Quick Spin: 2016 Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S Coupe

The barking exhaust drew the attention of the Austrian cows, their cud chewing interrupted by the angry, theatrical snort from the tail pipes. Each one lazily looked up from their task and then sank back just a little bit, shying away from the monstrous SUV making the god-awful racket up on the road that wrapped around their field.

Even when stopped for a moment, poised against a mountain backdrop, thick mist and fog putting it in soft focus, the 2016 Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S Coupe struck a dramatic pose. The beastly engine well-matched to the massive rig whose sweeping 'Coupe' roofline somehow only added to the sense of size.

The beastly engine well-matched to the massive rig whose sweeping 'Coupe' roofline somehow only added to the sense of size.

At its wheel, a fat Aussie smiled then downshifted yet again. Superfluous gear changes extract the best of the GLE’s character. “Crackle”. “Bark”. “Moooooo”.

Those cows got off light. The next lot happened to be grazing next to a long, long straight.

The 63 S, we’re told, can scamper to 100 km/h in just 5.2 seconds – the 2,275 kg chassis shunted along by a 585 hp/ 560 lb-ft engine.

“Seems unlikely,” I told my co-driver as I pressed all the necessary buttons. Sport+ on, traction control off, revs up, brake pedal on aaannndd… launch. We hit the century in less time than it takes to say “Mercedes-Benz, ooops, I mean Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S Coupe”.

Those poor, poor cows. If the fuel I funneled through the biturbo 5.4L V8 engine wasn’t bad enough for the ozone layer the sudden, violent emissions from the scared cows would have sealed the deal.

The fat Aussie was no longer smiling but cackling gleefully. Greasy roads gave the 4Matic system something to think about briefly as the 60:40 rear-bias torque split scattered to the four corners of the car. I felt the tires scratch at the asphalt for a fraction of a second before the whole deal gathered itself up and shot forward. I’ve often wondered what a rugby ball feels like when passed to a marauding prop – I no longer do.

The engine has inertia well and truly bested. The transmission, however, is not so dominant over Galileo Galilei’s famous concept. In fact, the GLE had a little difficulty getting up and going from a standstill, and changing quickly from reverse to drive made it as obstinate as those cows from earlier. These glitches seemed more like over-careful programming than a fault in the gearbox. I’ve experienced this in the Mercedes-Benz CLS 400 too.

It’s frustrating because the transmission is the older seven-speed unit, not the new nine-speed. This proven unit is almost definitely resilient enough to take the hit of a quick transition from reverse to first (ie: when doing a quick three-point turn on a country road) and so this smacks of conservatism. I don’t like conservatism in anything, let alone a fire-breathing AMG-powered brute.

The changes themselves were quick and enjoyable thanks to that trademark AMG bark through the exhaust that accompanies each shift. Fun fact – there are two reverse gears. Why? Just how fast do you need to go backwards?

The paddles are fun, but the gearbox is good at picking the right gear for the moment if you let it do its own thing. I did encounter the odd mid-corner downshift but it’s hard not to when you’re going the full stomp on every apex – Alpine roads are fun if a little tight.

And they are tight, especially aboard a two-metre-wide, five-metre-long SUV. From the driver’s seat the dashboard sweeps out toward the raked windscreen, the passenger as geographically isolated as Alaska is from Washington.

The steering wheel does its best to hide the weight of the 22-inch front wheels and will satisfy those who enjoy a light tiller – the driving modes dial a little more heft into the wheel but it’s still over boosted for your writer’s tastes. The messages sent back and forth between driver and contact patch have a long way to travel, but make the journey quickly, providing consistently accurate steering and decent communication. Razor sharp it isn’t, but if you want to feel your SUV hustle up a mountain this will likely satisfy. The 63 S Coupe corners flat but pitches deep under braking. This is okay though, because it also lifts the nose hilariously under full throttle.

With a 50 mm difference between the front and rear track the GLE feels pointy on turn in and remarkably stable at corner exit giving good bite as you lurch toward the next bend. Even in Sport+ the ride is tame over most roads. Pure physics help stifle the quakes and quivers of the shocks under the hefty chassis. So the Airmatic air suspension with “infinitely variable ADS PLUS adaptive damping system” performs most of its role quietly in the background – where it belongs.

Rear-seat passengers might be crimped for head room, and cargo space is affected by the sloping roof line as compared to the regular shape GLE. However, that’s a bit like saying “that storage shed really encroaches on my golf course” – you still get 650L of cargo space, up to a maximum of 1,720. That’s down from 690 and 2,010 L. Your golf clubs will still fit.

The stylized design has a bigger impact on visibility. Out the back you can see… lol. No.

Let’s be serious, if you are looking to buy the Coupe version of this rig it’s likely that practicality and visibility are not high on your priority list – if they are, there’s an equally rorty and more square shaped edition for a few grand less.

Perhaps the best part of the Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S Coupe – or at least the best part of its long and complex name – is the “S”. Here in Canada we’re skipping straight past the lame 557 hp/516 lb-ft GLE 63 and going straight to the fully-fettled GLE 63 S. Giving us 18 more horses and 44 more lb-ft right off the bat. “Ooooohhhh Caaannnaaadddaaaaaaaa!”

And why shouldn’t we get this in all its rocket-powered rhino glory? Styling wise it might not be quite as aggro as the BWM X6M, but this is as worthy a foe to physics.

The Mercedes-Benz (or Mercedes-AMG) GLE 63 S Coupe is a brute in a suit, with just enough refinement from its smoothed-off edges to avoid the wrong sort of attention.

Pricing: 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE
GLE 350d 4MATIC Coupe: $72,300
GLE 450 AMG Sport 4MATIC Coupe: $77,600
Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S 4MATIC Coupe: $116,500

Competitors:
BMW X5 M/X6 M
Porsche Cayenne Turbo
Range Rover Sport Supercharged
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The barking exhaust drew the attention of the Austrian cows, their cud chewing interrupted by the angry, theatrical snort from the tail... 7/3/2015 10:28:55 AM