The latest Mercedes-Benz GLE has been something of a runaway success for the three-pointed star, at least in Australia.
Sales have ballooned by almost 380 per cent year-to-date, and that was before the AMG-branded performance models went on sale.
Enter the Mercedes-AMG GLE53 4Matic+, the turbocharged inline-six halfway house between the ‘standard’ Benz-badged GLE range and the full-fat GLE63 S with its twin-turbo V8 that’s due later this year.
Prices start from a not-insignificant $166,700 before on-road costs – that’s $5000 more than an SQ7 and a hefty $11,000 more than an X5 M50i xDrive (not the Pure, the proper one).
That’s also nearly $50,000 more than what you’ll pay for a Mercedes-Benz GLE450, which essentially runs a lower-output version of the mildly-electrified 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged inline six in this GLE53. We’ll touch more on the powertrain in a bit.
But for some perspective, you could essentially get a GLE450 and an A-Class for the price of this GLE53, which is a substantial amount of money.
Our tester was also specified with the AMG Active Ride Control system, bringing 48V electromechanical anti-roll bars on the front and rear axles to reduce body lean in the bends, for $5700 extra.
So all up, the vehicle you’re looking at here asks for $172,400 plus on-road costs – which with the requisite on-road costs, will be nudging $200,000 on the road.
Thankfully, for that hefty price tag you get a hefty level of kit.
Equipment highlights include a model-specific styling package, incorporating a ‘Panamericana’ front grille and a prominent rear diffuser with four sexy rounded tailpipes hooked up to an active sports exhaust, 21-inch alloy wheels shod in sticky Michelin Pilot Sport 4 performance tyres, uprated 440mm perforated front and 345mm ventilated rear brake discs, AMG Ride Control+ adaptive air suspension, and Multibeam LED headlights with adaptive high beam assist.
Inside you’ll find niceties like nappa and suede-trimmed AMG seats, a lovely AMG Performance steering wheel, illuminated door sills, a panoramic sunroof, wireless phone charging, electric front seats with heating, cooling and memory, as well as a head-up display, a 13-speaker Burmester premium sound system, and a panoramic electric glass sunroof.
But wait, there’s more. Other features include a dual 12.3-inch MBUX and driver’s instrument display which include additional AMG menus and displays compared to the standard GLE, 64-colour LED ambient interior lighting, DAB+ digital radio, wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, along with Mercedes Me connected services including remote functions (start, unlock etc.) and a vehicle locator.
Rounding out the spec sheet is a full suite of semi-autonomous technologies and driver assistance systems, including adaptive cruise control with stop/go, lane change assist, traffic sign recognition, blind-spot and rear cross-traffic assists, a 360-degree camera system, tyre-pressure monitoring, and all-speed autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection.
Plenty of things are still relegated to the options list, however. Want a red/black interior colourway instead of the all black cabin you see here? That’ll be $500. Need to carry seven? That’s another $3900.
Climate control for the rear seats is another $1450, while sexy carbon-fibre trim inlays like the press shots will set you back $3900.
Premium paint finishes other than the solid white (tested) or black finishes can cost between $2100 and $3300 depending on what you get, power soft-close doors are an additional $1200, and larger 22-inch AMG cross-spoke alloys ask for $4600.
We’re still not done yet. The cool augmented reality navigation system forms part of the $800 Innovation Package, while climatised ‘multicontour’ front seats, air freshener and a heated armrest make up the $6200 Energising Package Plus.
Rounding out the options list are a $5900 rear entertainment system with two screens and a TV receiver, and a tow bar pack which asks for $1900 and allows the GLE53 to haul up to 2700kg (braked).
Fully optioned you’ll be paying over $200,000 which is even more than the outgoing GLE63 S ($195,029).
The new GLE has been given a five-star safety rating with 2019 date stamp, courtesy of ANCAP and Euro NCAP.
While the rating technically applies to “all variants” of the GLE, the ANCAP scorecard only lists core models – i.e. GLE300d, GLE450 and GLE400d – but not the AMG models.
Regardless, the body structure and safety systems are all pretty much the same, so with that in mind the GLE scored 91 per cent for adult occupant protection, 92 per cent for child occupants, 78 per cent for vulnerable road users, and 79 per cent for safety assist.
Some feedback from the crash-testing firms included marginal driver chest protection in the oblique pole test, and marginal neck protection for a 10-year old child in the frontal offset test.
Performance of the lane-keep assist system was also rated marginal, while the AEB system was rated weak for detecting a child pedestrian running across the road at night.
Dual frontal, side chest-protecting airbags for front and second row outboard positions, side head-protecting airbags (curtains) for the front, second and optional third rows, and a driver knee airbag are standard.
