In the last few decades, the car world has seen seismic changes in consumer tastes. From the traditional box shape saloons reigning supreme, to the awkward stage of MPVs, and now we’re faced with a sea of SUVs. Everything these days seems to be an SUV/crossover of some flavour and distinguishing your vehicle from not only your competitors, but within your own stable, has become increasingly difficult.
For instance, the Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S on tests costs R2.9 million without options. The Coupe version will set you back another R70 000.For R3.2 million you can jump into the larger GLS 63 and for R100 000 on top of that your bum will be in the seat of a G63.
Now, a R400 000 difference for you and I may seem like quite a lot of money but when we’re talking sums as large as this, it’s a little less significant.
It’s also important to the note that all models mentioned above use the same engine – a 4.0-litre biturbo V8. So, my question is where exactly does the GLE 63 S actually fit in? If we’re looking at size and looks, then sure there’s a notable difference. But when we’re talking performance alone, is there a need for the GLE 63 seeming you’ll get similar performance elsewhere in the range?
The short and sweet of that is yes! In fact, it would probably be the one I’d most recommend to anyone shopping in this segment. Or rather, it’s the one that speaks to me most of all.
You see, the GLS is a larger and heavier vehicle and as such the dynamics are compromised. The sprint time of 4.2 seconds is quite off the GLE’s time of 3.8 seconds even though they produce the same amount of power. Sure, if you need the additional space then the former is the right option, albeit with less gusto.
The G63 might be a cult classic and probably the ‘coolest’ car of the lot but it is the least powerful and has the slowest sprint time of 4.5 seconds. It’s 20kW down in comparison to the other two and has the slowest top speed of 240km/h. So, in essence, the GLE 63 seems to be the true performance bang for your buck in the Mercedes-AMG SUV line-up.
If I do have one reservation about the GLE 63, it’s that it looks a bit demure, particularly in the specification we tested. The Panamericana grille and massive vents are distinctively AMG and assert the domineering presence of the GLE, but it may be mistaken for the lesser 53 variant. While some may appreciate the more reserved exterior, there is an extensive option list where you’re able to build your perfect specification. The 22” cross-spoke alloys are a must for me!
While we’re on the topic of tailoring your GLE, the cabin has a plethora of technology and luxury amenities that you’re able to configure to your exact liking. The MBUX infotainment system that includes two 12.3” screens that span across the dashboard should be familiar to most Mercedes owners, but it is still one of the most standout aspects of this interior. The latest system fitted is easy to navigate and very responsive, while the digital display behind the driver has multiple design configurations and can display any vital information for the driver. Although Mercedes-Benz has introduced a new steering wheel design featured on the latest E-Class, I must admit that I prefer this current design. The touch-sensitive pads are easier to use and the alcantara finish is certainly a nice touch.
On the road, the ride quality is slightly firmer than what I would like it to be, but the saving grace is the 21” rims fitted to our press unit which provide a bit more cushioning. The 22” cross-spoke alloys will result in an even harsher ride. The AMG Active Ride Control air suspension, which is standard on the GLE 63 and an option on the 53, does provide some suppleness over more jarring surfaces but you will feel the harsher imperfections. In saying that, I do feel that competitors like the BMW X5 M Competition ride slightly harder than the GLE 63.
The biggest drawcard of the GLE 63 is its 4.0-litre V8. Generally, that engine is phenomenal with linear power delivery that doesn’t seem to plateau, and a soundtrack like none other. Power on offer is 450kw and 850Nm, plus the addition of AMG’s mild-hybrid EQ Boost assist which provides an additional 16kW and 250Nm temporarily. As mentioned previously, the 100km/h sprint time comes up in a mere 3.8 seconds and at no point did the engine feel like it was waning for power. In fact, I suspect Mercedes-AMG were quite conservative with those sprint time figures. The 9-speed transmission is somewhat lazy in its calibration where it would be slightly sluggish on the downshifts and over eager on the upshifts, particularly when approaching corners. While the changes are crisp and responsive, the calibration needs to be worked on slightly to ensure that you are always in the optimal gear.
When tackling corners, the GLE 63 truly outshines its stablemates and where you notice the advantage of having a stiffer suspension set up. The front-end bites well into the corners and body rolls remains very composed and stable. Compared to the larger GLS 63, you certainly have more confidence in tackling corners as you are able to gauge the heft of the car with better accuracy, meaning you have more ability to take corners at a higher speed.
All-in-all, the GLE 63 S is a highly competent high-performance SUV that, in my opinion, is the pick of the bunch in terms of Mercedes-AMG’s line-up but is also right up there in terms of its competitors. You get the most amount of performance without sacrificing anything in terms of luxury and refinement. You also save yourself a fair amount of money, if that matters to you.