Mercedes-AMG GLE63 AMG (2016) Review

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How does the thought of an ultra-premium SUV with supercar-like performance sit with you? The idea should be absurd, but the GLE63 AMG is a very accomplished vehicle that delivers both outrageous acceleration and supreme luxury.

We like: Premium feel, interior space, breathtaking performance, full-house specification

We don’t like: Prodigious thirst, that price doesn't include all the options

Alternatives:

The GLE is the updated version of that perennial favourite of the country club set: the Mercedes-Benz ML. Due to the recent overhaul of the Mercedes-Benz and Mercedes-AMG's naming conventions, the ML name has fallen away and has been replaced by GLE. There’s now a lineup of Mercedes-Benz SUVs arranged in order of size: GLA, GLC, GLC Coupe, GLE, GLE Coupe and the seven-seat GLS will arrive in South Africa before the end of 2016.

The GLE is available with a variety of powerplants, ranging from the sensible, frugal 250d turbodiesel to 4,7-litre V8 turbopetrol in the 500, but the derivative tested here is the AMG version, which is the most powerful version bar the 430 kW GLE63 S. The performance and soundtrack of the GLE63 are extreme by the standards of most premium SUVs, which is probably why the ML63 was such a popular model, both in South Africa and abroad.

Who should consider the Mercedes-AMG GLE63?

For many motorists, the Mercedes-AMG GLE63 is the very embodiment of a performance-oriented Mercedes-Benz SUV. It is for someone who wants the occupant comfort and high-mounted driving position afforded by a high-riding SUV, the confidence of driving one of the most powerful road vehicles on sale, as well as the bragging rights that come part and parcel with the three-pointed star badge. This is a vehicle for someone who wants to flaunt their success and cares little for the rising cost of fuel. Despite the fact that this vehicle is equipped with (4Matic) all-wheel drive, it’s lowered ride height and low-profile tyres make the Benz unsuitable for offroad driving. In other words, it's a dedicated on-road performance machine.

How does it fare in…

…performance and economy?

The GLE63 is powered by a biturbo 5.5-litre V8, which was sourced from the older generation of AMG models. Why no 4.0-litre V8 from the C63, you may ask? Well, the 5.5-litre unit produces more torque, which is quite handy when you consider that the Mercedes-AMG weighs more than two tonnes. The numbers are staggering; 410 kW and 700 Nm. All that twist is sent to all four wheels through a 7G-tronic gearbox and when hooligan (Sport Plus) mode is activated, the 'Benz will hit 100 kph from standstill in a claimed 4.3 seconds. Top speed is limited to 250 kph, but you can opt for the AMG Drivers Package that will extend that theoretical maximum velocity to a heady 280 kph.

The performance of the AMG is, in a word, extreme... it feels incredible for something as hefty as a GLE to travel as fast as it can. Whether it’s from standstill or in-gear, the rate of acceleration is savage when you’re in Sport+ mode. The vehicle is dual-natured in character insofar as you can adjust the power delivery and savagery of the motor to suit a variety of driving conditions. Set it into Comfort mode and there’s only the subtlest of hints of the sheer performance that the Mercedes-AMG can unleash. Switch to Sport+ and those quad exhausts open up to deliver a soundtrack that’s reminiscent of a track-honed race car. In that scenario, each gearshift actuated through inputs to the steering wheel paddles coincide with excessively loud backfires that are guaranteed to make you unpopular with the neighbours. The sound of the engine starting up first thing in the morning is cacophonous; subtlety isn't in the GLE63’s vocabulary.

 

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…ride and refinement?

This machine seems to have been bred to execute rapid overtaking manuoevres. The high seating position means the driver can easily see the road ahead of them, which is vital when travelling at higher speeds, and the braking system is especially efficient at bringing the juggernaut to a halt.

Despite the fitment of large (21-inch) alloy wheels. the GLE63 has an enviable ride/handling balance. By virtue of air suspension with adaptive damping, the ride quality is quite comfortable at urban speeds. That said, when you’re pounding the tarmac in one of the two Sport modes, the car's suspension stiffens up appreciably and the AMG demonstrates sure-footed cornering ability. However, the laws of physics still apply – this is a heavy vehicle. At the handling limit, the car predictably has a tendency understeer and, subjectively, it doesn’t feel quite as involving or as wieldy as its competition from BMW, the X5M.

