Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 SUV is softly, softly stonking fast
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- Epic mild-hybrid powertrain
- Clever chassis technology
- Looks pretty sexy for a big SUV
- Might not be the AMG you were expecting
- Too much bling in cabin
- Expensive even before you talk options
To many, Mercedes-AMG means sound, fury and extreme speed; especially the “sound” bit. That’s fair comment when it comes to many of the brand’s instantly iconic V8 models like the C 63 S and GT coupe, or even the new A 45 S – which is still raucous and unhinged, despite its diminutive size and four-cylinder engine.
But that doesn’t mean Mercedes-AMG is rigid about old-school values. Or shock value.
Case in point is the new GLE 53, which is representative of a new generation of kinder, gentler AMG stuff.
It’s an SUV of course, which is very 2020. But it’s also powered by a new straight-six engine with an EQ Boost “mild hybrid” 48-volt power system, which does everything from taking care of engine starts (and stop-starts), to powering an electrically driven supercharger that fills in the blanks when the two conventional turbochargers aren’t quite on song.
It’s the same powertrain we’ve already seen in the GLE’s sedan equivalent, the E 53. But it’s even handier in a big SUV, because the 48-volt setup is also grunty enough to power the optional $5700 AMG Active Ride Control system, with electromechanical actuators on the front and rear axles that virtually eliminate body roll in fast cornering, but also ensure a cushy ride when required.
“Kind” and “gentle” is relative. As it stands, the 53 is still the quickest and most aggressive GLE you can buy: 320kW/520Nm, 0-100km/h in 5.3 seconds and a subtle-but-menacing style – especially if it’s riding on the optional 22-inch wheels ($4600) of our test car.
The EQ Boost system is primarily about effortless performance, but it does allow the GLE 53 to offer pretty respectable fuel economy given the sheer go, with a Combined figure of 9.4l/100km.
A straight six engine with boost coming from multiple devices sounds pretty cool on paper. It sounds pretty good on the road as well, although it’s definitely a more sophisticated, less invasive soundtrack than your typical AMG V8 stuff. It’s more an urgent gurgle, turning into opera-quality high notes as you press on. It impresses the auditory senses more than it stirs the loins.
But all of that EQ Boost stuff results in an engine with an epic mid-range. It’s enough to make even the most fervent petrolhead think that the future of performance cars lies in collaboration of technologies rather than mere combustion. The 53 is quick in a very clever way.
The same goes for the chassis, which is noticeably more deft than your standard GLE. It simply shrugs off max-attack cornering, with the active suspension stiffening up to no-roll mode in less than the blink of an eye. Literally.
There’s plenty of AMG enhancement in the cabin, although I think I might be alone in finding the current Mercedes-Benz interior ethos a bit much. It’s undeniably impressive, especially if you like to programme in your own lighting colour combinations. But there’s sufficient overall bling to make you start thinking about a simpler time, and some of the “wow” factor is a bit staged.
Mercedes is fond of talking about its “widescreen” high-res virtual dashboard for example, but it’s actually just two screens joined together (with separate displays); the design novelty is simply in not having a traditional cowl to set them apart. The instrument cluster is AMG-specific, by the way.
No faulting the excessively high quality of everything you can see and touch, though. The driving position strikes the right balance between SUV height and performance-vehicle supportiveness; let’s not forget that the GLE is still a truly large family-sized vehicle, even if the superb sense of styling proportion disguises it from the outside.
You could argue that given the GLE 53’s performance focus, the shorter, wider, low-roof coupe version that’s on the way makes more sense. But when do SUV-coupes ever make sense?
The 53 is the thinking person’s AMG GLE. If you’re worried that it poses a threat to the brand’s current obsession with V8 power – it does, but not in the short term.
Because there’s more AMG madness to come: the new GLE 63 S will pack 450kW/850Nm, with 0-100km/h in just 3.8 seconds from its thunderous biturbo V8 – which, interestingly, also now features some EQ Boost technology. What blend of bytes and brutality it offers remains to be seen.
MERCEDES-AMG GLE 53
ENGINE: 3.0-litre biturbo six with EQ Boost mild hybrid system
GEARBOX: 9-speed automatic, AWD
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