Glass canopies top the manmade forest rising up from the centre of the city close to the banks of the Tagus River. This is Lisbon-Oriente station, and out of the myriad arches of its treelike steel-roof construction flows a constant stream of people. They’re all heading for the Parque das Nações, the former Expo site in the eastern part of the Portuguese capital. Little more than a decaying section of dockland 20 years ago, this waterside sliver of real estate has since become one of Lisbon’s most desirable districts, replete with postmodern architecture. The new quarter represents the latest chapter in a long history of reconstruction in a city that once ruled over a global empire.
With its eye-catching design, the new Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe slips effortlessly into this ensemble of standout architecture. The GLE, a mixture of sporting coupe and robust SUV, provides a case study on how to constantly develop vehicles and come up with answers to new questions, while at the same time remaining true to the character and values of a brand. Over one hundred years’ experience in building automobiles has given Mercedes-Benz the knowledge of how to blend modern dynamism with the gifts of the past. The first time you set eyes on the GLE Coupe, you are struck immediately by the contrast bound up within its design, the best of two worlds coming together. Up above, the flat roof with its seductive verve reminiscent of a sports coupe; lower down, the solid stance with high ground clearance and the muscular wheel arches of an SUV. The rear end, with hints of the S-Class Coupe about it, offers an understated reminder of its noble bloodline.
Spirit and speed
Of course, this vehicle’s sporty lines would remain little more than window dressing without the inner substance to back them up. In the GLE 450 AMG 4MATIC Coupe, that substance comes in the form of a biturbo V6 engine, 362 hp and torque peaking at 384 lb-ft. The engine’s power is channelled to all four wheels via the 9G-TRONIC nine-speed automatic transmission.
Translated into the language of physics, that means the car delivers the lateral and longitudinal acceleration you’d expect of a genuine sports coupe. And, thanks to the 4MATIC permanent all-wheel-drive system, it maintains outstanding traction at the same time. It doesn’t take long behind the wheel to experience the theory in practice. On the highway running over the Ponte 25 de Abril, one of the world’s largest suspension bridges, a light nudge of the accelerator turns the comfortable long- distance tourer into a hot-heeled bundle of power.
This monumental artery over the Tagus serves up quite wonderful, if fleeting, views over the Lisbon skyline. Before the city is back upon us, there’s one more chance to overtake a column of cars. It’s a level of ambition the GLE Coupe happily indulges. A turn of the DYNAMIC SELECT controller on the centre tunnel is all that’s required to switch from cosseting Comfort mode to dynamic Sport Plus. It’s not only the responses of the engine, Sports Direct-Steer and suspension that change, but also the engine’s soundtrack. From its powerfully composed base tone at 2,500 rpm, the GLE 450 AMG 4MATIC Coupe instigates a snarling crescendo that bubbles up into a full-blooded rumble on kickdown.
The interior is high-class, in the truest sense of the word, and conveys a feeling of safety, comfort and ultimate connectivity. The four-door body certainly obeys the rules of coupe-style sporty lines, but at the same time the world can be observed from a little extra elevation – as in an SUV. The AMG sports seats provide optimum lateral support, even during sharp corners, and the cockpit connects with the outside world in a variety of ways. There’s the digital path via the COMAND Online system integrated into the centre console, complete with info display and touchpad. And there’s the direct route, with the large panoramic glass roof flooding the cabin with Lisbon’s clear light.
That’s another strength of the new model: its ability to adapt to very different driving situations, rising to each task in turn. Inside, you can find the clearest indicators of its M-Class origins. Like the SUV, the GLE Coupe also offers space for up to five people, and the rear seat bench is the widest in its class.
We stop off again at Parque das Nações and its elegant Portuguese pavilion with “floating” concrete cover – architecture made possible by special technology. Here, too, there are parallels with the GLE 450 AMG 4MATIC Coupe.
The car’s unusual construction has been honed by the hand of technology. For example, the centre of gravity of the new Mercedes-Benz is higher than that of a conventional coupe, placing more demands on the suspension. To meet the challenge, the engineers came up with a combination of long-established and fresh-out-of-the-box Mercedes-Benz technologies. The re-tuned AIRMATIC air suspension, the now continuously variable damping system ADS Plus and the ACTIVE CURVE SYSTEM (available as an option) with active roll stabilization are a formula for assured handling in every situation – from relaxed cruises on the highway to adrenaline-pumping excursions over twisty mountain passes.
Few major cities are quicker to make a stranger feel welcome than Lisbon. The locals recognize that successful links between the old and the new represent the keys to the future. The GLE Coupe also brings together tradition and innovation – and prompts the feeling that the new model will grow beyond its current appeal into a classic of tomorrow.