In terms of interior refinement, the GLE feels well-made and luxurious. Apart from rumbling tyres (and a roaring engine!), the cabin feels well insulated.


Black 21-inch alloy wheels are standard and add to the menacing looks of the GLE63 AMG.

…practicality?

If you want an SUV that can transport more than five occupants, look elsewhere, but consider Mercedes-Benz’s seven-seater GLS is due to arrive in South Africa during the course of 2016. The GLE63's luggage capacity (690 litres) is the biggest when compared with those of its rivals from Munich (BMW X5M) and Stuttgart (Porsche Cayenne Turbo S), and when you fold the second row of seats flat, again you get segment-leading utility space space (2 010 litres).

Rear legroom is particularly impressive: even with four adults in the vehicle, those seated at the back did not feel cramped or uncomfortable. The boot opens at the touch of a button and the vehicle can be locked by a button on the tailgate. This is a convenient feature... unless you’re vertically challenged, that is.


Fit and finish is superb in the tech-laden cabin.

…premium and luxury features?

When you’re paying this much for a vehicle, one would expect it to offer virtually everything in terms of modern conveniences. In that regard, the AMG does not disappoint. The Stuttgart-based company's COMAND infotainment setup, a Harmon Kardon audio system, USB/Bluetooth connectivity, a tyre pressure monitoring system, reverse- and surround view cameras and automatic parking are just some of the standard features that this vehicle comes fitted with.

The GLE's cabin is a comfortable place to be. Despite the interior being subject to a redesign during the switch from ML to GLE, it doesn't seem as stylish nor as plush as those of some of its competitors. The Range Rover Sport and Porsche Cayenne Turbo both feel superior in this regard. That said, the interior rework looks good and the gauges appear to be pinched from a top-spec C-Class. This is probably the last time we’ll see a GLE with analogue dials as the current trend suggests all-digital screens are the way forward.  

Our test unit came equipped with a rear entertainment setup, which comprises a pair of screens mounted on the rears of the front seats and connectivity for video. It's a R32 000 option (at the time of writing). We’d also suggest ticking the box for the Bang & Olufsen audio system.

One of our gripes about this vehicle comes in terms of the safety specification. While the overall safety package is comprehensive, Distronic Plus (radar-guided adaptive cruise control) should be standard when you’re paying this much money for a vehicle.


Note suede inserts on the racy, flat-bottomed steering wheel.

Verdict

The Mercedes-AMG GLE63 is the proverbial hitman in a tailored suit. Capable of delivering devastating straight-line performance accompanied by near-illegal loud exhaust note, it also happens to function as a luxurious and refined premium SUV in equal measure. The technology to muzzle that biturbo motor when you’re cruising to the office on a Monday is clever, but it’s most entertaining to unleash all of the available 410 kW when the road is clear.

As a performance SUV, the AMG offers excellent performance while retaining qualities that buyers in this segment crave most: luxury, refinement and prestige. As ever, prospective buyers are looking for that big sign that reads: "I’ve Arrived"; few cars symbolise that as well as the Mercedes-AMG GLE63.

At this price point it sneaks in under the R2-million mark; the same cannot be said for its rival from Porsche, the Cayenne Turbo S. However the Porsche packs a tad more power and 100 Nm more torque, making it the faster option (if that matters). You’re also paying for the Porsche crest on the nose…

The closest rival to the GLE63 AMG is the BMW X5 M, a devastatingly quick and agile performer. It’s priced similarly to the Mercedes, but is fractionally faster and more involving to drive. The cabin space and luxury appointments of the BMW can't match the Benz's, however. If you want to keep pace with the Porsche and BMW, there’s always an S version of the GLE63 that offers peak power of 430 kW and that sits just under the R2-million mark.

Mercedes-AMG GLE63 price in South Africa

The Mercedes-AMG GLE63 retails for R1 829 700 and that includes a 6-year/100 000 km maintenance plan.

Compare the Mercedes-AMG to the BMW X5M, Range Rover SVR and Porsche Cayenne Turbo S here

Watch a video review of the Mercedes-AMG GLE63 below:

 

Interested in buying a Mercedes-Benz GLE? Search for one on Cars.co.za

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