Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S review: GT speed and poise meets SUV refinement and practicality

During a Southern California test-drive, the latest version of the SUV handled more like a high-performance GT

Sometimes running late can present one with unexpected opportunities. While trying to make up lost time while driving Mercedes-AMG’s latest ode to tech-infused opulence, the GLE 63 S SUV, I decide to take a shortcut through the Malibu hills. I was already carving up Topanga Canyon Road from the shimmering Pacific up to US 101, but needed to shave about an hour from the drive. I opt for an old shortcut on the route, banking a hard left up through Fireside Road. The route would miss the freeway portion of the drive – linear thoroughfares would highlight the obvious torquey benefits of a girthy hauler like this – but the detour ended up supplying an opportunity for the GLE 63 S to shine in ways I could never have predicted.

While cruising along the coast, the overwhelming avalanche of torque from the sublime four-litre, twin-turbocharged AMG V8 allows me to overtake slower cars as if swatting gnats. Hand-built in Affalterbach, Germany, under AMG’s famed One Man, One Engine flag, it is luxurious in ways only one who has experienced 850Nm of torque can relate to; absolute power does corrupt absolutely, especially when liftoff is available at only 2,500 rpms. But when on these winding two-lane roads, crossing through some of the most beautiful territory in LA County, you see just how tightly sprung this machine is. What makes it more impressive is that the vehicle tips the scales at over 2,345kg and has such a high centre of gravity (the roofline is at a height of about 1,760mm). The GLE 63 S is substantial, but there is no give in the four corners, even when dipping and tucking into serious off-camber S-turns.

Credit the suite of otherworldly technology that grants the GLE the license to pretty much defy the laws of physics. Primarily, the ACTIVE RIDE CONTROL+’s air suspension and adjustable Adaptive Damping System tightens suspension under duress to ensure optimal traction (or softens it for a cushier ride), while also dropping the GLE by 10mm in Sport, Sport+ and Race driving modes. The 4MATIC+ all-wheel drive’s torque distribution can push 100 per cent of the power to the rear axle for exhilarating rear-wheel-drive action, or split it equally between the front and back. And the electronically locking rear differential ensures maximum grip while cornering. There are also active anti-roll bars augmented by a 48-volt EQ Boost system. The combination helps keep this ship shockingly level, even on the squiggly asphalt that defines remote Malibu roads.

At one point, while driving sharply in the canyons, I’m steering with my left hand while my right hand white-knuckles the grip handle on the centre console, preventing my body from flailing side to side – all while a smile is etched from ear-to-ear. Remember, this is from a two-and-a-half-tonne SUV that can cannonball from zero to 100 km/hr in 3.8 seconds and reach 280 km/hr. Thankfully, my test version has the optional fade-resistant ceramic brakes – but even the standard 6-piston / 400mm steel brakes delete velocity quickly.

The 2021 model is the first GLE to boast EQ Boost. Not only does it power the anti-roll bars, it also charges the engine start/stop function and can goose power output in spurts (an extra 21hp and 250Nm of torque when needed). It’s a clever little system that helps in handling, power surges and fuel efficiency. Pure AMG genius.

Of course, the interior exercises every trick that Mercedes-Benz has learned in its 125 years in motorsports, and almost as long defining automotive luxury. Every touch point is substantial: door locks are knurled aluminium; steering wheel is fat, wrapped in Alcantara and a polished carbon-fibre weave. Every material is either supple leather, Alcantara, veneered carbon-fibre or metal, like the perforated speaker grills in the optional Burmester 3D surround sound.

There’s also head-up display, wireless phone charging, five USB ports and heated and ventilated massaging seats. The MBUX infotainment’s twin 12.3-inch screens – one a gauge cluster, the other the central touchscreen – is arguably best in the business, as is the new AMG Performance steering wheel. And then there’s the GLE’s 690 litres of cargo space and rear seats that can comfortably accommodate 1.8m-tall humans sitting behind 1.8m-tall humans.

With the technology that Mercedes-AMG is lacing its SUVs with, it’s little wonder that the model type has eclipsed sedans, coupes and convertibles in annual sales. The emphasis is clear with 10 all-new or completely redesigned SUVs in the marque’s portfolio.