What is it?
People are buying big, fast SUVs – perhaps not in the UK, but in certain parts of the US and also in the Middle East and China, where they are big sellers.
The problem, for people like us at least, is that these SUVs generally deliver a one-dimensional experience. You rarely want to explore their limits and when you do it’s rarely for very long. Is the Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S the car to make us revise that opinion?
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Engine, transmission and 0-60mph time
The now-familiar 5.5-litre twin-turbo AMG V8 is a wondrous thing to massage and orchestrate. Responsive and refined, it’s a sublime engine and utterly dominates this package.
It develops its 577bhp power peak at 5500rpm, and 560lb ft of torque from 1750-5250rpm. The result of all this power and torque is – despite a 2270kg kerb weight – a 0-62mph time of 4.2 seconds (a tenth faster than that claimed of a BMW M4) and a limited top speed of 155mph. Which it reaches very easily indeed.
It’s not pretty, it’s not lithe and it’s not the car in which to arrive at a Friends of the Earth reception, but the GLE63 S is fast.
From a chassis perspective, Mercedes has thrown everything at it. There’s air suspension, continuously variable dampers and springs that lower the ride height as speed increases. There are also adaptive anti-roll bars and ‘Active Curve’, a system that stabilises roll. Bentley is making big noises about the anti-roll system fitted to its new SUV, the Bentayga (see Driven, evo 217), but Mercedes has been pioneering this technology since the F400 Carving Concept of 2001.
Add this suspension technology to a permanent four-wheel-drive system, a torque split that’s 40:60 front to rear (non-AMG GLEs are 50:50), five driving modes (Comfort, Sport, Sport+, Slippery and Individual) plus chunky (and optional) 295/35 R21 tyres all-round and you have a car that is doing everything it can to govern its weight.
What’s it like to drive?
It’s the overall refinement and noise isolation that makes the biggest initial impression, rather than dynamic performance. This GLE is less than two-thirds of the price of the new Bentley, but I’d wager it’s 95 per cent as refined.
When you press on, the GLE’s platform remains stable and consistent, with strong overall grip. Steering feel is minimal, which means low-speed understeer tends to signal its arrival via the greater angle of lock you’re required to apply rather than the messages through the steering wheel.
However, it’s at higher speeds that the chassis systems deliver their best work – as alluded to earlier, this really is an extraordinarily capable motorway machine. Consumption of 9mpg restricts serious ground-covering, but those moments when the Autobahn is empty are genuinely enjoyable (the speed limiter can be increased to 174mph with the AMG Driver’s Package).
And herein lies the problem. The GLE63 S is a quite magnificent high-speed cruiser. But the stability, high driving position, overall grip and sublime engine only truly merge to reveal themselves on very rare occasions, and when you choose to take a path less travelled – a twisty B-road for instance – it takes two corners for you to wish that you were driving an E63 AMG or something with a lower centre of gravity.
Price and rivals
As you might expect of a two-point-something ton SUV wearing the AMG badge and backed up by twin-turbocharged V8 power, the GLE 63 S does not come cheap. Pricing starts at £94,405 – for which you can buy some pretty serious machinery in non-SUV segments.
Big, fast SUVs continue to impress as technological achievements, and none more so than this one. If brutal ground-covering, mild off-roading and serene comfort and refinement are your bag, there are few rivals. However, remove the ability to go off-road and you gain considerable opportunity to exercise the Thrill of Driving with an equivalent performer, such as the E63 S Estate.