For those seeking a near-perfect blend of high performance, luxury and practicality from a full-sized luxury SUV, Mercedes-AMG's potent throng of high-riding premium SUVs are sure to grab your attention. We headed to Gauteng to experience the newcomers in the metal...
The Zwartkops Raceway in Gauteng is the local home of AMG and this is where Mercedes-Benz South Africa introduced its high-performance AMG SUVs to local media this week. The newcomers include the new Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 4Matic and Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S 4Matic (both offered in SUV and Coupe form) and the larger, 7-seater Mercedes-AMG GLS 63 4Matic.
Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S arrives in SA
The range-topping AMG GLE 63 S has now arrived in SA to take on the BMW X5/X6 M Competition.
The current iteration of the GLE was launched in South Africa in August 2019 and at the time, the Sindelfingen-based brand's Premium SUV drew praise by virtue of its more spacious cabin, technology enhancements and improved engines. The AMG variants, however, have been absent, leaving rivalling products such as the BMW X5/X6 M Competition to get a jump in the local market.
Now though, the 'bahn-storming GLE 63 S has arrived to settle some scores and we can't wait to pit the brutes in this segment (including the Range Rover Sport SVR) against one another in a good old fashioned drag race to see which luxury juggernaut brings more clout to the tar!
While the GLE 63 S is sure to steal much of the spotlight, the AMG GLE 53 should not be overlooked and, for those looking to show the world how deep their pockets are, there's the GLS 63, of course...
As you would expect of SUVs of this calibre (and this price point, to be blunt), kerb appeal is as-near-as-dammit guaranteed, no matter which model you choose. The large AMG-specific grille is superbly striking and some buyers will be pleased to know that a range of optional Monoblock wheels, which add some bling appeal to the overall look, is also available. As always, buyers can literally go to town on the vast selection of options that are available, but be warned, a cascade of ticks on the ol' option sheet will result in a very expensive purchase, but certainly a strikingly finished one...
Let's take a quick look at some of the key numbers for these new powerful SUVs...
Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S brings big engine outputs
The GLS 63 adopts the same powertrain as the GLE 63 S, but comes in 7-seater configuration as standard...
South African buyers are quite partial to the most powerful models available and, as such, only the range-topping S versions of the Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 and GLE 63 Coupe are offered in our market.
The pair is powered by a bi-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 petrol engine that's supported, for the first time, by an integrated EQ Boost starter-alternator, which provides an additional 16 kW and 250 Nm when required and supplements the 48V electrical system. Cylinder deactivation is employed between 1 000 and 3 250 rpm (when the "63" is driven in Comfort mode) to further improve efficiency.
As a result, the AMG GLE 63 S 4Matic delivers no less than 450 kW and 850 Nm, plus those lofty outputs are very competitive compared with what's offered by the 460 kW/750 Nm BMW X5- and X6 M Competition models. The AMG GLS 63 4Matic, meanwhile, employs the same powertrain and, therefore, produces identical peak numbers.
With variable all-wheel-drive capability and a quick-shifting 9-speed automatic transmission, the GLE 63 S is claimed to accelerate from 0 to 100 kph in just 3.8 sec with a top speed of 280 kph, which is mightily impressive for an SUV that weighs nearly 2.5 tonnes. The heavier GLS is said to achieve the same feat in 4.2 sec with a top speed of 250 kph, which is equally impressive.
However, for buyers who can't quite stretch their budgets to buy an AMG GLE 63 S or GLS 63, the AMG GLE 53 4Matic serves up a fair whack of performance from its twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre 6-cylinder petrol engine (with 320 kW and 550 Nm on offer), which is also supported by a 48V mild-hybrid electrical system. In conjunction with a 9-speed automatic transmission and variable all-wheel drive, the AMG GLE 53 reportedly manages a not-too-shabby claimed 0-to-100 kph sprint time of 5.3 sec and a top speed of 250 kph.
The GLE 53 is the more affordable performance GLE on offer but it still delivers notable performance.
Impressive numbers make for good reading, but performance on the road is another story. Our launch route (towards Magaliesberg) started behind the wheel of the Mercedes-AMG GLE 53.
The "baby AMG's" lavish sport seats hugged me tightly and Benz's now-familiar – but hugely impressive – widescreen cockpit with the much-praised MBUX operating system adds the necessary drama to the newcomer's interior. Plus, the AMG sports steering wheel puts access to all the infotainment and vehicle functions at your fingertips. The driver's display is configurable with various themes to suit the driver's particular preference and all vital information is shown clearly. Mercedes-AMG has seemingly got the interior of the GLE 53 (and indeed those of the GLE 63 and GLS 63) right on the money!
The drive-select dial mounted on the steering wheel gives the driver quick access to the driving modes and I was eager to dial the 53 into its most aggressive settings. I flicked through the various modes including Individual, Comfort, Sport and Sport+. Predictably, I settled for the latter! You can also set the suspension to prioritise comfort or opt for firmer, sportier settings to match the driving conditions. Lastly, you can heighten the exhaust note at the push of a button on the steering wheel; you have a choice between "balanced" and "powerful". "Powerful" is good...
The driver is treated to the very best luxury and comfort features. The perfect place to exploit the performance of the GLE 63 S.
