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Merc’s GLE 63 S is the gravel and Grayston AMG

Sloping roofline SUVs. Interesting when viewed in profile, like in this GLE 63, but rather an odd execution of the autobahn capable off-roader theme: sacrificing rear occupant headroom for style.

Even odder is the notion of a four- or five-door configuration classified as coupe. Mercedes remains adamant, since CLS a decade and a half ago, that there is no reason why two-doors a side cannot be classed as coupe. Quite.

We’re supposed to hate on AMGs with sufficient ground clearance to actually go over traffic circles, instead of drift around them. But we don’t. Perhaps it’s the disarming exposure to a decade of Affalterbach Geländenwagens which leaves me so very conflicted about something as far removed from Hans-Werner Aufrecht and Erhard Melcher’s original AMG ideal, as GLE 63 S is.

There is no motorsport heritage here. GLE 63 is not a choice option for that Kyalami or Zwartkops trackday you’ve been planning for a friend’s birthday. It’s too heavy at 2350kg and much of that hovers above GLE’s ground clearance of 200mm: agile, it is not. The amazingly over-engineered 4Matic torque distribution and air-suspension, with all-wheel adaptive damping, are astonishingly adept in countering bodyroll and keeping GLE 63 travelling in somewhat the intended direction, but this is no GT S.

Nor is it a Geländenwagen. Or is it? That’s is the question which vexed me most about GLE 63: boldly styled with purposeful proportions but apparently ill-suited to both track and trail.

Prejudice on appearance is a terrible human weakness. I can never contract with a certain local network provider because its corporate colour is too similar to a certain local football team I dislike. Intensely. To check my prejudice, after commuting in Airmatic comfort almost at odds with GLE’s 22-inch AMG alloys, I did with GLE 63 what Mercedes-Benz believes no owner ever will. I went off-roading.

You’re not supposed to take any AMG that’s not a Geländenwagen to gravel, let alone sand or technical off-roading. The tyres are too compromised. The absence of low-range will cook drivetrain clutches.

There’s a terrific equaliser about GLE 63 in any off-road environment: power. It’s the Lamborghini LM2002 philosophy: add power and eventually you’ll find traction. Those enormous cross-section tyres might have marginal deflation proprieties (40/45 profile 22s) but there’s plenty wide at 285/325 and with 700Nm of rotational force spinning them, GLE 63’s more capable beyond the bitumen than you’d ever believe.

The M157’s nuclear popcorn maker soundtrack adds drama, the TFT instrumentation goes all Apollo 13, flashing every conceivable warning light, and those four enormous contact patches just keep displacing sand. Honestly, if you have a quarrying enterprise and desire an AMG you can actually deduct for tax, GLE 63 is the one: because it mines sand like no other, displacing volumes of the stuff.

After an entire day of trying to get stuck and failing miserably, I was even more at a loss about AMG sloping roofline SUVs. Staggeringly capable everywhere but the track. A very African coupe, then.

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