Performance SUVs are the new in-thing for luxury car makers, as buyers flock to high-riding family wagons.
For the mum or dad that likes a more powerful, sporting drive, vehicles like the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE63 S make the switch from a go-fast coupe or sedan that little bit easier.
The AMG GLE63 S is available once more in both standard wagon and more swoopy coupe bodies, both offering more room and pace than their predecessors.
Now on sale in Australia, we attended the local media launch in Victoria to see if the new GLE63 models have what it takes to take the shine from arch rivals in the BMW and Porsche camps.
The 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE63 S is available in both wagon and coupe bodies, with prices starting from $220,600 plus on-road costs for the former, and $222,700 before on-roads for the latter.
In terms of rivals, the BMW X5 M Competition starts at $212,900 list while the related BMW X6 M Competition is priced from $218,900. Porsche also sells the Cayenne Turbo S at $246,000 as a wagon or $259,000 as a coupe.
Audi also has the RSQ8 – which competes with both the five-seat-only GLE63 wagon as well as the style-focused coupe – priced from $208,500 before on-roads. It also lays claim to being the fastest SUV around the Nurburgring Nordschleife.
The GLE63 S comes standard with the following highlights:
- AMG Active Ride Control
- AMG Ride Control + adaptive damping
- 21-inch black alloy wheels
- Nappa leather upholstery
- Nappa leather/Dinamica microfibre-wrapped steering wheel
- Four-zone climate control
- Heated and ventilated front seats
- Power-closing doors
- Panoramic sunroof
- Burmester 13-speaker surround sound system
- Semi-autonomous parking assist
- Adaptive cruise control with stop/go
- Panoramic sunroof
- Ambient lighting
- Head-up display
- Wireless phone charging
- Power tailgate
- Keyless entry and start
The GLE63 S Coupe adds:
- 22-inch alloy wheels
- Energizing Package Plus
- Massaging front seats with heated armrests
While both models are pretty much dressed up to the nines with everything Mercedes-AMG can throw at them, there are a number of cost options mainly in the name of personalisation.
You can add the Energising Package Plus to the wagon for $3900, while both variants can be had with an Interior Carbon Package for $3900/$4200 (wagon/coupe) that brings gloss carbon inlays for the dashboard and steering wheel.
The coupe’s standard 22-inch wheels are a $4600 option on the wagon, and the Innovation Package is $800/$1100 (wagon/coupe). It upgrades the MBUX infotainment to include augmented reality navigation.
A couple of Designo paints are cost options too, costing between $1100 and $1700 depending on model.
The Mercedes-Benz GLE wagon has a five-star ANCAP safety rating based on testing in 2019, though the related GLE Coupe is technically unrated by both ANCAP and Euro NCAP.
The GLE wagon received scores of 91 per cent for adult occupant protection, 92 per cent for children, 78 per cent for vulnerable road users, and 79 per cent for safety assist.
ANCAP’s rating for the GLE wagon applies to all variants.
Standard safety equipment includes:
- Autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian/cyclist detection
- Traffic sign assist
- Lane-keeping assist
- Lane-departure warning
- Lane change assist
- Blind-spot assist
- Adaptive cruise control with stop/go
- Exit warning alert
- Nine airbags, including a driver’s knee airbag
We’re pretty familiar with the GLE’s interior from lesser models, though the AMG 63 pair has a few unique touches that elevate the ambience quite a bit.
The main one is the extended nappa leather upholstery, which means the grainy, cheap-looking fake trim standard in lower GLE variants is replaced with smooth, supple stuff.
It’s more in line with what you expect from Mercedes, and helps take the perception of quality up a notch. The AMG GLE63 S Coupe bolsters this with the standard inclusion of the Energising Package Plus, which adds heating elements for the front armrests, as well as interior air fragrance – all optional on the wagon.
Some of the vehicles at the local media launch also had the interior carbon package, which would be an option box I’d tick for wow factor alone. The carbon inlays for the dashboard, doors and steering wheel feel much more AMG than the standard dark open-pore wood.
Other than that, it’s pretty standard GLE fare. The seats are comfortable, there’s heaps of space for people and their stuff, and the MBUX high-res displays shine as bright as the configurable ambient LED lighting.
It all comes together to make an eye-catching first impression that no doubt has led to many sales. Compared to competitors from Audi, BMW and Porsche, there’s a level of design flair in the cabin that helps Benz stand out.
Ergonomically it’s very Mercedes, in the sense that if you’re familiar with Benz interiors you’ll feel right at home. If you’re coming from another brand, some things like the column shifter and door-mounted seat controls might take a little getting used to.
The MBUX infotainment system likewise can take a bit of time to familiarise yourself with if you’re not a Benz expert, though it’s attractive, fast to respond, and well-featured.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard via USB-C wired connection, and from our time with the launch models as well as previous loans of Mercedes products with MBUX it works fine. We do note it doesn’t take up the whole screen, though.
Moving into the second row, the GLE wagon offers acres of space for adults, and you could get three abreast in decent comfort. The coupe loses a bit of headroom in the back courtesy of that sloping roofline, but that’s par for the course.
Rear-seat amenities include a third and fourth zone of climate controls, additional charge points for mobile devices, as well as a sliding and reclining rear bench.
Unlike other GLE models, the AMG 63 S wagon isn’t available with a seven-seat option. If you want a third row, you need to step up to the AMG GLS63.
Behind that second row of seats, there’s 630L/2030L of cargo capacity in the GLE63 S Wagon and 655L/1790L in the GLE63 S Coupe.
Both versions get a space-saver spare wheel.
The AMG GLE63 S models get the latest version of the company’s 4.0-litre bi-turbo V8 petrol engine featuring 48V mild-hybrid technology, dubbed EQ Boost.
In ‘S’ trim – the only variant available locally – it generates 450kW at 6500rpm and a meaty 850Nm between 2500 and 4500rpm. The MHEV setup can contribute 16kW and 250Nm for short bursts, too.
We quizzed Mercedes-AMG as to whether the EQ Boost system’s outputs can be added onto the V8 engine’s figures, and were told no. The 48V mild-hybrid architecture delivers its power and torque to fill the void between idle and the petrol engine’s torque peak.
Think of it somewhat like a third e-compressor – the Volkswagen Group uses a similar system for the 4.0-litre V8 twin-turbo diesel in the Audi SQ7/SQ8 and Bentley Bentayga.
Cylinder-on-demand technology has the ability to shut off one bank under low engine load, meaning the GLE63 can cruise using just four cylinders.
Drive is channelled via a nine-speed sports automatic transmission to an AMG-tuned variable 4Matic+ all-wheel drive system
AMG claims the GLE63 S can sprint from 0-100km/h in a scorching 3.8 seconds (wagon and coupe), keeping in mind these are 2.5-tonne family buses, and on to a top speed of 280km/h.
We had the pleasure of trialling both the AMG GLE63 S and AMG E53 range through some winding high-speed roads in Northern Victoria, between Tullamarine and Nagambie.
Given the size and weight of both the GLE Wagon and Coupe, I was a little sceptical of the AMG 63 versions’ abilities given I wasn’t blown away by the much more affordable AMG 53 version several months ago.
But wow, was I wrong.
There’s something about that 4.0-litre V8 that doesn’t feel real. It’s so powerful, so responsive, and when coupled with the nine-speed automatic, planting your right foot is addictive.
Both versions certainly feel as quick as their 3.8-second 0-100 claims, though power delivery is so smooth and linear even under full throttle that at times you don’t even realise just how fast you’re going. On Australia’s strictly governed highways, you could get yourself into trouble.
The nine-speed AMG Speedshift auto adds to the drama by really cracking on upshifts. Taking control via the steering-mounted paddles can be a bit of fun too.
Once the roads started to get a little curvy, I was really interested to see how the GLE63 could handle its heft given there were some really tight corners over our launch route.
Even in its sportiest setting, the steering is a little on the lighter side. With that said, the GLE63 in both wagon and coupe forms grips up admirably and is a genuine hoot to blast through a series of bends.
My first stint was in the wagon, wearing smaller 21-inch wheels. The longer wheelbase of the GLE Wagon makes little difference in isolation, though back-to-back with the GLE Coupe demonstrates the changes between body styles.
Piloting the AMG GLE63 S feels a bit like a video game. You’re perched nice and high, the seat super comfortable like your couch at home, and the steering is a little numb.
But, wherever you point said steering wheel – and this ‘older’ generation of AMG steering wheel is a lovely one at that – the GLE just grips up and shoots.
The active anti-roll bars and Airmatic variable air suspension keep the body eerily flat through corners, and changes of direction are dealt with poise and confidence. Very impressive.
My only real gripe is the lack of soundtrack. For a ’63’ model you expect orchestral theatre like the naturally-aspirated AMGs of generations past.
The note from the 4.0-litre bi-turbo sounds a little synthesised – some sound is played through the speakers which is pretty standard these days – and it seemed like the coupe version was a little louder, probably due to the shorter wheelbase and more enclosed rear end.
Hopping into said GLE63 S Coupe over similar roads, the 22-inch wheel/tyre package (featuring Yokohama Advan Sport tyres as opposed to the 21-inch wheel’s Continental rubber) felt a touch more planted and a touch more grippy.
With a shorter wheelbase and slightly lower ground clearance than the wagon (180mm v 188mm), the AMG GLE63 S Coupe is a sharper, more engaging tool, if not by a huge margin.
You can enter a corner with more pace and confidence, and the seemingly endless levels of grip encourage you to press on even more.
Dynamic driving impressions aside, these cars will likely spend minimal time doing these sort of routes or tearing round a circuit. What’s arguably more important is the drivability, comfort, and refinement these vehicles offer everyday.
Our test route took us through the likes of Whittlesea in Victoria’s north, as well as extended stints on country highways with coarse-chip black top.
While Sport and Sport+ settings are surprisingly comfortable – and necessary for the loudest, most raucous exhaust – Comfort is best for everyday commuting.
The pliant air suspension and quiet cabin make these things effortless highway cruisers, and there’s that monstrous torque curve which will effortlessly get you up to speed or overtake slower moving traffic.
Even on liquorice-thin tyres insulation from road noise is good – though more noticeable than GLE models with smaller wheels and thicker sidewalls – and the bi-turbo V8 happily settles into a quiet hum well under 2000rpm in ninth gear.
There’s a real duality to both versions, and it means the everyday driving you’re doing 99 per cent of the time will be done with fine comfort and refinement, and the odd time you blast up a winding mountain road you’re guaranteed to have a stack of fun.
Like the wider Mercedes-Benz line-up, the AMG GLE63 S range is covered by a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty.
Servicing is required every 12 months or 20,000 kilometres. Mercedes offers pre-paid service plans covering three ($3050), four ($4000) and five years ($4550). Buying a package over paying as you go can save you up to $950.
Official fuel consumption figures are rated at 12.4L/100km for the GLE63 S Wagon, and 12.6L/100km for the GLE63 S Coupe.
The launch drive route wasn’t really representative of real-world driving, and included a large portion of dynamic country roads. If you have a heavy right foot – and you’ll be tempted with this much grunt on offer – expect mid- to high-teens.
This latest breed of large luxury performance SUVs are a mind-bending bunch, and the AMG GLE63 S stays true to that.
It’s properly quick in a straight line, and has enough electronic trickery and gadgetry to keep it sorted in the bends far better than it deserves to given its dimensions.
While neither wagon or coupe versions are as dynamically competent as say, an E63 sedan or a C63 Estate, they offer a level of practicality and everyday comfort that passenger cars (and most rivals) simply cannot match.
It’s a shame you can’t get the GLE63 S Wagon with seven seats, because the GLS63 at over 5.0 metres long is just plain silly. But other than that, you won’t have much to complain about if you buy one.
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