Mercedes-Benz put its new GLE crossover model in the hands of its AMG division, resulting in a high-performance 577-horsepower big bad wolf.
DETROIT -- Mercedes-Benz's creation of its Mercedes-AMG brand last year, and the introduction of the new GLE-class SUV-coupe thing fused at the Detroit auto show with the 2016 Mercedes-AMG GLE63 S Coupe. That mouthful of a name refers to a large 577-horsepower beast that should handle like a quick canid.
The new GLE-class follows a vehicle format set by BMW with its X6, an SUV raked at the rear to resemble a coupe. And following the performance version benchmarked by the BMW X6 M, the GLE-class model modified by Mercedes-Benz's AMG division gets a powerful engine and refined running gear.
The example Mercedes-Benz had on the stage during the Detroit auto show looked imposing in white with black trim, its huge grille fronting the hand-built mill under the hood. Unlike BMW's X6, which shares many design characteristics with the X5, the GLE has no direct ancestor in the Mercedes-Benz lineup. Its long hood ends at a windshield flowing up to the glass roof. Body color roof supports run like rails in an arch from hood down to the taillights.
As with other AMG cars, the engine bears a stamped plate showing the name of the engineer who built it. Also like other recent AMG cars, the "63" refers to a 5.5-liter V-8 direct injection engine with twin turbochargers. In this application, it produces 577 horsepower and 561 pound-feet of torque, enough to get the GLE63 S Coupe to 62 mph (100 kph) in 4.2 seconds.
Power goes to all wheels in a 40:60 front-rear default split with Mercedes-Benz's 4Matic all-wheel-drive system. AMG provides the seven-speed SpeedShift Plus 7G-Tronic transmission, offering both automatic and manual modes. If its anything like the transmissions in other AMG cars, it will shift faster than anyone could manage with a manual.
A dial lets you select between Slippery, Individual, Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus driving modes, each affecting transmission, accelerator response and traction control program.
Those modes also affect the active suspension, which consists of adjustable dampers and air cushioning. Mercedes-Benz's new technology, Active Curve System, uses the dampers to keep the car flat and stable during heavy cornering, ensuring that all four tires maintain maximum contact with the pavement.
Adorning the center dashboard, an LCD shows Mercedes-Benz's standard cabin tech features, including navigation, digital audio and hands-free phone system. Mercedes-Benz also integrates apps into its cabin electronics, taking advantage of the car's own 3G data connection. However, if the GLE63 S Coupe uses the same system as its siblings, that connection will come online too slowly to be useful.
Mercedes-Benz GLE-class would seem to be a less practical version of a proper SUV, and therefore not a sales success. Yet BMW has already proven there are sales to be had with its X6, which now gets competition for potential buyers who find the conventional SUV body too boring.
Coming from Mercedes-Benz, the GLE-class is likely to be a comfortable ride with quality cabin amenities. Add the AMG contribution to get the 2016 Mercedes-AMG GLE63 S Coupe, and you should be looking at a powerful yet capable vehicle with nimble handling. Pricing hasn't been stated yet, but this AMG version will probably top $100,000.