By Laura Burstein
In a misty morning in the Smoky Mountains just outside of Knoxville, Tenn., I push the pedal to the floor of the all-new Mercedes-Benz GLE450 AMG Coupe. Spiderwebs, covered with morning dew, tremble on the wire cattle fences that we pass en route to one of the country’s premier driving roads.
The GLE Coupe models, which also include the higher-performance and higher-priced AMG GLE63 S (starting at about $109,000), are mash-ups of a midsized SUV and a four-door coupe. The GLE450 AMG Coupe, which starts at $65,100, is one of the first offerings in a new model line from Mercedes-Benz called AMG Sport. In terms of price and performance, the vehicles are positioned between the standard Mercedes-Benz lineup and the top-of-the-line AMG variants. In addition to the GLE450 AMG Coupe, Mercedes-Benz is initially offering an AMG Sport version of the C-Class sedan, the C450 AMG, at a base price of about $51,000. Eventually there will be an AMG Sport variant for nearly every model.
The GLE450 AMG Coupe is powered by a 3-liter V-6 biturbo engine that produces 362 hp and 384 ft lbs of torque. The company’s 4Matic all-wheel drive comes standard. A recommended option is the $2,900 Active Curve System, which counters a vehicle’s tendency to roll during cornering. It demonstrates its value once we reach the section of Highway 129 known as the Tail of the Dragon, an 11-mile stretch packed with 318 corners. The system keeps the GLE stable through the many twists and turns and enables it to maintain pace with the sports cars sharing the road with us.
With sport seats and a leather-wrapped sport steering wheel, the cockpit of the GLE450 AMG Coupe feels more like that of a sports car, and it provides a commanding view of the road that enables me to see past the trio of slow-cruising Harley-Davidsons that we overtake on a sweeping corner. The test-drive vehicle, which is priced at $88,000, includes, among other options, napa leather and carbon-fiber trim, and the seats are equipped with the massage feature that originated with the S-Class sedan. The vehicle doesn’t include the optional Bang & Olufsen sound system, but Johnny Cash and June Carter sound good enough on the standard Harman Kardon Logic 7 setup for me to accompany them on a couple songs.
The GLE450 AMG Coupe is an oddity. It may, as Mercedes-Benz says, have “the beautiful styling of a coupe and the utility of an SUV,” but it is not as stylish as a coupe or as versatile as a full-size SUV. However, it is capable of rattling spiders and conquering a dragon.
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