by Jared Rosenholtz
Americans have now become used to the midsize Mercedes SUV being called the GLE, but while the second edition of this nameplate was all-new for last year, the AMG division has finally got its grubby little paws on the crossover, resulting in this, the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE63. Only available in GLE63 S guise for the US market, AMG is gunning directly at the Audi RS Q8, BMW X5 M, and Porsche Cayenne Turbo with its own super-fast mid-size SUV.
As with most AMG models, power comes from a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 engine, producing 603 horsepower and 627 lb-ft of torque in this application. A new mild-hybrid EQ Boost system adds an additional 21 hp and 184 lb-ft while helping to smooth out the car's stop/start system and improving response times. We adored the non-AMG GLE when we reviewed it around one year ago, and in AMG form, the SUV seems to be even more mesmerizing.
Following on from the release of the new-generation GLE-Class, the fire-breathing AMG GLE63 S takes its place at the top of the range. Whereas the previous generation of the GLE63 was available in both 63 and more powerful 63 S form, the new one arrives only in 63 S guise and produces a phenomenal 603 horsepower and 627 lb-ft of torque. These outputs are made possible by a 4.0-liter bi-turbo V8 engine, and, for the first time with this engine, it's supplemented by an EQ Boost starter-generator which adds another 21 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque. The GLE63 S also benefits from the more muscular styling of the latest GLE range, enhanced here by standard 21-inch AMG wheels and the characteristic vertical-bar grille. Inside, exclusive Nappa leather upholstery and the upgraded Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX) system provide all the luxury and innovative tech features expected of a high-end SUV.
|AMG GLE 63 S 4MATIC SUV||
4.0-liter Twin-Turbo V8 Hybrid
The GLE63 strikes a good balance between luxury and sport, with just enough changes to remind you that this is an AMG such as the 21-inch alloy wheels, the Panamericana grille, and AMG-specific front/rear aprons. Aggressive black air intakes, a chrome front splitter, power bulges on the hood, and a new rear bumper with a diffuser work well to give this AMG more attitude. Higher up at the back, you'll find a rear spoiler. Of course, the quad exhaust outlets are there, too, though they actually hide the real tips behind the bumper. Whether it's more fashionable than BMW and Porsche rivals will come down to individual taste, but most Mercedes fans should be happy with the final product.
The GLE is marginally longer and wider than the BMW X5. It measures 195 inches in length, 79.4 inches wide excluding the side mirrors, and 70.2 inches in height. It rides on a 117.9-inch wheelbase. If you plan on chasing a Land Rover through the woods, note that the GLE63 S has a ground clearance of 7.5 inches. At the time of writing, Mercedes hadn't yet revealed the AMG's curb weight, but considering that the GLE 450 already weighs 5,115 pounds, expect the 63 to be even heavier than this.
While the interior allows you to choose from 64 different shades of ambient lighting, selecting a color for the exterior of the new AMG GLE63 S is a bit easier as there are just 11 options. The most eye-catching hues are Lunar Blue metallic, Brilliant Blue metallic, and designo Cardinal Red metallic (an extra $360). Customers wanting to go for a more low-key appearance can opt for Black, Polar White, and a range of metallics like Obsidian Black, Iridium Silver, Mojave Silver, Emerald Green, Selenite Grey, and designo Diamond White ($795). The available AMG Night Package at $750 adds darker exterior trim such as black chrome tailpipes and black roof rails.
Even if the outgoing GLE63 S fell flat in some aspects, being fast was always non-negotiable. Well, consider that box ticked with a permanent marker. The 4.0-liter bi-turbo V8 kicks out 603 horsepower and 627 lb-ft of torque and enables the 63 S to hunker down and hit 60 mph in just 3.7 seconds. Every last bit of power is fully utilized thanks to the AMG Performance 4Matic+ all-wheel-drive system and the quick-shifting nine-speed automatic transmission. Should you wish to put it all on the line, a top speed of 174 mph is possible with the optional summer tires. That's a limited top speed, by the way, so this brute of an SUV is actually even faster. Although these are stupendous numbers, the BMW X5 M is just a tenth of a second slower to 60 mph, and the much pricier Lamborghini Urus outpaces both in the benchmark sprint. The AMG will never leave you feeling like you need more power, though - it's faster than any SUV has a right to be.
