling.

The flagship’s playfulness is tangibly affected by its huge 285/40 R22 performance rubber – you have to wonder how much mileage you’ll get out of such soft compound stock - and special features such as a body roll-minimising active curve system, but the nimbleness is impressive nonetheless. So, too, the latitude of the suspension settings. Obviously Sport and Sport Plus are ‘firm’ and ‘firmer still’, but Comfort is hardly mis-labelled, all things considered. Even here, though, it’s not ruffled by the vehicle being put through fast, flowing roads with deep undulations.

Patently the Coupe has no issue getting up to speed but, at the same token, if you want it to run quietly it almost can; pulling decent progress while turning over relatively few revs.

Front seat occupants are treated royally; the driving position is excellent, with electrically adjustable front seats and the head-up display is useful. The driver gets a decent view to the front, but as with the X6 the windscreen pillars restrict your view at T-junctions, and the over-the-shoulder view is poor.

As much as anything else, it’s the sheer substance of the thing that turns heads and causes jaws to slacken. This thing certainly more than fills a rear vision mirror and very much also commands every centimetre going within the average parking space. It’s not just the length that you have to take into consideration as the width; the AMG-isation delivers a particularly pronounced width, the effect of the widened wheelarches and very fat rubber. The provision of parking radar and good cameras that cover virtually every angle including the sides is a Godsend; but even though you have to careful not to knock those expensive mega-alloys against the kerbs.

The thing about the car’s swaggering substance is that it arrives with sacrifice to the interior space. It’s not as cramped as the X6 in this regard, but the end result of it being meted that sweeping roofline is that headroom does still suffer enough in the rear that, if there’s a full complement of people – and, really, that’s four rather than five because of the width of the transmission tunnel - to carry, the shortest in height (and leg length) are always going to be relegated to the back and, even then, they might have to duck to get in.

The roofline also has impact on the bootspace; again, Benz has presumably benefitted from studying two generations of BMW product to come up with solutions, one being to make their own boot longer. That’s not necessarily a winning idea because anyone on he short side might find items that have slid in against the seat backs might be beyond their reach. Also, because the tailgate sweeps down so sharply, you cannot carry anything that’s overly tall.

Something that afflicts both the coupe and SUV is the low positioning of the boot release button, which sits beneath the bumper lip.

Benz has mimicked the VW system of having the rear logo concealing the pop-out reversing camera but they haven't managed to integrate the boot release function into the emblem mechanism.

All GLE models get nine airbags, active cruise control with steering assist, stop and go pilot, PRESAFE, crosswind assist, active blind spot and lane keeping assists plus a fully electric trailer coupling with ESP stabilisation, while the dynamic handling control system delivers up to six different drive programmes.

LED headlights with intelligent light system, driver assistance package, keyless start, power tailgate and navigation with touchpad are standard to every GLE now and the AMG obviously throws in a lot more besides.

How it compares:

The GLE Coupe is a car you buy with your heart rather than your head. It has some shortcomings, but if you like the way it looks, you’ll be prepared to put up with them. Beyond that, it delivers what you need from a premium SUV, notably in terms of comfort and finish, and very much lives up the performance expectation, albeit in a brutal – bordering on maniac – bellowing way.