There’s excess, and then there’s the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE63 S 4Matic+ – a full-size SUV that quite simply has no right to be as fast and agile as it is in the real world. In either wagon or coupe bodies, if you don't mind. The saying ‘you can have your cake and eat it too’ has never made any sense to me to be honest, but in the case of the GLE63 it seems to be bang on the money.
According to ’Benz Australia, this model is the first locally to pair the 4.0-litre engine with the 48-volt mild hybrid system, and it also gets clever hardware under the skin like active engine mounts. Anything with an AMG badge on it is usually a technological tour de force, and this is no different.
Interestingly, the question about whether anyone ‘needs’ a full-size coupe SUV is something of a moot point. According to Mercedes-AMG, styling is the number-one purchase driver. In other words, the aggressively raked and bulbous coupe body style is the main reason people walk into an AMG showroom and lay down nearly a quarter of a million dollars.
The intended buyer is also apparently interested in technology, drawn to accessories and optional extras, and here’s the most interesting factoid, unlikely to cross-shop the GLE – even with other vehicles in the ’Benz product portfolio.
I’m clearly not the intended buyer, because when it comes to SUV coupes, I find no compelling reason not to just buy the ‘regular’ wagon variant. However, the proliferation of them on the streets of Australia goes to show that I have no sense of style – among other things. Thankfully, though, the wagon is just as potent as we discovered at launch.
Whatever your fancy, though, there’s no doubt this AMG GLE looks tough, fast, aggressive and imposing – which is exactly the point. What surprises most is the way in which you can barrel it into tight corners on a country road. More on that in a minute.
|2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE63 S 4Matic+|
|Engine||4.0-litre twin-turbocharged petrol V8|
|Power and torque||450kW @ 5750–6500rpm, 850Nm @ 2500–4500rpm|
|Drive type||All-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim combined (ADR)||11.5L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||NA|
|Boot volume||942L (Wagon)|
|ANCAP safety rating (year tested)||Five stars (2019)|
|Warranty||5 years/unlimited kilometres|
|Main competitors||BMW X5 M, Porsche Cayenne Turbo S, Audi RS Q8|
|Price as tested (ex on-road costs)||$220,600 (Wagon), $225,500 (Coupe)|
We’ve run a complete pricing and specification guide on the site, so head there for all the details. The quick takeout is a starting price of $220,600 for the wagon and $225,500 for the coupe before on-road costs and options are added to the equation. This SUV isn’t for the faint of wallet, then, but it delivers a sense of exclusivity befitting the price.
The coupe sits on a wheelbase that is 60mm shorter than the wagon equivalent, pulling everything in. It's the variant we spend the most time in at launch. The previous generation shared the same wheelbase, so this coupe is built from the outset to look a certain way and to look different to the wagon. That shorter wheelbase also serves to sharpen up the handling, and there’s a more direct steering ratio as well. The windscreen is raked further back, and the exterior design as a whole looks pretty damn good from any angle.
Inside the cabin, space has grown slightly, with more rear-seat leg room than the outgoing model, more elbow and shoulder room in both front and second rows, the door apertures are wider, and there’s a full-size panoramic roof, which opens up the cabin to so much more light it feels demonstrably bigger.
There’s a commanding view from the driver’s seat, and despite being able to lower the seat down into the cabin, you don’t feel like you’re sitting in something anywhere near as fast as this SUV really is.
Twin 12.3-inch screens are now par for the ’Benz course, and certainly look the part inside the GLE. They are the focal point, but the driver’s gauges are highly configurable to suit your mood, and the cabin has a sporty feel to it that is at odds with the bulky exterior design. Sports SUVs don’t make a lot of sense to plenty of people, but the GLE bucks that trend successfully.
The twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 is a formidable power plant thumping out 450kW at 6500rpm and 850Nm at 2500rpm, and powering the GLE from 0–100km/h in just 3.8 seconds. That there is the real eyebrow raiser – the fact that you can thunder something this big and comfortable into the horizon and past 100km/h that quickly. It’s genuinely impressive engineering.
There’s the ‘EQ Boost 48-Volt ISG’ (Integrated Starter Generator) that adds 16kW/250Nm to the turbocharged petrol engine and sits between the engine and the gearbox. According to ’Benz, it’s the reason you feel such instant throttle response, and also fills torque holes, while delivering fuel-economy gains and assisting cylinder shutdown.
The aforementioned active engine mounts are standard, along with the 48-volt active roll-stabilisation system, in conjunction with the active air suspension. The reason this SUV rockets so hard off the mark is the fully variable all-wheel-drive system, which is aided and abetted by an electronic rear differential.
The coupe isn’t designed first and foremost as a corner-carver by any means, and you shouldn’t go into the drive experience expecting it to be one. There is, however, no doubt that you can pedal it mighty hard before it gets unsettled, and well beyond what our public road network is happy with you doing.
The driving frivolity is accompanied by a mighty soundtrack, too – the thunder and snarling cacophony of a hand-built AMG V8, exactly as we expect. While the 48-volt system doesn’t increase the engine’s output per se, the fact that it’s filling any torque holes or lag that might otherwise be there is noteworthy, and it also plays its part in one of the most seamless stop/start systems I’ve tested.
The nine-speed transmission isn’t tuned for razor-sharp track work, and as such it can occasionally be found out in the wrong gear, but that’s a minor issue that can be avoided by using the paddle shifters for spirited driving.
Like the steering, which is sharper than we expected and direct, the grip on offer is prodigious. The GLE thunders out of corners with a lift of the nose and a squat over the rear tyres, the exhaust echoing off the rock walls around us. The AWD system feels rear-biased on the road, and the LSD at the rear plays a hand in the surety with which the GLE holds the road.
It keeps gathering pace relentlessly, too, until such time as you need to stand on the brake pedal in preparation for the next corner. We worked the brakes pretty hard for sections of our launch drive, and there was never an issue with fade or lack of stopping power.
The active engine mounts make a difference to the way the front of the GLE behaves under load, and the suspension moves nicely through the drive settings, making the chassis more taut as you get sportier. The adaptive dampers sharpen up by 25 per cent in Sport mode and 40 per cent in Sport+ and Race.
The 48-volt active roll stabilisation minimises movement side to side under hard cornering, and the way the GLE stays flat through fast sweepers is impressive. The quality of the ride, even on bumpy B-roads, is likewise noteworthy.
Give or take, it’s two decades since Mercedes-AMG decided to weaponise an SUV, hard to believe as that might be. In that time, just about every manufacturer – luxury or otherwise – has entered the fray. And despite that proliferation, the truest realisation of a muscle SUV might still be the ones from Affalterbach.