THERE WAS a time when the motor industry dealt only in broad, simple genres. Saloon, estate, hatchback — that sort of thing. But then car companies started finding ever more creative ways to smash one category into another to create new markets. I gather the adult film business does much the same.
Which is how we end up with this, the tattooed, mud-wrestling nun of cars. It’s called the Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S 4Matic coupé, which is a complicated name for a complicated car combining the high-riding stance of an SUV with the slant-backed profile of a coupé and the engine of a sports car.
Unsurprisingly for such an unholy cockatrice, the GLE isn’t the most attractive vehicle in the world. The front mostly consists of gaping, mesh-filled holes with visible radiators behind to feed chilled air to the turbocharged engine; the side is slabby and wears an artless pair of rubber-studded running boards; and the back has the awkwardly arched appearance of a squatting dog.
It’s bulky and brutal, the kind of car whose voice-control system you imagine responds only to commands in guttural Russian. It’s a far cry from the sort of delicate and sophisticated machine you expect to see disgorging acting royalty at the Baftas. “Oh, look, a Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S 4Matic coupé. Dame Judi must be here.”
No, it’s a car whose neck is thicker than its head, and its very appearance seems to mirror the kind of person who would own one. It pays for everything from a big roll of cash. It wears jogging bottoms on all occasions. It carries a massive bunch of keys and two mobile phones. It lives in a large new-build house in Hertfordshire yet still keeps certain things in what it refers to as its “lock-up”. Its road rage incident was caught on CCTV. Police are seeking it for help with their inquiries …
“It is so painfully manly that its windscreen washer bottle probably contains Paco Rabanne”
There’s no way around it, this car looks like a wrong ’un. It might play well in certain parts of the world, but in Britain its lumpen bodywork, leering face and darkened alloys just seem crass. Expensively crass, too, since this model costs a snadge under £100,000. That’s a lot of money to look like someone who owns a large number of poorly maintained rental properties.
This price wouldn’t be so bad if the Merc had a point, but while it may be a marvel of porn-style genre-mashing, it’s not clear why. If you want a high-riding car that costs almost £100,000, surely you’d buy a Range Rover. If you want hundreds of horsepower to fly you towards the horizon, Mercedes will sell you its AMG GT sports car for the same money.
When you combine the two ideas, you end up with something that’s less than the sum of those parts. What’s particularly inexplicable is that the GLE takes a practical genre of car and then wilfully erases some of the usefulness, as the steeply canted screen pillars and slanted back create less space and more claustrophobia for your children.
Which gives it an aura of selfishness. You buy one of these and you are loudly saying that you wanted a car of this size, but you didn’t want your kids or your dog to be as comfortable as they could be. And despite the four-wheel-drive system, don’t even think about taking it off road, because although the GLE has a Slippery mode, the low-profile tyres and low-hanging front bumper will cause it to get stuck on anything as high as a raised kerb. So, really, you’re just hauling around extra driveshafts and diffs to add weight and snort down more petrol. Which is, in itself, quite selfish.
This whiff of self-centredness continues when you thumb the starter button and the 5.5-litre V8 ignites with a loud, lumpy, muscle-car roar that will very quickly become unamusing to your neighbours. You’d expect nothing less from a car so fat-fingered and painfully manly that its windscreen washer bottle probably contains Paco Rabanne. “Look at me,” it says. “I can get you a cut-price 98in telly, but when I deliver it to your house, it won’t have a box or instructions.”
“By any yardstick, this is a brisk car. For something the weight of a Victorian orphanage, it’s ridiculous”
Its redeeming feature is that underneath the lumpen skin the GLE boasts some impressive engineering. Take that engine. The start-up histrionics are annoying, but once they’re done, the 577bhp V8 settles down into a deep, rich burr that’s very easy on the ear. At a cruise, you barely hear it at all, but give it a little throttle and you get a bassy rumble that’s potent yet pleasing, like the growl of the MGM lion.
Or you can stick the roto-controller by your left elbow into Sport+ mode, wang up and down the seven-speed auto gearbox on the metal paddles behind the steering wheel and enjoy a series of whomps and bangs that fly in your wake from the four exhausts. You will quickly learn not to try this in a built-up area, first, because it may cause a pensioner to fall into a hedge, and second, because extracting the full whipcrack soundtrack inevitably results in travelling rather quickly. By any yardstick, this is a brisk car. For something the weight of a Victorian orphanage, it’s ridiculous.
You might assume, given its weight and general demeanour, that the brakes are woeful, the handling is lethal and a field of sprouts is now something you’re sliding through. In fact the GLE copes uncannily well with corners.
The bulky Merc darts and dives down winding roads with an agility that seems improbable. It’s not a delicate instrument but neither is it a lead bludgeon. It covers vast swathes of countryside at a remarkable lick, swooping through corners, thundering up straights and leaving slow-moving agricultural vehicles in the fog of its Nascar roar. The brakes are good too, and it achieves remarkable cornering poise without an unpleasantly bumpy ride. You’ll know ruts and divots are down there, but you’ll also know that the suspension is telling them to sod off.
Of course, it remains an unlovely car to look at, its image is too dubious for respectable driveways and it’s not obvious why anyone would need a large coupé capable of putting a Porsche Boxster in a headlock. But that is exactly what makes the GLE so unexpectedly endearing. Its appeal is it’s completely silly. So there you have it: an unsavoury, expensive, pointless conflation the world didn’t ask for and does not need. I liked it very much.
Richard Porter is script editor of The Grand Tour, which begins a new series next month on Amazon Prime
Head to head: Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S coupé vs BMW X6 xDrive50i M Sport
|GLE 63 S coupé
|X6 xDrive50i M Sport
|560 lb ft
|479 lb ft
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