Benz avails the AMG Ride Control air suspension and Adaptive Damping System (ADS) on the GLE 53/63 S and GLS 63. In addition to Comfort, Sport and Sport+, the suspension can be set for off-road use with the Trail and Sand modes. In Sport and Sport+ the car is lowered by some 15 mm and when additional ground clearance is needed, the vehicle’s ride height can be raised by up to 55 mm.
On the road, the AMG GLE 53 delivered a comfortable ride overall, even in its sportiest settings. It delivers its performance in an impressively refined manner. In fact, it’s so refined, that you hardly feel the pace piling on under full throttle. A major highlight of the AMG GLE 53 is indeed its vocal exhaust system. As you lift off the throttle, the exhaust releases a series of delightfully rorty pops and bangs.
As for the 9-speed automatic transmission, we found it to be quick- and slick-shifting. The GLE 53 produced more gutsy performance than I expected, but then I stepped into the potent GLE 63 S…
The GLE 63 S is, by comparison, an utter sledgehammer! Again, I wasted no time in dialling the 63 into its most potent state. With an open stretch of road ahead of me, I unleashed the full might of the GLE 63 S' twin-turbo V8 and the Teutonic behemoth positively rocketed towards the horizon. The acceleration on offer in this GLE 63 S is far more engaging and intense compared to the more demure GLE 53.
I did notice, however, that while the GLE 63 S’ exhaust note has a "racy" artificial note to it, it’s not nearly as vocal as the GLE 53. Nonetheless, it still sounds suitably sonorous! By virtue of being the ultimate AMG model in the range, the GLE 63 S has a Race mode; when selected, it primes the 'Benz to repel almost any peer that’s brave enough to take it on. It must be said, however, that the range-topper's suspension is firm (even in its mildest settings). While it’s not an issue on smooth roads, the ride does become jarring as the surface deteriorates or when you traverse potholes or ruts in the road.
How about a drag race?
In Race mode, the Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S delivers ballistic off-the-line performance...
The launch took us to the Gerotek testing facility near Pretoria, which is also the venue where #CarsAwards testing takes place every year. Here we had the opportunity to safely drive on the high-speed oval at over 200 kph, but we also had the opportunity to pit the new Mercedes-AMG SUVs against each other in drag-race shootouts!
For the first drag race, I was keen to drive the "Big Daddy" GLS 63 at full bore, but I was up against the GLE 63 S. To reiterate, the SUVs have the same outputs, but the GLS weighs almost 200 kg more! Despite this setback, I was determined to give it my best shot! Off the line, the 2 SUVs were neck-and-neck, but the GLE 63 S had the upper hand and won convincingly over the 400-metre stretch.
I hopped into the GLE 63 S and winded it up against the same GLS 63. With Race mode engaged, the GLE 63 S hunkered down and then offloaded its ballistic acceleration, leaving the GLS 63 in its dust.
As for the GLE 53, as expected, it ultimately succumbed to the might of the GLE 63 S but surprisingly, it wasn’t that far off the pace...
I was keen to go all out in the GLE 53 against one of the V8 brutes. The GLS 63 stepped up to the plate…
The GLE 53 weighs roughly 2 300 kg, while the GLS is about 230 kg heavier, but the GLS 63 has significantly more power and torque on tap than the "Baby AMG". Off the line, the GLE 53 managed to get a significant jump on the GLS 63 and only when I was about halfway through the run, did the GLS start to reel me in. The latter took the lead in only the last 20 metres of the race.
For me, that result was illuminating. It ultimately raises a few questions regarding the balance between price and performance...
The coupe version of the GLE 63 S won't be to everyone's taste, but its performance is indisputable.
Of all the SUVs on display at the local launch, the GLE 63 S was undoubtedly the show-stopper, but I think the real star was, in fact, the GLE 53!
Yes, sure, it’s not as, um, well endowed as the V8-powered GLE 63 S, but it manages to offer convincing performance for substantially less money – that fact is difficult to ignore.
From a monetary perspective, the price difference between the GLE 53 Coupe (R1 851 280) and the GLE 63 S (R2 907 440) is nearly R1.1-million, which is significant and, the price gap to the GLS 63 (R3 178 120) is even bigger (at in excess of R1.3-million), yet the GLE 53 offers about 70% of the performance!
As for pricing, the GLE 63 S twins' price tags are well-matched with those of the BMW X5- and X6 M Competition, while the 423 kW/700 Nm Range Rover Sport SVR retails from R2 654 862.
As for the Mercedes-AMG GLE 53, it rivals the 390 kW/750 Nm BMW M50i (priced at R1 781 884), but is woefully outgunned on paper. Even the slightly smaller Jaguar F-Pace SVR, which offers significant outputs of 405 kW and 700 Nm, is priced from R1 860 540.
With the above in mind, you may need to ask yourself where your allegiances lie? What would you buy?
We will hopefully have these new AMG SUV models on test soon, so look out for thorough evaluations in the near future.
How much does the Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S 4Matic Cost in South Africa?
Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S 4Matic - R2 907 440
Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S 4Matic Coupe - R2 970 920
How much does the Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 4Matic Cost in SA?
Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 4Matic - R1 851 280
Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 4Matic - R1 939 040
How much does the Mercedes-AMG GLS 63 cost in South Africa
Mercedes-AMG GLS 63 4Matic - R3 178 120
A 2-year/unlimited km warranty and a 5-year/100 000km maintenance plan is included.