Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S: The Hulk does the school run

  • Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S 4MATIC+ Coupé (Kraftstoffverbrauch kombiniert 11,5 l/100 km; CO2-Emissionen kombiniert 263 g/km) Exterieur, diamantweiß Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S 4MATIC+ Coupé (Combined fuel consumption 11.5 l/100 km; combined CO2-Emission 263 g/km), Exterieur, diamond White
Date:15 December 2021 Tags:, , , , , , , , ,
/ By Waldo Rendell /

Another ridiculously powerful SUV from AMG

That just about sums it up. The GLE 63 S is another opportunity for the guys at AMG to prove to the world that the most powerful engine in AMG’s locker can be shoehorned into an SUV. And that they do that while ignoring the inconvenient existence of speed limits, poor road conditions, and traffic, all of which have a rather big influence on the way these cars are driven in the real world.

To be honest, I’ve become numb to this constant war of power figures; in 2012 the Mercedes-Benz ML 63 already had around 380 kW and could achieve 0–100 km/h in under five seconds. It was enough even back then, but when today’s rivals, such as the BMW X5 M and Range Rover Sport SVR keep turning the wick up, there’s a temptation and expectation to follow suit.

How does its performance fare in the AMG family?

Remember when C63s, E63s and GTs were AMG’s undisputed halo performance cars? When these held enough clear-cut advantages over their SUV counterparts? Not anymore – those lines have been blurred. The GLE 63 S is only two-tenths slower to 100 km/h than the AMG GT-R, and roars around oblivious to the fact that it’s actually a 2.4 tonne SUV with five doors, and that it’s equipped with driving modes that include ‘trail’ and ‘sand’.

You can keep trying to explain to it that it’s not a sports car, but the GLE 63 S will spend every minute of every day using all of its modes and self-levelling air suspension to convince you otherwise. A few quick facts: 0–100 km/h in 3.8 seconds, and a top speed of 250 km/h with the limiter on, and 280 km/h with it off.

The engine is assisted by Merc’s EQ boost technology to supplement the power delivery with 16 kW and 250 Nm, and keeps the 48 V system – used primarily for the active anti-roll bars – in top shape. When driving at lower rpm, the EQ boost makes it possible for the engine to run on four cylinders for improvements in emissions and fuel consumption.

In theory it’s a great convergence of technologies, but you never truly see or feel the benefits and its involvement is very much overshadowed by that V8.

Surely it doesn’t handle like a sedan?

On a circuit I’d probably agree, but the GLE’s size and weight actually feels like the perfect counterbalance to the engine’s madness. The combination with all-wheel-drive 4MATIC manages to harness all that power, and maybe even subdue it in a pleasant sort of grown-up way. And sitting that little bit higher, when the scenery is rushing at you, certainly does help you to make some quicker and better decisions on busy roads. As fast sedans get more bloated and lose their rear-wheel-drive scariness, the gap to SUVs is actually shrinking. The GLE 63 S never gives you the impression that it’s taken on more power than its brakes or suspension can handle.

Did you try all the driving modes?

Guilty! The GLE 63 S encourages you to prod and play with its bevy of driving modes. However, it’s seldom for longer than a few seconds, after which point your body and brain need to return to a more relaxed state in Comfort mode.

Our set list went in this order: Exhaust, Sport, Sport+, and then, when I spotted a corner that interested me, I switched the nine-speed gearbox over to full manual mode and grabbed the paddles. It has other modes to handle slippery conditions, but if you’re worried about traction, don’t buy a 460 kW V8.

Those mode switches that dangle down by your thumbs aren’t of the same quality as you’ll find elsewhere in the cabin, and that’s a pity, because you use them rather often. But they are very effective at toggling between settings without you having to take your eyes off the road.

I expected Sport+ to be demanding and fidgety on normal roads, but our test car was fitted with tyres with higher sidewall that absorbed a lot of the initial impact before letting the suspension soak up the rest. Ultimately, despite their supercar outputs, these are intended to be used as family vehicles… It seems that Mercedes-AMG has finally listened, backed-off, and tweaked each one to deliver balanced, all-round enjoyment.

Two screens in a digital world

Interior designers are getting lazy, it has to be said. Sure, the dual widescreens look mighty impressive when they’re on, but slapping two tablet screens above the air vents doesn’t immerse you in digital environment that has been promised by dozens of concept cars. It very much feels as if this is the last step before level-four autonomous driving cars, and seats that face backwards, become a reality.

For their purpose of displaying as many things as possible, and making it equally accessible for driver and passenger, it works brilliantly. However we’re a little disappointed that the ‘Hey Mercedes’ voice-command hasn’t matured beyond some crowd-pleasing performances such as opening the sunroof or setting the temperature.

Despite wearing AMGs ultimate performance badge, life inside the GLE 63 is all about being pampered and ensuring that you’re never left wanting more. There are massage seats, heated seats, cooled seats, adjustable rear seats, and autonomous abilities that I’m quite sure are ready to relieve the driver’s concentration for periods longer than 30 seconds, if only the rules would allow.

There is one more alternative in the GLE family

If you’re going to spend 90 per cent of the time in the GLE 63’s comfort setting there’s a strong argument for the significantly cheaper GLE 53 AMG. It allows you to get closer to its performance ceiling around town – with less whiplash – accompanied by a velvety soundtrack from that 3.0-litre straight six that burbles and fizzes delightfully in sport mode. Besides packing the same dazzling array of technology and interior quality, it costs a million rand less too. Perhaps it’s time to rethink those extra two cylinders…

FIGURES

Vehicle: Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S
Engine: 4.0-litre, 8-cylinder bi-turbo petrol
Power: 466 kW
Torque: 850 Nm
Transmission: Nine-speed auto
Ground clearance: Air suspension – adjustable
Price: R2 994 806 (without options)
Likes
Composed ride in Comfort and Sport
Driving position
Quick customisation and shortcuts
Dislikes
Price
Fuel consumption around town

amg.mercedes-benz.co.za

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Photography: Courtesy images
This is exclusively an online article, which did not feature in the print edition of Popular Mechanics.

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