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Road Test: Mercedes-Benz GLE 63 S AMG

2017-08-07 08:01

Lance Branquinho

'Conventional wisdom says that AMG SUVs don’t go off-road. We investigate the potential,' writes Lance Branquinho as he tests Mercedes-Benz GLE 63 S AMG in SA.

Cape Town - Mercedes-Benz and BMW. Stuttgart versus Munich. It’s the perennial battle for premium automotive superiority and fans of both brands often criticise the other of imitating – or lagging the innovation trend. 

When Mercedes-Benz revealed its GLE coupe, BMW fan-people scoffed at this apparent X6 clone. Truth be told, it was BMW who had followed Merc’s venture into the plush gravel travel market two decades ago, when X5 followed from the original paleontologist's luxury SUV in Jurassic Park: ML. 

It does not really matter much who was first to market, let us just accept that these coupe-roofline SUVs are all rather silly and silliest of all must be AMG’s GLE 63 S coupe.

GALLERY: 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe

Look beyond the enormous 22" wheels and all those angry AMG styling bits and this remains a vehicle with less cabin space than a normal GLE, which completely nullifies the notion of its SUV acronym having any meaning to the second letter – ‘utility’. 

'Just a bit too OTT'

A crude profit opportunity, aimed at those with more money than appreciation of things truly Mercedes. Fundamentally, this is how one feels about the GLE 63 S coupe. AMG SUVs we can deal with, but this one is just a bit too OTT (over the top). 

                                                    Image: Lance Branquinho

Yet, we should never judge exclusively on perception. That’s just wrong, in life as it is with cars. And to imagine that this GLE 63 S coupe is destined to get stuck if it even touches anything beyond gravel, or that is completely devoid of any purpose, is bias. 

After a week with it, there are a great many elements of this AMG which defy expectation. 

It’s a big-block engine

If your requirement is to own the biggest German V8 in production, well, then this is the ‘coupe’ to have. Unlike most every other AMG V8 on sale, GLE 63 S retains the M157 5.5-litre bi-turbo V8, and though I know that on every graph you can possibly draw or table of statistics you could populate for comparison – that the 4.0-litre M178 is superior – there’s a mechanical menace of this larger V8 which is inarguable. 

The numbers are astounding, even in this era where we expect the impossible from AMG’s powertrain engineers: 430kW and 760Nm. Although the oversized, ostensibly off-road capable, coupe is every bit as heavy as it looks (2350kg), there’s such an abundance of thrust and traction that conventional physics don’t really apply. 

Befitting of an AMG, the 5.5-litre V8’s sound signature is reminiscent of a nuclear popcorn-maker and with its enormous bumper, and acceleration akin to an avalanche, there are few other vehicles capable of clearing that far-right lane of the N1 in quite as impervious a manner as this SUV. 

                                                       Image: Lance Branquinho

The GLE 63 S coupe’s numbers don’t lie and when you’re seated in it, acutely aware of the quality and weight of materials cocooning you, its thrust is even more impressive an experience. Almost unbelievably, it feels quicker than the claimed 0-100km/h time of 4.2 seconds and the acceleration thereafter is relentless – ensuring you reach that 250km/h gentleman’s limiter before passengers can really comprehend what is going on. 

Dirt certified supercar

But it’s not merely the loveable soundtrack of that 5.5-litre AMG V8 or its stupefying acceleration which really astounds when driving this oversized, apparently pointless off-road coupe. It’s the way it prevents you from being corrupted by all that available power and going off-line, into an unplanned event sure to file a terribly interesting insurance claim. 

The coupe is wider than conventional GLEs and rolling 22" wheels, with 325 cross-section tyres at the rear, gift it immense mechanical grip. All that weight, at a higher than ideal centrepoint, mean body roll should be its undoing steered into a quick change of direction, but any nauseating body roll is counterbalanced by Mercedes-Benz’s peerless air-suspension system.

What about off-road ability?

And then there’s the off-road ability. ‘The what?’ Yes. Off-road ability. With air-suspension enabling you to access to 208mm of ground clearance, the combination of 4Matic and 760Nm mean you simply churn away at the terrain, but never get bogged down. The GLE 63 S coupe, if you have the boldness to try, is a vastly capable off-road tool and with its huge reserves of power and quick-witted seven-speed automatic transmission, a dune raider par excellence. You never even notice it doesn’t have low-range gearing. 

                                                              Image: Lance Branquinho

As a driving machine, despite being conscious of its mass, GLE 63 S coupe is accomplished, both on and off-road. Consider rivals and it makes a credible case for itself too, ridiculous enough as that may sound. And that’s the fundamental reason you’d choose one over BMW’s X6 M: sound – the AMG’s 5.5-litre V8 has a pitch and character many times better and more authentic than Munich’s 4.4-litre. It also happens to have 70-litre more bootspace too and a touch less claustrophobia for those seated in the second-row of seats. 

True, X6 M does feel than 5% more agile due to its marginally lower mass, but when you’re talking AMG and M-Division off-road coupes, it’s all about the theatre – not theory. And as an event, the GLE 63 S coupe is currently without compare. If you simply must have the biggest production German V8 in production garaged aside your home, there is only one choice. 

You pay a notable amount of mostly unrecoverable money for this coupe, but it can do what no traditional performance coupe can: go play in the dirt. 

GLE 63 S Coupe - R2 152 300
Engine: 5.5-itre turbocharged V8
Power: 430kW @ 5500rpm
Torque: 760Nm @ 1750Nm
Drivetrain: 7G-Tronic Speeshift, 4Matic all-wheel drive
0-100kn/h in 4.2 sec, top speed 250km/h
Weight - 2350kg

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