The GLE63 S Coupé hits an invisible wall at 155 mph — regardless of how hard I press my shoe into the accelerator pedal, or how much further the empty highway stretches towards the horizon, the sport ute is not going any faster. I can’t blame lack of power (the handcrafted twin-turbocharged V8 beneath its hood puts out 585 horsepower), the compromise of all-season SUV tires (the Coupe sits on high-speed-rated performance tires), or a blunt-nosed brick of a design (the sleek aerodynamic bodywork helps the Coupe slip through the air). No, none of those elements are stressed at two and a half times our national speed limit. Instead, the culprit is a long-standing gentleman’s agreement between certain European automakers, a few lines of code within their vehicles’ core processors that electronically limit top speed to only 227 feet per second.
2016 Mercedes-AMG GLE63 S Coupe Test Drive
Exploring the Envelope
Of course, I’m not testing the limits of the new Mercedes-AMG in North America, where such velocities would be met with an irate officer, a hefty fine and even loss of driving privileges. Instead, thanks to Mercedes-Benz’s generosity, I’m exploring the envelope on a section of Germany’s famed autobahn where there is no limit to your vehicle’s speed — that is, until you hit an electronic barrier, traffic, or something much worse.
And some people consider this work.
Design, Comfort and Utility
The GLE-Class is the new nomenclature for the M-Class, the automaker’s lineup of mid-size sport utility vehicles. The name makes perfect sense: The new “GL” designation is Mercedes-speak for SUV, and the “E” designation is for mid-size (think “E-Class sport utility”). Logically, this new naming convention allows the automaker to introduce the smaller “GLC” (think “C-Class sport utility”) and a larger “GLS” (think “S-Class sport utility”) for this model year.
Mercedes-Benz is a bit late to the SUV coupe game. BMW debuted its X6 “Sports Activity Coupé” in 2007, and Acura followed with its ZDX “4-door luxury sports coupe” just two years later. Even though Acura pulled the ZDX due to lackluster sales in 2013 (the brand isn’t strong enough to support such a styling exercise), BMW’s X6 seems to have nailed the formula — a prestigious European badge, eye-catching styling, and performance to back its appearance. More than 275,000 have been sold to date. (Porsche, unwilling to watch potential sales slip away, is reportedly working on a Cayenne Coupé.)
Driver and front passenger will find the cabin comfortable and accommodating, and nearly identical to that of the standard GLE SUV with AMG treatment. As expected, the cockpit has been revised for the 2016 model year with a larger 8-inch infotainment display, flanked by vertical climate control vents (strikingly similar those in the Porsche Cayenne) above the automaker’s familiar HVAC dials. The center console houses a stylish new COMAND interface and a new rotary dial to control operator-selected drive modes: Comfort, Sport, Sport+, Slippery, and Individual.
The second row accommodates two very comfortably; three in a pinch. Despite a chopped roof, there is a surprising amount of space for rear passengers, although the cabin isn’t as bright and airy as in the standard GLE, and those over six-foot two-inches tall may find headroom limited. While few buyers of such vehicles expect much in the way of cargo capacity, the second row of seats do split and fold flat to greatly increase the vehicle’s utility.
Under the Hood
At launch, Mercedes-Benz will offer two versions of the new GLE Coupé. The standard model is the GLE450 AMG Coupe, fitted with a twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 rated at 362 horsepower and 384 pound-feet of torque — and it’s no slouch, busting through the benchmark 60-mph barrier in 5.6 seconds. That’s not bad at all, but it suffers in comparison to its big brother, the AMG GLE63 S Coupé, the subject of this review.
Compared to its sibling, the Mercedes-AMG GLE63 S Coupé packs one helluva punch thanks to a twin-turbocharged 4.5-liter V8 cranking out 577 horsepower and 561 pound-feet of torque. Tasked with harnessing the power is an AMG Speedshift Plus 7G-TRONIC transmission that sends power to all four wheel through a 4MATIC permanent all-wheel-drive system. Pedal to the floor, the powertrain will launch the four-door to 60 mph in just 4.2 seconds, says Mercedes. Top speed, as I discovered, is electronically limited to 155 mph.
