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Words: Sirish Chandran
It was the answer to a question nobody asked and neither was it easy on the eyes but the BMW X6 – the original sport-coupe-SUV – was so popular that the Bavarians have followed it up with a smaller X4, Audi is putting finishing touches on not just a Q6 but a Q4 and Q2,and Mercedes-Benz has got an elephant to sit on the back side of the GLE to make this – the GLE Coupe.
GLE you ask? To those not yet clued in on Merc’s new SUV-naming convention, the GLE is what the old ML-Class used to be and is the E-Class equivalent of their SUV line-up. New GLE 63 S Coupé is the … well … coupe version of the GLE, an obvious rip-off on the X6, and mates a swoopy roofline to the large and wide proportions of the full-size GLE. It remains an incongruous sight – a massive SUV sporting a back end that eats into headroom and luggage space while attempting to name-check sports cars will always be more than a little weird – but Mercedes’s designers have managed to pull off a more elegant and tasteful shape than its very angry rival. Regular GLE Coupe’s share the same front end with the GLE, with the main change being at the rear where the arched windows, tapering pillars and narrower sheet metal allows placement of slim and horizontally-stretched tail lamps nicked from the S Coupe (which will shortly be launched in India). If you look closely, (very closely) you might even find hints of the AMG GT in the tail (which is also coming to India later this year).
It’s the styling that is the key appeal of the GLE Coupe because there are very few rational reasons for buying one over the (rather-good) GLE. There’s less of the aforementioned space; the narrow glasshouse will make passengers feel cooped up and in the interest of sportiness, the off-road ability is also not as good. It will not be assembled in India either, unlike the GLE that will be launched as a CKD early next year, so expect to pay a fair premium over the GLE and more taxes to the government. No, the only reason to buy it is the styling and distinctive appeal – and going by the unexpected (to us, at least) success of the X6, Merc’s target of the GLE Coupe accounting for 25 per cent of overall GLE volumes don’t seem far- fetched.
Making an even less rational case for itself is the exhaustively named Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S 4MATIC Coupe. It replaces the erstwhile ML 63 AMG – an SUV that a few months ago, Ouseph took to the Aamby Valley runway for a drag race and finished third overall. Behind a Lamborghini and GT-R and ahead of a fair few mid- and rear-engined sportscars! Nobody could believe what they saw and I bet the driver of the yellow 911 I’m following right now has the same look of incredulity.
I’m on the German autobahn, the only place apart from the drag strip where you can legally use all this power, and it is raining, but the GLE AMG Coupe is so fast, so unshakeable, so epic, that sports cars have to give way. Under the hood and behind those gaping air intakes is the old 5.5-litre, twin-turbocharged V8 motor (not the new 4.0-litre in the C 63 you will read about elsewhere in this magazine) but the overabundance of torque makes it brilliantly suited to a super-fast SUV. The S version I’m driving puts out 576bhp, 27 up on the non-S version, and 760Nm of torque peaking at just 1750rpm. That torque makes performance absolutely effortless – it requires just a tickle of the throttle for a mighty old burble to emanate from the exhaust and the speedo to sweep across the dial. Add revs and the horizon is sucked in and sportscars are blown to the weeds. Speed is realised with such little drama that you forget how crazy the performance really is (100kmph in 4.2 seconds!) – the same reason why Ouseph couldn’t believe he’d smoked the quarter mile faster than the sportscars lined up. Of course, you can add drama by switching the engine and transmission into Sport mode that bring forth a generous increase in volume and gratuitous pops and crackles from the exhaust.
Our drive route takes us from Allgau in Germany and across the border into Austria where the roads narrow down as we cross quaint villages that head to the ski resort of Kitzbuhel. It’s over these non-autobahn roads that we discover the GLE AMG’s incredible overtaking performance – sitting so high helps with better sightlines so you can pick a gap early and then the unshakable traction and immense grunt helps you squirt past.
It’s not that the GLE AMG Coupe is only a drag strip destroyer; cornering grip and traction is something else altogether. Active Curve System uses hydraulic anti-roll bars to keep the body flat during heavy cornering, the air suspension lowers the body at speed and the 50/50 torque split of the GLE is altered to 40/60 on the Coupe for a more rear-biased attitude. Riding on (optional) 22inch rims shod with 285-section rubber up front and 325-section at the rear; the grip, even in the wet, is staggering. Admittedly there’s a smidge of understeer if you enter a corner too hot and a smidge of oversteer on exit but it’s always a smidge and never requiring much correction either. It can carry almost the same pace as a sports car over a variety of roads but there’s never any doubt that it is science beating physics – not your wheelsmanship. That delicacy, fluency and feedback that a proper sports car gives you is missing. Brute force is the way to get things done.
Austria has something called speed limits and as we get to Kitzbuhel we take it easy and reflect on the cabin that has acres of leather and lashings of carbon trim. In keeping with the sport-luxury intent, the seats are heavily bolstered, there’s contrast stitching and AMG badges, long paddle shifters behind the flat-bottomed alcantara-trimmed steering wheel and an AMG mode that, among others, shows you how much torque you’re using on the tablet-like screen. It’s a rather lovely place to spend time in, allied to the fact that the GLE AMG is actually a comfortable car to do cross-country jaunts in. Not that the roads in Europe are anything less than perfect but even on the bumpy roads we encountered while trying to venture closer to interesting photography locations, the GLE AMG was absolutely comfortable.
Of course at the rear you might feel hemmed in though headroom is adequate and kneeroom generous. But then again you’ll be nuts to buy a GLE Coupe to sit at the back; even crazier to buy a GLE AMG Coupé for its back seat virtues. This is an SUV that serves no real rational purpose. But 585bhp has a way of getting into your head like nothing else.