The previous AMG GLE63 made use of a 5.5-liter bi-turbo V8, so a casual glance at the specification sheet for the new 63 S may leave you disappointed with the drop to a 4.0-liter bi-turbo V8. But the increasingly dated belief that displacement is the holy grail of power delivery loses its clout when you consider that the new 4.0L makes 603 hp and 627 lb-ft - those are healthy increases over the previous model's 577 hp/561 lb-ft. Not only that, but the new 63 S employs an EQ Boost starter-generator for the first time. It powers a 48-volt on-board electrical system, aids efficiency, and produces an extra 21 hp and 184 lb-ft. However, these outputs can't simply be added to the V8's numbers, as the EQ Boost system does its best work much lower down before the gas engine takes over proceedings. The EQ Boost smooths out the stop/start system, so it no longer feels jarring, and also provides electric assist during acceleration, virtually eliminating turbo lag.
The complex powertrain is paired with a fast-shifting nine-speed automatic transmission with a manual mode and paddle shifters. It's a clear improvement on the seven-speeder used before, though it's worth noting that BMW and Porsche's eight-speed boxes are minutely smoother. Nail the throttle in the GLE63, though, and the nine-speed rips off shifts with the quickness of a dual-clutch. The transmission can be sluggish to respond in Comfort Mode, but in Sport Mode or above, it downshifts at a moment's notice. Whether around town or on the open road, the AMG's powertrain sounds routy and makes light work of the SUV's immense weight. It's blisteringly fast, and the challenge isn't keeping up with anything else, but rather reining in the 63 S enough not to get yourself into trouble.
One key difference separates the GLE63 and the larger GLS 63 we tested earlier this year: Race mode. The GLS 63 only goes up to Sport Plus Mode, but the GLE63 adds Race Mode, a subtle difference that you wouldn't expect to create a massive change. But it does. Race Mode transforms the GLE from luxury insulation pod to an attack animal with the turn of a dial. The GLE's drive modes have the ability to alter various aspects of the driving experience, including the steering, traction control, throttle mapping, suspension stiffness, ride height, exhaust note, and more. All of these settings can also be adjusted independently of each other, should you want loud exhaust (as an example) without the harsh ride of Race Mode.
Most notably, the GLE63's steering feels far more precise than the GLS 63, and even more pinpoint than the BMW X5 M. In Comfort and Sport Mode, the steering feels light and lax, allowing the car to be driven comfortably and without fuss. But in Sport Plus and Race Mode, it gains noticeable heft and sharpens up with the precise accuracy of an AMG GT sports car. Steering this sharp is rarely found in an SUV, let alone one of this size. The GLE63 responds to the tiniest inputs from the steering wheel, providing unmated levels of feedback to the driver. Combined with AWD and endless amounts of power, drivers might be mistaken for thinking their 5,000-pound-plus SUV is actually a supercar. It's not.
The standard GLE is one of the most comfortable SUVs this side of a Cullinan, but AMG has stiffened the suspension considerably. It isn't an intolerable ride, but buyers looking to iron out all road imperfections should opt for a non-AMG GLE with the E-Active Body Roll suspension. Massive six-piston front brakes help drive the car to a stop and carbon ceramics are available optionally should you really feel like stopping in a hurry. On long, open roads, the GLE63 can carry tremendous speeds through the corners while keeping body roll to a surprising minimum. It is only around really tight bends you are reminded that this is not a mid-engined supercar. It's still a tall, heavy SUV, and at a certain point, AMG's best engineers can not triumph completely over the laws of physics. You can reach a point of understeer should you take a corner at absurd speeds, but we feel most owners will rarely approach this limit.