Autonomous emergency braking (city, interurban, vulnerable road user) as well as lane-keeping assist with lane departure warning and blind-spot monitoring are also standard fit.
The current set of Mercedes-Benz and Mercedes-AMG models do a great job of grabbing your attention with interior presentation, and the GLE53 is no different.
As soon as you hop in, you’re greeted by the beautiful AMG Performance steering wheel in perforated nappa leather (a personal highlight of mine), and the prominent dual-screen infotainment and driver’s instrument unit running the brand’s latest MBUX online infotainment interface.
Every surface for the middle and high tiers of the cabin are soft-touch, predominantly trimmed in ‘Artico’ leatherette material and accented with splashes of chrome and the anthracite open-pore oak wood trim you see here.
However, with the exception of steering wheel as well as the flashes of smoother leather and suede on the seats and console, there’s little differentiating the GLE53 from the non-AMG models in this standard specification.
We recently had a GLE450 through the CarExpert garage, and you’d be hard-pressed to see where the extra $50,000 has gone in the interior in terms of trims and finishes.
To really up the ambience you need to pay a little more for the red/black leather interior with red stitching ($500) and an eye-watering $3900 for the gloss carbon-fibre inlays that were shown in the press images.
Minor complaints aside, the GLE’s cabin is still a nice place to sit. There’s plenty of space up front and in the rear for adults, giving you a real feel of airiness and spaciousness no matter which seat you occupy.
Our tester wasn’t optioned with seven seats, but our recent experience with the GLE450 tells us they’re fine for kids but not quite there for average to larger adults, despite Mercedes-Benz claiming they’ll be comfortable for adults up to 180cm in height.
Front occupants get full electric adjustment, heating and cooling, as well as memory functions, while the steering wheel also features electric adjustment as standard.
The MBUX infotainment system is pretty easy to use for basic functions but those who really want to use all aspects of it will need to take time to learn the different menus, and we didn’t find it to be quite as user-friendly as BMW’s iDrive interface.
We did appreciate the increased levels of customisation compared to its Bavarian counterparts, however, with numerous displays available for the instrument cluster – including the AMG-specific ‘Supersport’ central dial and F1-style rev-counter – as well as the various themes available for the infotainment system’s colour scheme and the array of ambient lighting colours and ‘atmospheres’ which change as you drive.
Moving to the second row, there’s good head- and legroom for taller adults, even with the standard panoramic roof. There’s a decent amount of storage, with large door bins and a fold-down centre armrest with cupholders, though weirdly you still have to pay extra for rear climate control. There’s simple vents for rear passengers, but no separate temperature controls. C’mon Mercedes…
Having the five-seat format also means the second row is manually adjustable not electric like seven-seat models – which can be either a pro or con depending on your preference – but behind that second row is a cavernous luggage area.
There’s a decent 630L with all five seats in use, expanding to 2055L with them folded flat. While not as capacious on paper as an Audi SQ7 with five seats in place (705L), the Mercedes fares better than the Audi (1890L) with the second row folded. Under the boot floor is a temporary saver spare wheel.
Power in the GLE53 comes from an uprated version of the 3.0-litre twin-turbo inline six – one conventional turbo teamed with an electric compressor – with ‘EQ Boost’ 48-volt mild-hybrid tech from the non-AMG GLE450.
Outputs have been bumped up to 320kW of power at 6100rpm, and 520Nm of torque between 1800 and 5800rpm. That’s up from the GLE450’s already decent 270kW and 500Nm.
The 48V electric starter-generator can assist with an additional 16kW and 250Nm over short bursts.
Drive is sent to a performance-tuned 4Matic+ all-wheel drive system via an AMG-fettled nine-speed automatic transmission with steering-mounted paddle shifters.
In terms of performance, Mercedes-AMG claims a brisk 5.3-second sprint from 0-100km/h, on its way to an electronically-limited top speed of 250km/h. Not like the latter really matters in Australia, but it’s a nice figure to know.
By comparison, the BMW X5 M50i is about a second quicker to triple figures with its twin-turbo V8, and the Audi SQ7’s twin-turbo V8 diesel with electric compressor hauls the seven-seat SUV to 100km/h around half a second quicker than the Mercedes.
As for fuel consumption, the GLE53 claims to use just 9.4L/100km on the combined cycle, no doubt helped by the 48V mild-hybrid system’s ability to engage idle stop/start tech at around 20km/h, as well as turn off the engine while coasting under low engine load.
I’ll be honest from the outset, I had high hopes coming in. This is the first Mercedes-Benz review I’ve done, and the first Mercedes-AMG I’ve ever driven.
