LOS ANGELES — When future automotive historians look back at our era, it likely will be defined as the era of hybrids, a time that straddled the all-gasoline period and the seemingly inevitable all-electric future. Simultaneously, the present will also be synonymous with the crossover craze. As such, there’s no greater era-appropriate automotive fashion statement than buying a so-called “coupe crossover” with the added bonus of a hybrid drivetrain.
That’s exactly what Mercedes-AMG has accomplished with its GLE 53 Coupe. While its appearance is not what I’d call conventionally attractive, it certainly draws plenty of attention, even in the car-crazy West Side of Los Angeles where I live. When I found out I’d be test driving one, I set out to determine if these camel-hump-evoking crossovers live up to the hype.
2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe: Decked Out
As optioned, the GLE 53 Coupe I tested came equipped with plenty of goodies to make passengers feel as comfortable as possible while still standing out from more mundane cars. Glittering Designo Cardinal Red Metallic paint ($1,080) covers the exterior, and it rides on massive matte black 22-inch AMG Cross-Spoke Forged Wheels, a pricey extra at $3,250.
Finally, the stealthy AMG Night Package was tacked on for $750, adding gloss black accents all around as well as blacked-out exhaust tips. Between the brute-ute’s sheer size and its attention-grabbing spec, I felt like I was making quite the statement when rolling up to a restaurant for curbside pickup.
The GLE makes a strong first impression with its extroverted appearance, but the design and quality of its interior keeps the good vibes going strong. Our test car’s cabin arrived wrapped in AMG Black Exclusive Nappa Leather with Diamond Stitching, which comes at the hefty cost of $4,800. Natural Grain Grey Oak Wood Trim classes up the otherwise premium feeling but otherwise austere looking interior for just $160.
2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe: High-Horsepower High-Rider
Powering this bulbous behemoth is a wonderfully smooth turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six engine, mated to a 9-speed automatic transmission. It is supplemented by Mercedes’ EQ Boost system which can add up to 21 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque to the already potent 429 hp and 384 lb-ft from the gasoline engine. It sounds the part of a sporty brute too; our test car came equipped with the $1,250 AMG Performance Exhaust System, which yields a meaty burble at idle and emits delicious crackles on lift-off.
Hands wrapped around the optional AMG Performance steering wheel ($500), I blasted up Angeles Crest Highway, working the gears with the steering wheel-mounted paddles. The transmission, tuned by AMG, responds quickly to the driver’s inputs, and downshifts are met with the exhaust’s delightful growls. Mercedes’ 4Matic all-wheel drive sends power to every wheel, and sticky rubber helps two-and-a-half tons of metal and leather rocket forward with mega hot hatch quickness. The 0-60-mph sprint takes just 5.2 seconds, but feels even faster because of the sheer mass being sent hurtling forward.
AMG’s vehicles tend to sharpen the steering feel and precision versus their non-AMG counterparts, and the Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe is no exception. Despite the obvious drawbacks of an SUV’s ride height, it’s easy to get a grasp on the GLE 53 Coupe’s handling thanks to great steering response and well-tuned variable and adaptive suspension making for a sense of predictability. In its most aggressive driving profile, the GLE does a good impression of a jumbo sport sedan. It drove well enough to conjure evil thoughts into my head, thoughts like “Maybe coupe SUVs aren’t such a bad idea” and “maybe a four door really can be a coupe.” But no. That’s ridiculous.
Despite its composure on twisty roads, in the softer suspension settings, the GLE can feel a bit wallowy and imprecise. Around town, the GLE feels big-boned, as its size is more apparent from the inside than the outside. But these are minor quibbles that become less noticeable as one gets used to its width and turning radius. When equipped with the Acoustic Comfort Package ($1,100) like this test vehicle, the AMG GLE 53 Coupe damps out most outside noise, thanks to added cabin insulation and windows covered in sound-absorbing film. Even the giant wheels don’t pierce the GLE’s protective cocoon, staving off the world’s—and the road’s—unpleasantness.
