The Mercedes-Benz GLE is a rather late entrant into the space ruled by the BMW X6. With the AMG GLE 63 version, the brand finally has a product that can take the battle to the roads. Automan tests the car in Oman.
It has the profile of a coupé but the wherewithal of an SUV. But more than anything the new GLE has a huge task on its shoulders. For it comes at a time when the brand has been reinventing the way it approaches the SUV segment. Admittedly now part of a cleaner, more logical approach, the GLE is the switchover model from the ML SUV and thus has the ML shaped regular GLE as well as the more visually unique GLE Coupé.
However, that does not immediately mean that the GLE is set out to be an X6 competitor. In the decades-old game that the two German rivals play, their models are set slightly apart so as to address niches that don’t directly compete with each other.
In many ways the GLE Coupé takes that ahead by a stage.
For it comes at launch itself with the full-specced AMG variant and that could almost be the gamechanger that Mercedes-Benz need in this equation.
The AMG variant of the GLE takes the muscular lines of the Coupé and add more sinew in the form of design elements. The front valance looks more aggressive and the use of the chrome inserts against a darkened grille match the signature DRL treatment of the headlamps. AMG call this signature treatment their A-wing, with the fascia being a bit bottom heavy due to the prominence of the A-shape.
For the profile, the swoop of the canopy is placed just right over the rising shoulderline, what this does is accentuate the wedge shape of the form. The doors do look rather metal heavy but avoid getting a slab-sided feel.
The rear of the car actually looks more interesting than the front, with the multiple layers of visual energy descending from the glasshouse to the muscular haunches of the boot area (with taillights that appear to widen the base and add a certain squatness) all the way down to the lower valance and its set of two by two trapezoidal exhaust pipe tips.
In some respects, the rear on view looks like that of a regular S-class coupé.
The interiors are no less radical. The clearly laid out dashboard reflects the modern Stuttgart paradigm. An almost tab like central display hogs the space between the central air vents. Below that is the console that is separated into an infotainment zone and a climate control mode. The controller (with writing recognition and trackpad functions) as well as the ride control switches sit on the transom between the seats allowing for ride height and quality controls as well as the most extensive performance adjustments.
AMG call it their dynamic select dial. You can literally dial in whether you want the car to handle slippery, individual, comfort, sport or sport plus. Once you set it, all the vehicle’s responses change including the way in which it delivers power to the wheels or allows wheelspin. In sport and sport plus, you can feel that the car allows a far greater degree of drift without the engine getting throttled.
Even in something as select as an AMG 63 version, the company offers two engine variants with the standard unit being the 557hp unit with a torque of 700Nm. The S variant ups that just a tad further with 585hp and 760Nm on tap. Both of these variants are built on the mechanicals of the 5.5-litre V8 biturbo unit made by AMG engine specialists who sign off their one-man built engines.
The S variant of the 63 is capable of hitting the standing hundred in 4.2 seconds, with the regular flavour following close on its heels with a 4.3 seconds figure.
The gearbox used is the AMG version of the 7G-tronic box used by the three-pointed star.
You need something as hefty as this box to handle 760Nm of torque. But what this also offers is the M override button that switches the box to full manual control. That means the shift controller will allow the engine to both over-rev as well as get loaded if the driver doesn’t intercede. The M is a true manual control choice – not the M button of its competitor.
As for the regular shift pattern, it is decided by a variety of factors including which drive mode the car is in – lightning fast switches between gear cogs is made possible by the ability to double de-clutch for quick downshifts and the way in which the car allows you to pop up and down using the paddle shift, allowing for quick bursts of activity – and then settling back into an automated shift pattern.
The handling of the SUV could have been a problem with the higher centre of gravity that it carries. You dial in a huge burst of power to the 4Matic system, carry that speed into the corner and you would expect a lot of body roll. But here the engineers have managed to out-guess you. To a certain degree the variable damping control and suspension response already do a lot to offer a stiff, predictable turn phase. And then to add to the fun, active anti-roll bars kick in, using small adjustments to hold the body flatter as you take the curve. It is a sheer joy to use the Sport and Sport plus settings as the air suspension hardens up and the anti-roll bars activate. You would still know that you are sitting with your hip pojnt a few extra centimetres off the ground but most of the lateral forces will be fely by your body directly, not what you glean from the yaw as the car turns.
In terms of speed of response, the car’s air suspension is almost as good as the magnetic fluid based systems used by some brands. The part that gets added in is the ability to vary ride height as well as ride feel. As the car speeds up, it settles down to present a lower profile and CG.
The car sits on proper sports car like wheels. The regular AMG variant gets 21” 10-spoke alloy wheels with tyres of size 285/45 R 21 (front axle) and 325/40 R 21 (rear axle). The S variant gets a blacker look for its wheels to match the shiny black treatment of its A-wing fascia as well as going up by an inch. The wheels are shod with tyres of size 285/40 R 22 (front axle) and 325/35 R 22 (rear axle).
However, for all its performance capabilities, the Mercedes-Benz AMG GLE 63 will sell as much for the interior package as it will for its muscle. Rich leather feel tempered to add a sporty edge, brushed aluminium inserts, leather feel dashboard, a sound system that brings a concert hall level of clarity (you could opt for the B & O Beosound surround sound system or the Harmon Kardon Logic 7 surround sound system depending on how much you want to add to the price) to the interiors and appointments that immediately communicate a real classy ambience are all there.
Driving any AMG car is always an experience and the AMG GLE 63 is no exception. From the moment you switch on the engine and it settles into its characteristic rumble, you know you are about to have fun. The interface allows you to select from a menu of parameters to set an individualised ride mode, but you really don’t need that – for regular riding just leave it on comfort or take sport for all the performance driving you want to do. Sport plus does give you a lot more latitude, but you can find that the immense torque on tap from the biturbo engines can catch you unawares. So we suggest that you leave it for large, open expanses or the racetrack, just so that you can let the car slide around as the torque hits the rear wheels. The natural tendency of the 4Matic system is to apportion power to the front, but Sport plus keeps the transfer at an edgy level.
The speed sensitive steering tightens up brilliantly, allowing you to keep hands on at all times. The paddle shift manual only mode is a rock solid advantage for the car.
We find the AMG GLE to be a true champion model. It is likely to be the SUV model that marks out Mercedes-Benz (of course alongwith the AMG G-class) and helps the brand build the rest of its SUV lineage. The shape is rather incidental to the equation and the only bit that keeps bringing up the X6.
With its combination of sporty, rich interiors, massive power and torque as well as the factory offered image boost of a select (S) option, the mercedes-Benz AMG GLE 63 ticks all the boxes of the affluent buyer and gives the brand a real halo model in the segment.
Now the question to ask yourself really is what other types of luxury cars would you be looking at with the budget of over US $150,000 that you would need to have? It’s either a sports car or the sportiest of SUVs.