Underpinning the chassis is a fully independent suspension with double wishbones up front and a multi-link configuration in the rear. The automaker’s AIRMATIC suspension is standard, as is adaptive damping and an active curve system that keeps the chassis level during cornering. Brakes are oversized iron rotors — cross-drilled and slotted — at all four corners, with 6-piston calipers up front and single-piston units on the rear. The steering is electromechanical. Mercedes-Benz designers were pursuing a wide and aggressive stance — a passionate initial objective — and they accomplished this stunning visual with a massive wheel and tire package that includes 22-inch wheels wearing 285/40R22 tires up front, and 325/35R22 tires in the rear.
On the Road
The all-new 2016 GLE63 S Coupé drives much like the 2015 ML63 AMG I tested last year — it should, as the two share platforms. However, the Coupé has been tuned for sportier response compared to its more upright four-door sibling. The welcome results are quicker reflexes during transitions and the ability to attack a road more aggressively. It is near impossible to ignore the two-and-a-half ton curb weight, but this isn’t a totally bad thing, as the Mercedes-AMG feels more solidly planted on the road than a lead vault fixed by anchors. I’ve rarely felt so safe and secure in a moving vehicle.
Horsepower is the answer to everything, as the GLE63 S Coupé demonstrates. Depress the accelerator firmly and the 5,100-pound crossover takes off like a shot, all four wheels ripping at the pavement. AMG has tuned the exhaust to sound plenty angry under full throttle (and it pops and cackles under deceleration), but the sound is never so loud that the neighbors might complain. The automaker’s acceleration claims are impressive, but they also appear to be conservative — to me the Coupe felt much quicker. Passing was effortless, although the 7-speed gearbox and all-wheel drive powertrain seemed to fumble a bit when I mashed the gas pedal aggressively and unexpectedly during steady-state cruising. There is a lot of sophisticated driveline hardware beneath the floor pan, which does take a moment to react
Of course, it handles very well. And, of course, it is extremely agile — Mercedes’ engineers are a brilliant bunch. But most of this talent can be credited to the massive tire contact patches and the sophisticated calibrated electronics managing the body roll, turn-in and steering. The AMG-tuned Coupé is incredibly capable — more so than any owner will ever be able to explore — but its complexity steals from the enjoyment. The driver is along for a wicked ride, at the expense of engagement.
Ride comfort is exceptional. Whether zooming down the autobahn at triple-digit speeds, crawling through the Alps following a trailer-towing Volkswagen Golf, or bounding over a railroad crossing, the air suspension and active dampers did an admirable job of controlling chassis movement. Morning commuters can fill their coffee mugs to the brim without worry of it splashing on the windscreen.
Photo Credit: Mercedes-Benz
BMW may have been first to the game, but it appears that Mercedes-Benz may have trumped the Bavarians with its latest arrival. Both are similarly styled and nearly equivalent in acceleration and speed. However, my impressions after driving both lead me to content that, although the sharper and firmer X6 M may still be the better performer of the two, the Mercedes-AMG is a much better vehicle overall, especially considering that few owners of a GLE63 S Coupe will ever dare run theirs on a racing circuit.
The Final Verdict
Mercedes-AMG has a magical way of blending exceptional performance and luxury into a single, comprehensive package with few compromises. Witness the S63 AMG4MATIC and the AMG E63 S as two very civilized examples of its engineering prowess. Now, with the arrival of the all-new 2016 GLE63 S Coupé, the automaker has integrated eye-catching style into the mix. The sloping roof transforms the family-oriented GLE SUV into something vastly more expressive and emotional, which is precisely what the segment’s affluent and more mature customer is seeking.