The GLE63's may have a cylinder shut-off system that can deactivate four of the cylinders to save fuel, but it's still a powerful and heavy beast so don't expect any miracles. Official EPA estimates work out to 15/19/16 mpg on the city/highway/combined cycles. These look to be very accurate as during our week with the car, we averaged 16.3 mpg with mostly in-town driving. With its 22.5-gallon gas tank, expect a combined cruising range of around 360 miles.
The latest GLE has a sumptuous, beautifully built cabin that provides plenty of space for occupants. Ahead of the driver are two 12.3 inch screens; one is the digital instrument cluster, and the other allows access to infotainment functions via the MBUX system. Both screens are highly customizable beyond any competing systems. Below the center screen is a quartet of ventilation outlets (made from real metal), serving as a subtle hint of the cabin's generous width. Perceived quality is exceptional - everything looks top-class. But there are some harder plastics lower down and inside the door handles that detract from a flawless impression. As the most expensive GLE you can buy, the 63 S is fully loaded with features like a power sunroof, exclusive Nappa leather upholstery, power-adjustable front seats with ventilation, and heated/cooled cupholders up front. It's also packed with safety gear like attention assist, blind-spot assist, and a surround-view camera system. Optional features like massaging seats help the GLE63 feel like a top-class option.
Non-AMG versions of the GLE are available with a tiny third-row bench, but the GLE63 is strictly a two-row five-seater. Lack of seven-seats aside, the GLE's cabin is remarkably spacious for up to five passengers. The front seats offer an excellent 40.5 inches of headroom and 40.3 inches of legroom, with an ample 59.3 inches of shoulder room separating the driver and passenger. The rear accommodations are equally spacious with 39.6 inches of headroom, 40.9 inches of legroom, and 58.3 inches of shoulder room. Those rear seats not only feel roomier than the BMW X5, but they are actually comparable to the supposedly larger BMW X7.
In the cabin, the AMG GLE is highlighted by upscale Nappa leather upholstery that covers all of the seats. Bespoke AMG trim pieces are finished in carbon fiber, and these are complemented by brushed stainless steel sport pedals and a Nappa leather/Dinamica steering wheel. Behind this sits the large aluminum shift paddles. The leather can be specified in colors like Black, Tartufo/Black, Classic Red/Black, Macchiato Beige ($250) and Black with Grey stitching. A variety of trims are optionally available, such as Grey Linden wood, Natural Grain Grey Oak wood, AMG carbon fiber ($1,750), metal weave ($440), and designo Brown Linden "Flowing Lines" wood ($690), which is an especially striking finish. Red seat belts are available at no extra cost, while an AMG Performance steering wheel in a mix of carbon fiber and Dinamica goes for $400.
Behind its 40/20/40-split-folding second row of seats, the AMG GLE63 S has 33.3 cubic feet of space, which is a nearly identical number when put up against its BMW X5 M arch-rival. The trunk is usefully square-shaped and can accommodate a large suitcase, two smaller ones, and a stroller on top of that. Fold down the seats, and space expands to a large 74.9 cubes, which is enough to fit a bicycle without having to remove the front wheel. A power liftgate, hands-free access, and a retractable luggage cover make loading/unloading cargo easier and safer.
Interior storage space is also generous, with standard heated/cooled front cupholders, an average-sized glove compartment, large door bins, and a center console, which doubles as an armrest. It is worth noting, though, that those front cupholders don't hold larger drinks tightly enough, so they may tip over during spirited driving. For those at the back, there are more door bins along with a fold-down center armrest that houses cupholders.
The GLE63 S ships with a long list of standard features and an equally lengthy list of options. Both front seats have power-adjustment, heating, ventilation, and memory functions. For the driver, there is a power-adjustable tilt/telescoping steering column, a garage door opener, and power-folding side mirrors. A power sunroof allows more light into the cabin, but if it gets too sunny, simply close the sunshade. Those at the back can also keep the sun out with power second-row side window sunshades. Dual-zone climate control is standard, but a four-zone system can be optionally equipped. If you want to equip your GLE to S-Class levels, you can tick the boxes for powered second-row seats, massaging front seats, soft-close doors, and a heated steering wheel. You won't need to pay anything extra for safety features like crosswind assist, pre-safe, blind-spot assist, active parking assist, and a surround-view camera system. However, a head-up display is optional, as is Distronic cruise control, and active steering assist, active lane keeping and lane change, as part of the Driver Assistance Package PLUS.