2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe: Safety and Tech
Loaded as this test vehicle was, I was spoiled by heated and cooled cupholders, a no-brainer option for just $180. Rear seat passengers, if I’d had any, would have benefitted from four-zone climate control ($860), an upgraded Dinamica micro-suede headliner ($1,600), and heated rear seats ($580). Mercedes even included pre-wiring for rear-seat entertainment for $170.
Mercedes does a great job with its driver assistance packages in general, so I was grateful to see that this car was loaded up with the brand’s finest tech. Chief among these inclusions is the Parking Assistance Package. It costs only $500 and renders the entire car and its surroundings from the top down in glorious HD on the display. One day, I hope this is a standard feature for every car.
Less important in my mind are the other safety equipment packages. This car has almost every driver assistance and traffic monitoring system short of the highest degree of autonomous driving on the market. At this point I feel like I’m either a very hands-on driver or that these systems are a complete gimmick until cars can totally drive themselves. Until you can be on your phone, letting the car do all the work, the technology offered by the $1,950 Driver Assistance Package Plus doesn’t seem worth it—the driver is still required to pay attention to monitor the road and the systems, so you may as well just drive the AMG you paid for like the AMG it is.
Other features had a noticeable impact in making my time with the GLE 53 feel far more luxurious. For one, it came equipped with oh-so-satisfying soft-close doors, an option for just $550. If it hadn’t been summer, I would have appreciated the Warmth and Comfort package, which goes way beyond conventional heated front seats by also warming the door and center armrests ($1,050).
What did come in handy during my test drive was the AMG GLE 53 Coupe’s Comfort Package Plus, which includes ventilated seats—perfect for the hot weather in Los Angeles this time of year. This $2,100 option also adds more adjustment options to the seats, as well as massage functionality. This is where AMG’s 53-spec cars shine: They offer plenty of driving fun when called upon, but enough luxury and comfort to keep them from feeling high-strung.
One option on this GLE 53 Coupe test vehicle left me scratching my head, however. The head-up display comes as part of the video-assisted navigation, a $1,450 option. But who still uses the built-in navigation anymore, though? Especially in cars that also have phone app projection? To my still-young eyes, this looks like a technological dead end. Of course, you can order the display on its own for $1,100, but even that still seems steep.
2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe: Overall
As a sporty luxury vehicle, the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 is great. It’s shockingly fun on good roads and can be loaded out with options to most buyers’ satisfaction. It’s also a high-end German car, so naturally it’s quite expensive. Its starting price is $77,495, and our heavily optioned test car had almost $30,000 worth of extra equipment added to the mix, for a final price of $105,324. That’s nothing to sniff at, but we’d wager that this car was equipped as such as a showcase of Mercedes’ complete capabilities, rather than how a buyer might configure one.
As a fashion statement, this car accomplishes the objective of drawing both the attention and the occasional ire of observers on roads and sidewalks. I don’t mind having people look at me in most sports cars or supercars, but I certainly don’t like it when people think I’m a self-centered jerk based solely on what I’m driving. As much as I enjoyed being behind the wheel, I still felt at times like simply driving the GLE 53 Coupe constituted a six-figure middle finger to the less wealthy. Those who are less self-conscious than me, or who simply like the look of the Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe won’t have a hard time enjoying what is otherwise an immensely impressive crossover.
2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe Pros
- Performance that belies its proportions
- Incredibly luxurious when fully optioned
- Mind-boggling amounts of technology
2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe Cons
- The SUV-coupe shape is an acquired taste—or just ugly, depending who you ask
- Gets really expensive with options
- Feels even larger than it looks from the driver’s seat
2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe 4Matic+ Specifications
|PRICE||$77,495 (base)/$105,324 (as tested)|
|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|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD SUV|
|EPA MILEAGE||18/23 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||195.3 x 84.9 x 67.7 in|
|WEIGHT||5,082 lb (est)|
|0-60 MPH||5.2 sec|
|TOP SPEED||155 mph|