2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE53 Coupe first drive review: A familiar formula
The GLE53 Coupe takes an already-great mild-hybrid powertrain and shrouds it in a stylish wrapper.
Andrew KrokReviews Editor / Cars
Cars are Andrew's jam, as is strawberry. After spending years as a regular ol' car fanatic, he started working his way through the echelons of the automotive industry, starting out as social-media director of a small European-focused garage outside of Chicago. From there, he moved to the editorial side, penning several written features in Total 911 Magazine before becoming a full-time auto writer, first for a local Chicago outlet and then for CNET Cars.
Mercedes-AMG produces some seriously potent powertrains, and the automaker does its best to shove every possible combination of engine and vehicle together across the lineup. The latest AMG to hit the scene, the 2021 GLE53 Coupe, smashes together a posh silhouette and a peppy mild-hybrid getup to great effect.
Electricity isn't just for making you feel warm and fuzzy about your car's ecological footprint, and Mercedes-AMG has known that for some time. Its 53-badged powertrain takes a 48-volt mild-hybrid system and uses it to fill in performance (and efficiency) gaps left by the plenty-powerful-on-its-own combustion engine.
The GLE53 Coupe sports the same getup as every other AMG 53 on the market. Under the hood is a 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-6 producing 429 horsepower and 384 pound-feet of torque. That's complemented with an electric motor sandwiched between the engine and transmission that generates an additional 21 hp and 184 lb-ft as the situation demands.
It's not a traditional hybrid in that fuel thrift isn't the prime directive, although it's definitely a happy side effect. And it doesn't take more than a few turns in the mountains leading from Innsbruck, Austria, to the remote mountain town of Hochgurgl to realize this. Almost immediately, the electric motor's usefulness is on display, adding silent torque to the equation at any speed.
2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE53 Coupe offers electrified fashion
Starting from a stop, the GLE53 Coupe can shove along with even more authority, but it really comes in handy as I climb higher toward Hochgurgl. There are times when the car's nine-speed automatic transmission should hunt for a lower gear, but it doesn't need to, because the electric motor provides enough motive force on its own to push the car through a corner. In more traditional situations, such as jamming the throttle to execute a pass on the autobahn, both sides of the powertrain blend together completely seamlessly. The only way you'll know the system's at work is the small power delivery meter in the bottom, right-hand corner of the gauge cluster.
While it might lack the outright agility of 53 models planted closer to terra firma, like the E53 or the GT53, the GLE53 Coupe is still plenty sprightly on curvy mountain roads. The standard air suspension system isn't as cushy as it is in less powerful applications, trading a bit of comfort for some additional mid-turn stability, and while it can be adjusted through various vehicle modes, I find its most comfortable setting more than sufficient for having a bit of fun. The steering, on the other hand, feels a little light in Comfort mode, but in sportier settings it feels mighty nice.
A good bit of my time with the GLE53 Coupe is spent on snow and ice. The first trick the car has up its sleeve is a set of Pirelli Scorpion winter tires, which cut through the white stuff with ease. On top of that, the GLE53 has a Slippery mode that softens throttle inputs and focuses on keeping the car tracking straight, something it does unflappably. The GLE53 Coupe is not a small or light car, but the vehicle never feels like an overwhelming pile of momentum when traction becomes sporadic.
Few fashion faults
Don't @ me with the argument that coupe-over body styles are without fault, because they are. But that doesn't mean all swoopy-roof utility vehicles are equally compromised. The GLE-Class Coupe isn't as bad off as other similarly styled SUVs. Does the fastback-ish shape eat into rearward visibility? Yes, but in the GLE53 Coupe, it's really not that bad; I'm never left wanting to see more of what's behind me. Besides, the side mirrors are pretty large, and general visibility is actually pretty decent.
The GLE53's cargo capacity is similarly solid. The trunk is still mighty deep, and folding rear seats mean you can jam golf clubs, suitcases or groceries back there with room to spare in most cases. If you simply must make the rearview mirror useless by filling the trunk to the ceiling, get the standard SUV version.
The rest of the interior is pretty spacious. Even in the rear seat, my head never brushes the headliner, and my six-foot frame also finds a suitable amount of legroom no matter the driver's height. Like other GLE-Class variants, there are loads of places to hide things, from the ample door-panel cutouts to the center armrest cubby that can accommodate most of what's in my pockets.
Am I the biggest fan of this body style? No, but I think the GLE53 Coupe is still pretty attractive, especially with AMG-specific touches like the grille, larger air inlets on the bumper and the quadruple round tailpipes out back. 21-inch wheels are standard, which are on the large side, but something tells me people in this buying segment won't notice the higher tire cost that comes with dubs and up.
MBUX on display
Since the GLE-Class is still brand spankin' new, it's no surprise that it carries the latest in-car tech that Mercedes has on offer. The GLE53 Coupe packs a pair of 12.3-inch screens, one acting as the gauge cluster and the other acting as the home for MBUX, the automaker's newest infotainment system.
MBUX is good in every car, and it's no different here. Whether I'm using the touchscreen, the thumbpad on the right side of the steering wheel or the touchpad on the center console, the system is responsive enough to minimize distraction (although asking your copilot to handle the screen is really the smartest idea). The navigation system lays its information out cleanly, and the search function is a one-stop shop for putting in known addresses or point-of-information queries like "coffee." The digital voice assistant is a little eager, popping into the conversation (and muting the music) with just about every iteration of the word "Mercedes," but otherwise, MBUX is a very useful tool for not relying on hands at all.
The gauge cluster's display can show just about everything that the MBUX screen can, whether it's a massive map for turn-by-turn directions or just a readout of what's playing on the radio. All those data points can be displayed in a few different ways, as there are a couple of layouts to swap through, though I find the classic dial-style readouts to be the easiest for parsing information in a hurry.
My GLE53 Coupe tester houses a number of safety systems, including the usual automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring and lane-departure warning. The adaptive cruise control can cover most speeds, but I never use it, in part because this car is just so darn fun to chuck around, and in part because using cruise control on mountain passes full of tight switchbacks is... not the best idea.
Down to brass tacks
Since Audi continues to buck trends and shy away from offering coupe-over variants for every single SUV it builds, the GLE53 Coupe's primary competitor is the BMW X6 M50i, the latest iteration of which I drove and enjoyed just a month or two ago -- when the Audi RS Q8 comes out, that'll be more of a GLE63 competitor. If you prefer your performance to come from the engine alone, that V8-toting ute will be more your speed, but if you enjoy the feeling that comes from torque that can fly in like Superman and save the day at a moment's notice, the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE53 Coupe makes for a very rewarding drive.
Editors' note: Travel costs related to this story were covered by the manufacturer, which is common in the auto industry. The judgments and opinions of Roadshow's staff are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.