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2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE53 Coupe First Drive Review

A crouching crossover tiger with 429 horsepower.

Ed TahaneyWriter, photographerThe ManufacturerPhotographer

HOCHGURGL, Austria—The freshly plowed roads snaking around this ski mecca are steep and spectacular. They're a veritable playground for any super sports car—that is when they're not buried by snow. Sadly, we're not here in some low-slung, mid-engine marvel, but what we are hustling through the Austrian Alps is proving plenty capable. Yes, it's a crossover SUV—sorta—but the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE53 Coupe has more than enough power and grip to keep us entertained as we attack yet another stunning set of switchbacks.

Under the hood of the GLE53 Coupe is an AMG-massaged version of Benz's 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-six with 429 horsepower and 384 lb-ft of torque. The engine is integrated with the automaker's EQ Boost system, a 48-volt powered setup featuring an integrated starter generator that can add 21 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque for short bursts. The system also allows the SUV to "sail" briefly while cruising by shutting off the engine and maintaining speed using electric power instead.

EQ Boost is just one part of the automaker's emerging hybrid plans. Markets outside of the U.S. are set to get a diesel plug-in variant called the GLE350 4Matic Coupe, featuring a high-voltage battery with an energy capacity of 31.2 kWh that reportedly delivers a 62-mile all-electric range. While we won't get the hybridized diesel GLE here, a gas-powered version of that plug-in is reportedly in the works that North America could see as early as the 2022 model year.

The GLE53's feisty inline-six is mated to an AMG-programmed nine-speed automatic transmission, with the power ultimately put down by an AMG Performance 4Matic+ all-wheel drive system. Our test vehicle also came equipped with the optional AMG Ride Control, which is based on the Mercedes Airmatic air suspension. It's been designed to help optimize the GLE53's cornering and road agility—a good thing to have when you're hustling a hefty crossover pushing 4,900 pounds. The suspension automatically lowers the GLE53 by 0.6 inch at speeds above 75 mph. Drivers also have the ability to raise it by up to 2.2 inches at speeds up to 43 mph. The AMG suspension came in handy as we bombed up and down the sugar dusted mountaintops of Austria. So did its brakes. Stopping power is provided by 15.8-inch front discs with two-piston silver and black calipers and 13.6 inchers with a single-piston floating caliper in the rear. Our test example also rolled 21-inch AMG wheels (22s are optional) shod with 275/45 R21 Scorpion winter tires. A number of minor updates have also been made to the GLE53's exterior trim in an effort to give it a more expressive AMG look and feel.

Steering is fairly precise thanks to its electromechanical speed-sensitive power steering. There are seven drive programs to suit road conditions and/or your mood: Comfort, Sport, Sport+, Slippery, Individual, Trail, and Sand. Sport+ feels and sounds the best, but as the sun began to set while zipping down the cold, icy mountain roads, we left the GLE53 in Slippery mode and felt confident driving in the dark up to our lofty hotel in Hochgurgl. The SUV's LED headlights with adaptive high-beam assist came in handy as well. The next day we had a go in the GLE53 on the snow-covered and icy Timmelsjoch Alpine Pass Road and it passed with flying colors in all modes, but Comfort and Slippery were clearly the best for safely navigating the weather conditions.

Standard safety technology for the 2021 GLE53 Coupe include blind-spot assist, active brake assist, attention assist, active parking assist, adaptive cruise control, and lane-keep assist—all of which are easy to turn on and off as needed. Optional goodies we had a chance to sample included an info-dense head-up display, four-zone climate control, augmented video for navigation, and Mercedes' cabin-fragrance system that shares space in the glovebox with a nifty pen holder. We're not huge fans of the particular scent on our cabin, but it's simple to turn off, or to use your own preferred fragrance. As you'd expect, you can option your GLE53 Coupe with all manner of other packages, including a-driver's assistance package with a new active traffic-jam-assist feature, a warmth and comfort package (a must for the Alps or any cold climate), AMG track pace package, a Night package, and a carbon-fiber interior trim pack.

Speaking of interiors, a three-spoke AMG Performance steering wheel wrapped in Nappa leather welcomes the driver along with sporty leather AMG seats, a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, and a matching touchscreen display. The latest MBUX infotainment setup with voice control is a huge step up from the outgoing Comand system, and the Mercedes-Benz Navigation system that kept us mostly on course is also included. Don't want to use the onboard system, no worries, it's also Android Auto and Apple CarPlay friendly. It also comes with a wireless cellphone charging pad and five USB-Type C ports—great if you have a newer cellphone but a bummer if you are traveling with an older, larger USB-Type A connector.

The new GLE53 Coupe's wheelbase is 2.4 inches shorter than its more traditional GLE SUV sibling, but it is 0.8 inch longer than the previous model's. It still offers plenty of space for up to five passengers and all of your loot. At 23 cubic feet, the trunk area can swallow a decent amount of luggage, and with the 40/20/40-split rear seats folded, flat cargo space expands to a healthy 63 cubes.

Overall, the GLE53 Coupe may not haul ass quite like the hottest Porsche Cayennes—that's what the brand-new GLE63 AMG is for, of course—but it offers more than enough AMG-optimized get up and go, loads of the latest in Benz technology, and of course, a coupe style profile that more than a few buyers seem to like. Official pricing has yet to be announced, but expect the 2021 GLE53 Coupe to start around 75 grand when it arrives at Mercedes dealers in the spring.

2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe 4Matic+ Specifications
ON SALE Spring 2020
PRICE $74,900 (est)
ENGINE 3.0L turbocharged DOHC 24-valve I-6; 429 hp @ 6,100 rpm, 384 lb-ft @ 1,800-5,800 rpm; EQ Boost 21 hp, 184 lb-ft of torque
TRANSMISSION 9-speed automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD SUV
EPA MILEAGE N/A
L x W x H 195.3 x 84.9 x 67.7 in
WHEELBASE 103.5 in
WEIGHT 4,900 lb (est)
0-60 MPH 5.2 sec
TOP SPEED 155 mph
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