Driven - Apr 2021

It’s an AMG Onslaught!

Mercedes-Benz South Africa debuted their new range of AMG SUVs and we attended the local launch to bring you more.

By now I’m sure you’ve all heard the news that Mercedes-AMG will introduce a 2.0-litre hybrid engine into their historically bonkers, V8-powered C 63. And while many may have been left dumbstruck at the death of an engine that has become so endearing to the brand, the times are indeed changing. While we’re at it, here’s another healthy dose of a reality check: that engine will probably at some stage filter into the remaining AMG cars and before you know it, goodbye V8.   

But the purpose of this review is not to instill a morbid outlook on the future, but a gentle reminder that if you want an AMG with a V8 engine then best you snap one up quickly.

Which neatly brings me onto the range of cars that we had at our disposal last week when Mercedes-Benz South Africa hosted us at their Advanced Drivers Academy at Zwartkops Raceway.

Mercedes-AMG GLS 63 4MATIC+

First things first, this is a very, very large car. Just over 1.8m tall and under 2.0m wide. In comparison to the recently launched EQS with its near-perfect drag coefficient, the GLS is the aerodynamic equivalent of a 5-bedroom house. So, it’s even more surprising to note that the GLS can sprint to 100km/h in just a mere 4.2 seconds! There’s a remarkable 450kW and 850Nm on tap from its 4.0-litre V8 with a soundtrack that is distinctively AMG. It’s wonderful!

Our route involved a mixture of mountain passes, highway cruising and a final bashing around Gerotek testing facility near Hartebeesport. No matter the road, speed or driving mode you’re in, the GLS 63 remains impeccably comfortable and effortlessly quick. Air suspension with special spring/damper set-up and adaptive adjustable damping all contribute towards a very special drive.

Around the high-speed bowl at Gerotek, I was able to push the car to a maximum speed of 220km/h before I realized I am not Max Verstappen and my talent will eventually run out. Even then, the GLS 63 never felt spooked by the conditions and behaved exactly as you would expect from any other AMG.

It’s a fantastic balance of luxury and performance but that does come with a hefty price tag. You’ll need to part with just short of R3.2 million to get into one and the options list is exorbitant. Oh, and if you want the Monoblock rims as pictured above, you will have to part with an additional R80 000. Although it received a mixed reaction from local media, I think it will work well with Mercedes-Benz’s clientele.

Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S SUV/Coupe

The fourth generation GLE made its debut back in 2019 and remained one of Mercedes best-selling models. Although, it is interesting to note that global sales figures from Q1 of 2021 reported that BMW outsold Mercedes-Benz by 45 000 units, with the former reaching 636 606, while the latter came in with 590 999 units.

So then, apples for apples, is the GLE 63 short in terms of power to chief rival BMW and their X5 M Competition? Well, no. The BMW produces 460kW and 750Nm while the Mercedes, fitted with the same engine as the GLS 63, produces a mighty 450kW and 850Nm, plus an additional 16kW and 250Nm provided through electrical assistance that can be used temporarily.

The 9-speed transmission, which is also fitted to the GLS, made easy work of rapid shifts during our time at Gerotek where we were able test the cars acceleration. 100km/h comes up in 3.8 seconds, so it surprisingly made easy work of the heftier GLS in the drag races.

In terms of pricing, the standard GLE 63 S retails for R2 885 000 while the coupe variant is slightly more expensive at R2 948 000. BMW retails their X5 M Competition for slightly cheaper, give or take R50 000, which when you’re spending this amount of money is irrelevant. So, which one should you pick? Well, that’s entirely up to you but if we’re talking just Mercedes, the Coupe is certainly the head turner out of the lot and that’s where I would spend my hypothetical money.

Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 S SUV/Coupe

Not all models that we tested at the local launch were fitted with the 4.0-litre V8. The 53 models are fitted with a 3.0-litre six-cylinder in-line engine that again is aided by electrical assistance. Power figures are healthy at 320kW and 520Nm plus an additional 16kW and 250Nm is available from the batteries and alternators fitted.

For the average man or woman, those figures are more than sufficient and it’s only when you pit the 53 variants against the more powerful 63’s, do you really notice a power deficit. But in saying that, a 0-100km/h sprint time of 5.3 seconds is still commendable and it’s worth noting that in all instances that I was in or against a 53 model, it was the quickest off the line, until the inevitable power advantage of the V8 comes into play.

The GLE 53 manages to strike a comfortable balance of everyday liveability with exhilarating performance. Pricing for the standard GLE 53 is R1 837 000 while the Coupe will set you back R1 925 000. So, that’s roughly a R1 million saving over the more powerful 63 model but you are not being short-changed. Regardless of the model, the 53 variants are often the sweet spot in the range and in my opinion, it’s the same case here.

You can’t reasonably use all that power, all the time. In fact, there are very few instances where you would need the additional power of the V8. And dare I say it, Mercedes-Benz currently makes a better 3.0 inline six cylinder than BMW. I’ll probably be shot at dawn for uttering this but it is all in the name of good journalism!

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