Forget “real” in vapory, hyper-strange 2020, the year of virtual education, masked dating and drive-in concerts.
What’s next – digital breathing? Heck, I’m not sure my old Dell even has a key for that.
So, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised when people look at my 2021 AMG GLE 53 Coupe and ask, “Is this really an SUV?” or “Is this really a car?” or more common still, “What is this thing?”
Simply put, kids and critics, the metallic-gray GLE 53 that I had recently is truly a vehicle for our times.
As you have probably noticed, Mercedes-Benz, AMG (AMG is the performance division at Benz) and others now sell tall, kind-of SUV vehicles with thick car-like bodies.
They then blur the lines even more by putting stylish tops on them that slide sleekly down into rounded hatchbacks, qualifying the vehicles, in their eyes, as “coupes.” OK.
The concept behind vehicles like my all-wheel-drive GLE 53 is they can do anything – zip to 60 mph in less than five seconds, slide around corners, carry four people comfortably and go off-road, intentionally.
Those claims are pretty legitimate. Moreover, these sledgehammer “coupes,” while odd, don’t look half-bad – just really different.
The “Coupe,” incidentally, is just one variant of the AMG GLE. You can also get one in a regular SUV body, and both coupe and SUV can be ordered with a bigger, even more powerful turbocharged V-8.
Like most new high-performance AMG vehicles, my mid-size GLE 53 snarled at the world through a broad, blacked-out grille with 14 vertical chrome bars in it that gave it teeth.
Conventional headlamps curved back into fenders with minimal overhang up front, while a raised hood added to the 53’s dense, power-house look.
Also, its muscular, slightly curved sides wore prominent character lines up high and a second line down low that kept the vehicle’s thick body sort of taut.
Meanwhile, huge 21-inch slotted wheels with 275/45 tires up front and 315/40s in back did even more to visually reduce the size of the 5,300-pound vehicle.
Of course, the vehicle’s most distinctive element was its sloped, gracefully curving top that kind of played yin to the bulky body’s yang.
The GLE backs up its heavily styled bark with the bite of a turbocharged 3-liter straight-six engine that is also supercharged and gets a little assist from a 48-volt motor-generator.
The motor-generator provides little bursts of torque between shifts of the 53’s nine-speed automatic, as well as powering an electric supercharger to feed the engine’s boost before the turbo comes alive.
Tune-ups on the $93,000 vehicle should be a real breeze.
But it all works. Although the vehicle’s six-cylinder engine pauses very briefly when you slam the accelerator to the floor, it quickly springs to life with a gruff growl, howling darkly to 60 mph in a muscle-car 4.7 seconds.
The GLE’s acceleration is fierce, its transmission clicking off the sort of quick, positive shifts you typically get in a sports sedan.
With all those extra hands on deck, it also gets 20 miles per gallon overall fuel economy.
What continued to shock me most, though, was the husky trucklet’s tolerance for corners, which it shredded with a bit of body lean (the thing is nearly 68 inches tall, after all) and reassuring balance.
You might like the suspension less on rough roads, though, particularly if you’re expecting champagne luxury. The ride is fidgety and a tad choppy at slower speeds, although not jarring.
Even weirder, the GLE’s steering was sports-car quick and pretty darn precise.
Fortunately, most of the 53’s quirks and inexplicable little twists stayed outside. The lipstick red and black interior in my vehicle felt warmly Mercedes-Benz familiar.
A flat upper dashboard, for instance, eased down to a mid-dash utterly dominated by Benz’s signature side-by-side 12.3-inch digital screens for the instrument panel and infotainment.
The screens look to be set inside black boxes that once contained long-stem roses, and house some of the equipment for Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, as well as safety nannies such as lane-change assist, blind-spot assist, brake and steering assist.
As a Benz, the GLE also was saddled with a miserable touchpad on the console that struggled to easily find anything you’re looking for.
Fortunately, I could fidget in highly supportive sports seats with black bolsters and bright lipstick-red centers, a color theme repeated in the door panels as well.
The vehicle’s slick, sleek top, though, compromised head-room in front and back, and cargo space. In fact, the GLE “Coupe” has five less cubic feet of space than the regular-body GLE.
I actually had to duck down a little to slide into the driver’s seat – an extreme rarity for me.
Being good German transport, my AMG GLE came stuffed with options, including the black-and-red interior ($2,900); a technology package with navigation and head-up display ($1,450); a driver-assistance package with all the safety stuff ($1,950); and an AMG performance exhaust system ($1,250).
Just think of the pricey – and often amazing – AMG GLE as a sort-of SUV wearing the mask of a car, and doing it pretty convincingly.
2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe Review
- What I liked most: The GLE’s fierce physics-defying performance and handling
- What I would change: I would donate the vehicle’s bizarre touchpad to a high-school science class and let them sort it out
- MSRP: Base price, $76,500; as equipped, $93,155
- Official color: Selentio Grey
- Fuel economy: 18 miles per gallon in the city, 23 on the highway and 20 mpg combined with filler on the right
- Odometer reading when tested: 4,523 miles
- Spare tire: Temporary compact
- Weight: 5,322 pounds
- Length-width-height: 195.3 inches long/79.4 inches wide/67.7 inches tall
- Fuel-tank capacity: 22.5 gallons
- Towing capacity: 6,600 pounds
- 2021 AMG GLE 53 Coupe in a few words: A slightly odd, somewhat inefficient vehicle that is a pleasure to drive
- Warranty: Four-year, 50,000-mile overall warranty
- Final assembly location: Vance, Ala.
- Manufacturer’s website: www.mbusa.com
- Up next: 2020 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid