When future generations study this time in automotive history, and note our infatuation with high-output SUVs that consume fossil fuels like Henry VIII would a buffet, I hope they do so knowing that we had a hell of a lot of fun in the process.
Big engines, big power, big noise and big price tags – these are not the cars that will adorn the quinoa paved highways of our green and silent eco-destiny. So we might as well enjoy them now.
The 2016 Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S, or more likely just ‘figure 1a’ to our forward selves, is a textbook example of the breed and an illustration of everything that is right with being so very wrong.
To call it out early on, this is not a sensible car. At $189,900 (before options and on road costs), the GLE 63 S costs the same as a GLE250 and GLE350 – combined. It’s a C-Class more than even the $127,900 GLE500.
The fundamental package is the same, the fundamental underpinnings are the same. The boot isn’t bigger, the navigation system shows the same map, even your keys look identical on the table at the coffee shop (well, almost – the AMG has an optional clip-on ‘Affalterbach’ cover to replace the Mercedes-Benz one).
Sure it has a more aggressive AMG body kit with a pedestrian-eating maw at the front and quad exhausts at the back, but why would you make such an irresponsible decision and choose the GLE 63 S?
Quite simply because it has more power than the 250 and 350 – combined. A staggering 30 percent more. In fact the 63 has the same output as the GLE500 and the C200 'you could also buy', if they were strapped together.
The 5.5-litre twin-turbocharged V8 pushes 430kW and 760Nm through all-four wheels. Mercedes claims this is good enough for a 4.2-second blast to 100km/h and a low-12-second quarter-mile sprint.
You don’t need to channel Domenic Torreto every drive though, staying true to its core as a luxury SUV, the GLE 63 can potter around town with the best of them. When you need to boogie though, the 63 has your back.
Hooning the hot-rod wagon in urban areas isn’t quite a ‘nail it and hang on’ process. You gently squeeze the throttle and the GLE rapidly picks up pace. It’s a funny thing too, as you’ll sense you are ‘potentially’ speeding, but note the throttle isn’t quite to the floor. Press harder, go faster. Press harder still, go faster still – loads of fun every time.
The 760Nm of torque is available from 1750rpm to 5250rpm – so basically, always. It means there is rarely a time you will find the big Benz not reacting immediately to your request to be somewhere else.
And if the big numbers aren’t enough, the 63 knows how to seal the deal with a bang. Or more accurately a bang, bang, gurgle, bang, pop, snarl… bang.
Set the GLE into Sport-plus mode and it is like New Year's Eve every day as the shock-and-awe commotion from the quad-tip exhaust explodes on up-shifts and over-run. It’s not subtle either, bangs and pops echo off houses and cars everywhere you go.
One run through heavy traffic prompted another driver to ask at the lights, “what have you done to your car and how can I do it to mine?!”.
Setting the GLE to manual-shift mode essentially creates a fireworks factory on demand. Change up – bang. Change down – bang bang. A word of advice though, keep shenanigans to second and third gear only, as the change up from first comes on so rapidly you are more likely to feel the power-cutting limiter than a sonic boom – and no one looks cool doing that.
Once you are done impressing (annoying) the neighbours, switch everything back to comfort and the GLE becomes just another face in the SUV crowd, with just a omnipresent rumble to remind you that hilarity is just a switch away.
About this point in a normal review we would discuss fuel consumption and economy targets. The GLE 63 S is a special case though, as the fuel use comes down more to a lifestyle choice than an engineering one.
As a baseline, you need to factor that the 63 uses twice the fuel as its more responsible diesel stablemates. If a GLE250 averages 6L/100km on a journey, the 63 S will use 12L. It costs double to buy so it’s only fair it costs double to run, right?
But dialling up more fun, which means more smiles and a better outlook on life is directly proportional to the amount of fuel consumed.
Had a crappy day? Cheer yourself up at 24L/100km on the way home. Already relaxed on a Sunday? Saunter around at a mere 14L. Simple!
Plus it helps build community spirit as you spend more time getting to know the staff at your local service station.
The sportier performance requires sportier handling, and the Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 has received a number of chassis upgrades over the previous ML 63 generation.
The car runs on Mercedes AIRMATIC suspension and includes the Active Curve Function that seeks to reduce the sensation of rolling in corners.
It is clever, but perhaps better suited to lower-riding sports coupes, as the GLE feels quite top heavy when pushed through tighter bends. The leather trimmed, flat-bottomed steering wheel feels great to hold and turn-in is light and accurate. There is an unwavering sense of stability and security in the way the car grips, but just make sure any loose objects (like pets, children and luggage) are secured before riding all 575-horses through the bends.
Whether it is driver conditioning that doesn’t quite gel with the unnatural anti-roll function, or the car is simply tilting too much, the Active Curve may improve point-to-point mathematical performance, but it doesn’t feel totally right.
Around town, in its stiffest setting, the GLE is certainly firm but not jarring or crashy. This setting keeps the car at the lowest of its three ride heights too.
Using the driver preference settings though, you can configure an individual mode that offers the more compliant (but still firm-ish) comfort suspension as well as the angriest performance and gearbox modes. If you could automatically trigger the driver’s seat massage with this setting, Mercedes-Benz should just call it Dad-mode.
Being the top of the range, the GLE 63 S doesn’t miss out on anything. All of the options are personalisation packages and enhancements to already standard equipment. Our test car was almost ‘stock-standard’; the panoramic sunroof, Nappa leather, massage seats and TV tuner are all included.
The paint is Designo Diamond White Bright ($1,100 option) and one of 11 choices in the palette. Metallics are a no-cost selection, only the Designo white and Hyacinth Red attract a premium.
The cool G-Force meter graphics and styled performance displays are other nice touches that keep the GLE feeling more sporting and premium even when you aren’t rocketing madly about.
As we noted at the launch of the GLE range, the main facia has been largely carried over from the ML-Class and even with the integration of the COMMAND controller and screen it does feel a bit dated. It all works well enough, but compared to what we’ve seen on the new E-Class, it is a generation behind.
One of the GLE’s most impressive features only comes out at night – the adaptive LED headlamps are amazing to watch in action as they adjust the beam spread and pattern to suit the driving conditions.
The car can ‘read’ road signs and pushes light out to the left to ensure you don’t miss anything. Other traffic is simply ‘blocked’ from the light spread, with a clear hole of blackness visible in the otherwise burning bright.
Plus the Mercedes-Benz logo puddle lamps never get old.
Seats and materials are great, as you would expect, and it is a terrifically comfortable family hauler. The flip-base rear bench that facilitates a flat load floor is a bit low-rent, but in this car, who really cares.
The double-stitched door trims, rear air-conditioning control and richly carpeted 690-litre boot lining are further touches that add a special and luxurious nature to the the AMG GLE.
All this kit is available on ‘lesser’ GLE models, but there is something about the burbling, white, 2,390kg lump that is the GLE 63 that makes it more complete.
It’s cheaper than a $250,540 E63 sedan but it still costs a bundle for an SUV. When using even a modicum of common sense the $62,000 gap to the GLE500 is not something easily rationalised... but I’ll try.
The sheer hilarious fun of the power and noise that the GLE 63 S produces makes you literally laugh out loud. Around town, I’d go as far as to say it is more fun than the heroic C63 S saloon. Break that $62k premium down into a $400 life-coach session per week, and you’ve got yourself at least three-years of being a happier, more positive you.
It’s so good, the price premium should be treated as a tax-deductible donation to a positive-living charity.
The 2016 Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S is not a car that many of us will own. Instead, it is a car to live through vicariously. When you see one, or more importantly, hear one, be sure to check out the grin on the driver’s face and remember this time as a golden age of stupidly powerful cars that are stupidly fun, and practical to boot.
Click on the Photos tab for more 2016 Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S images by Tom Fraser.