The Mercedes-Benz User Experience (or MBUX) comes standard in the GLE63, housed on two 12.3-inch displays. On the right, the main screen controls navigation, audio, and other infotainment duties. The left screen shows the gauges but can also be configured to display performance data, map information, and more. Mercedes has included several methods to interact with both displays, including physical buttons, a touchpad on the center console, a touchscreen, intelligent voice command, and Blackberry-style trackpads on the steering wheel. Should none of these suffice, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, though they lack the built-in system's mind-blowing augmented reality navigation, which is available for $350. We tested a GLE63 with the optional 25-speaker Burmester High-End 3D Surround Sound System, which belongs on the top shelf of premium audio systems. The standard setup is a 13-speaker unit from Burmester, too.
Although a new model, the GLE63 has already been affected by one recall, whereby interior switches may not illuminate. The 2020 GLE-Class, released prior to the GLE63, has seen a shocking 14 recalls. We can only hope that the AMG isn't as troublesome.
If anything does go wrong, the super SUV is covered by a four-year/50,000-mile limited warranty, which also covers the powertrain. However, complimentary scheduled maintenance is not offered.
Although the AMG GLE63 S hasn't been tested by the NHTSA or the IIHS, the less performance-biased 2020 GLE-Class attained a Top Safety Pick+ award from the IIHS, indicating exceptional safety standards. As the AMG has all of the same features, it should prove just as safe.
Mercedes has equipped the GLE63 S with seven airbags, which it says provides nine-way occupant protection. These are made up of dual front, front side-impact, driver's knee, and side curtain airbags for both rows. The SUV also has rain-sensing wipers, tire pressure monitoring, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, pre-safe, trailer stability assist, crosswind assist, attention assist, blind-spot assist, a surround-view camera system, and active parking assist. An interesting feature is pre-safe sound, which can reduce the damaging effects of a collision on the hearing of occupants. It does this by emitting a "pink noise" tone if an accident is detected as imminent, which then creates a reflex in the human ear that helps to block out extremely loud noises. Optionally available safety features are made up of adaptive cruise control, active steering assist, active lane keeping assist, active emergency stop assist, speed limit assist, and more. These systems are among the best we've experienced and can even keep the car centered in a lane with minimal steering intervention.
Should you have the funds to purchase one, the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE63 S is a near-flawless performance SUV. It looks more aggressive than a standard GLE, still has the same awe-inspiring interior and technology, but can now keep up with sports cars in a straight line. There are some handling compromises of the tall ride height and tremendous weight, though most owners will likely never reach these limitations unless they want to risk a hefty speeding ticket. AMG has certainly taken away the road-isolating comfort of the standard GLE, but as a trade-off for the heart-pounding performance, the GLE63 rides reasonably well and doesn't jostle its passengers too much. Massaging seats, a near-silent cabin, and a powerful Burmester audio system drown out most of the road noise and imperfections associated with the AMG add-ons.
The GLE63 is not without competition from the Audi RS Q8, BMW X5 M, and Porsche Cayenne Turbo. While we have not road tested the RS Q8 or Cayenne Turbo yet, we can unequivocally say that the AMG feels more dynamic than the M car. The GLE63 is louder, sharper, and more responsive than the X5 M, and it features a nicer interior with more passenger space. AMG has come a long way from being focused on top speed, straight-line acceleration, and burnouts, to now offering the driver's feedback once associated with BMW's M Division. If it were our six-figure bonus to toss down on a high-performance SUV, the GLE63 feels like a top option.