Fire up the GLE53 on a cold start and the twin-turbo straight six roars to life through the adaptive exhaust, especially if you flick the exhaust button into ‘Powerful’ mode or the drive selector into Sport+.
The engine in general sounds glorious, upholding Mercedes-AMG’s reputation for great exhaust notes, and really gives a sporting feel across all driving conditions.
While a wonderful vocalist, the AMG GLE53 presents a mixed bag in terms of the drive experience.
As an AMG-branded model you’d almost expect monstrous acceleration as a minimum, regardless of the ’53’ badge as opposed to a full-blown ’63’, but the GLE doesn’t quite give that sensation.
The GLE53 leans towards long-distance comfort rather than corner carving ability, which makes it a great highway tourer
There’s no question a 5.3-second sprint to triple figures for a 2.5-tonne luxury SUV is a decent effort, but the GLE53 doesn’t quite have the enthusiasm or theatre some of its rivals have, and in my view it’s down to the torque figure.
With 520Nm on tap from 1800-5800rpm and an additional 250Nm from the EQ Boost mild-hybrid system over short period, the GLE is down by almost 400Nm on the SQ7’s V8 diesel and 230Nm down on the X5 M50i’s twin-turbo V8 in normal driving.
How that translates to normal people’s terms is the GLE can feel a little lacking on low-down shove considering the size and weight of the vehicle, and means it doesn’t quite feel as effortless in normal driving as you might expect from a Mercedes wearing the AMG badge.
Under heavy throttle the big Benz gets moving with gusto, and that singing inline-six brings a smile to your face as the revs climb and the nine-speed auto pops as it shuffles up the ratios.
We did find the nine-speed auto can occasionally be clumsy at lower speeds, feeling a little jerky when launching and shifting from first into second, despite not being a dual-clutch transmission.
Speaking of clumsy, the GLE can be a pain to drive in carparks and narrow streets, down to its rather hefty proportions. Even with surround cameras and a decent glasshouse, parking was a challenge because of its massive width.
I think it’d be a similar experience for owners smaller in stature than six-foot-one-ish me, and with less confidence in their parking and manoeuvring abilities.
That said, the GLE53 is beautifully isolated from most lumps and bumps in the road and well insulated from road and wind noise at speed, making it a quick and capable long-distance tourer despite the huge 21-inch wheels and performance tyres.
It certainly feels more of a GT than a proper ‘sports’ SUV. You can’t defy physics and hide that 2.5-tonne heft even with the electro-mechanical anti-roll bars, so if you’re wanting the sharpest and nimblest performance SUV on sale, you’re better off heading to a Porsche or BMW showroom.
Steering feel is really dependent on the drive mode selected. It’s really light in Comfort mode and more weighty in Sport and Sport+, and feedback through the rack can be a little vague in its comfort setting.
For those who like a little bit of everything or have particular tastes, the ‘Individual’ mode allows you to tailor the various aspects of the GLE including suspension, steering and powertrain feel to your liking, meaning you can have a stronger powertrain response mated to comfort steering and a powerful exhaust note.
The Mercedes-AMG GLE53 is covered by the company’s new five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty with five years of complimentary roadside assistance.
As for servicing and maintenance, the GLE53 can be had with a prepaid service plan spanning between three and five years, costing $2800 for three years, $3800 for four, and $5200 for five.
Scheduled maintenance is required every 12 months or 25,000 kilometres, whichever comes first. If you cover a lot of miles annually the long service intervals are certainly attractive.
The GLE53 also has a thirst for 98RON premium unleaded, which can become an expensive habit given the GLE has a pretty large 80L fuel tank.
I can really see why people are flocking to Mercedes-Benz showrooms these days. The cars look good, are loaded with tech and features, and drive quite nicely regardless of the model you choose (for the most part).
With Australia being one of the largest global markets for AMG product, the GLE53 makes perfect sense – it has the right badge, it’s an SUV which is in line with buyer tastes, it drives well and has stacks of space.
That said, viewing the GLE53 from a broader perspective, there are better products out there for similar if not less money.
A BMW X5 M50i has brutal power and a nicer cabin for some $10,000 less, and the Audi SQ7 has a more classic approach to cabin technology with a quicker, more efficient V8 turbo-diesel and the versatility of standard third-row seating, again for less money.
It’s also worth noting you can have a GLE450 and a base model A-Class for about the same money as one GLE53, with the former not really lacking in the performance or load-lugging departments.
What the AMG GLE53 does offer, however, is the allure of that three-pointed star on the nose, the famed AMG badge on its rump, bold and imposing design, a beautiful six-cylinder exhaust note, and a warranty program unmatched by competitors.