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Driving impression: Mercedes Benz GLE Coupé

25 August 2015

I have a psychological aversion to cars that have more than 400kW at their disposal, mostly because of an intimidating experience early in my career as a motoring writer.

The car was a previous generation Porsche 911 Turbo S and I wasn’t allowed behind the wheel. Luckily, a friendly man from Porsche volunteered to show me what it was like, and before I knew it I was experiencing the joys of accelerating to 100km/h in around three seconds flat.

I enjoyed the experience immensely, but I’d be lying if I said the car didn’t scare me. Until then I had never been in a car with more than 150kW, so the jump to 400kW felt rather severe.

I’ve since piloted a few cars with an indecent amount of power and I always step away amazed that anyone with a normal driving licence is allowed to buy and drive such things.

My most recent encounter, before the GLE Coupé AMG, was in our performance car shoot-out. The BMW X5M came away victorious. It’s brutal in a straight line and its handling prowess is something to be admired, but you need a proper driver to get the most out of it. After watching Hannes Grobler give it everything after a lap on our makeshift track, I knew I had been using perhaps 70% of the X5M’s abilities. I got the same sort of feeling behind the wheel of the Mercedes-Benz AMG GLE 63 AMG S Coupé.

It’s an exceptional vehicle. Its bi-turbo 5,5-litre V8 petrol engine develops 430kW and 760Nm of torque, which is enough to get this massive chunk of SUV to 100km/h in a mind-blowing 4,2 seconds. Three to four seconds after that you are doing speeds that will land you a one-way ticket to an audience with a judge.

The standard 4Matic all-wheel drive is more than up to the job of transferring all that power to the wheels, even in muddy and slippery conditions. The car coped exceptionally well, but I doubt if any GLE Coupé owners would ever do that kind of thing in their own vehicles. Still, it’s nice to know that you can.

I also suspect that most owners will never drive the AMG to the limit. The 4Matic all-wheel drive system has a 40/60 rear-biased split, which makes it a deeply satisfying car to drive through a mountain pass. Barrel in too quickly and it will understeer, but you could always react with some sense of self-preservation and simply slow down. Or, if you are feeling particularly brave, you can press down on the throttle a bit to get the rear end to step out. All of this is possible in Sport+ mode, which will eventually intervene to save you from yourself.

Or you could just drive it normally, but I suppose that would be missing the point of owning an AMG in the first place.

Look, for some people the very fact that it’s the top model in the range would be enough reason to buy it, but there is another way of getting your kicks for less cash. There is currently a significant gap between the standard car and the AMG model. The GLE is available with a practical diesel engine that is powerful, smooth and impressively frugal. With a logical cap on one’s head, it would be the model of choice, but why would you want something sensible when you’re buying an SUV coupé?

The AMG, on the other hand, is sheer madness, but there’s a neat gap between the utterly practical and the utterly insane. It’s called the GLE 450 AMG and it’s the first in a new line-up of vehicles meant to slot in between the top-spec standard model and the ferocious AMG.

The 450 AMG makes a lot of sense, because it does practicality and comfort just as well as the diesel, even though it’s not as frugal. With 270kW and 520Nm of torque, it’s not exactly slow. Zero to 100km/h is covered in 5,7sec and it tops out at 250km/h. It’s plenty fast and only feels slightly neutered when you drive it after stepping out of its 430kW sibling.

It offers the best of both worlds. It’s calm, cool and collected when you need it to be, but it’s instantly transformed into a performance machine at the turn of a dial.

In Sport+ mode it’s a wonderful machine to drive quickly, and a raspy V6 soundtrack accompanies your best efforts. Seriously, it even pops on the overrun. Does it sound better than the AMG? No, but nothing does. It is, however, entertaining it its own way.

It’s the one I’d go for, but there isn’t a bad car in the range. Get the diesel if you want to cover long distances in comfort, but you simply have to go for the full, fat AMG if you are after the current champion of performance SUVs. For a nice balance between these two, it would be the 450 AMG.



350d                 R999 900

450 AMG          R1 099 900

63 AMG            R1 859 900