The 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE63 S starts at $113,950 plus a $995 destination fee. This puts it just below the Audi RS Q8 and above the BMW X5 M in terms of pricing, but comfortably below the Porsche Cayenne Turbo. A full online build site was not available during our test period, but with several options, our tester was configured at $133,660.
The new Mercedes-AMG GLE63 S takes its position atop the GLE range, proving all the comfort and luxury of lesser models but accompanied by searing pace. Powering the GLE63 S is a 4.0-liter bi-turbo V8 engine with 603 horsepower and 627 lb-ft of torque, while an EQ Boost starter-generator provides an additional 21 hp and 184 lb-ft and helps to cut turbo lag. A nine-speed automatic transmission and 4Matic+ all-wheel drive are standard.
Outside, the potent SUV has 21-inch AMG wheels, the vertical-bar grille found on other AMGs, and LED lighting. The spacious cabin is finished in premium Nappa leather and dotted with several striking AMG touches, like carbon fiber trim and brushed stainless steel pedals. Dual 12.3-inch screens provide infotainment and speed information, while dual-zone climate control and ventilated front seats keep occupants comfortable. Navigation and a Burmester surround sound system are standard. A raft of safety systems work together and include a surround-view camera system, seven airbags, attention assist, cruise control, and blind-spot assist.
Just because the GLE63 S is the range-topper doesn't mean you can't go to town upgrading it with various packages and standalone options. For $1,050, the Warmth & Comfort Package adds rapid heating for the front seats, heated front armrests, and heated upper door panels. At $1,650, the Energizing Package Plus adds a cabin fragrance system and multi-contour front seats with massage. For access to an array of safety systems like active steering assist and speed limit assist, the Driver Assistance Package Plus goes for $1,950. There are too many individual options to mention, but some of the most appealing include in-car Wi-Fi, a 25-speaker Burmester high-end 3D surround sound system, four-zone automatic climate control, a panorama roof, and high-performance ceramic composite front brakes.
There is only one trim level of the GLE63, which is sold only as an S model in the US. From there, buyers can tack on any number of pricey options and equipment packages. Our tester came equipped with a variety of options, bringing the price from $113,950 to $133,600. Some of those options feel like must-haves, including the MBUX Technology Package, Warmth and Comfort Package, Energizing Comfort Package, and Acoustic Comfort Package. Others, like the carbon fiber engine cover for $1,500, seem a bit silly.
While mechanically identical to the BMW X5 M, the X6 M offers just as much performance but in a more flamboyantly styled package. In X6 M Competition form, the BMW produces 617 horsepower and 553 lb-ft of torque, so it's more powerful but less torquey than the GLE63 S. Both SUVs have identical 0-60 times of 3.7 seconds and almost the same top speed, so there is nothing in it. They're even exactly the same length, although the sloping roof of the X6 M reduces cargo capacity compared to the Merc. On the road, both are a riot to drive, but the BMW does feel a touch more dynamically involving than the GLE63, which, like many older AMGs, is dominated by its engine. The X6 M is a bit better-equipped, too, with standard features like four-zone climate control and a heated steering wheel, which are optional on the GLE. The Mercedes is the more practical choice, and it isn't as divisive to look at, but the X6 M does stand out more.
The segment's dynamic benchmark, the Porsche Cayenne Turbo, is better than ever. With 541 hp from its 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8, the Cayenne Turbo is down on power compared with the GLE63 S. However, it makes the most of what it's got, and with the Sport Chrono Package, it'll blitz the 0-60 run in 3.7 seconds, exactly the same time as the Mercedes. While the GLE impresses in isolation, the Cayenne demonstrates what's possible in a high-performance SUV when you reach the first corner. It responds with immediacy but isn't twitchy, and there's more of a connection between the road and the driver than in the AMG. When you aren't pretending you're in a 911 and it comes down to day-to-day family duties, the Mercedes gains the edge with its superior ability to seat five occupants and a larger cargo area. The GLE is also better-equipped. As these are performance SUVs, the driving experience holds more weight, so that's why we'd side with the Cayenne Turbo.
Check out some informative Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 SUV video reviews below.