more than 600 horsepower
2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE63 S First Drive: Glorious Overkill
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Product: GLE63 S
Release Date: Mid-2020
Price: $113,950 ($131,935 as tested)
It was an odd sight. Mercedes-Benz USA had stuck a decal on the rear windows of the assembled media’s GLE63 S test cars: a nuclear family of five, all wearing helmets.
I assumed, at first, those were space helmets. After all, the SUVs we were driving were rocket ships. Later, I figured out they were race helmets; perhaps that makes more sense, but I think my initial interpretation better captures the GLE63 S’s sheer absurdity.
One of AMG’s new mottos, up and down the model tree, is “intelligence as a replacement for displacement.” It’s a polite way of saying Merc doesn’t need a 6.2-liter V8 to kick your ass; they can do it more efficiently and effectively with a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8. This one produces 603 hp — 54 more hp more than the previous top-spec GLE 63 S — and an equally-stunning 627 lb-ft of torque. The GLE63 S can accelerate to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds, faster than an Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio.
Insane straight-line speed tells only part of the story. No disrespect to the G-Class, but the GLE63 S maybe the most capable all-arounder in the Mercedes lineup. With seven different customizable drive modes, including Sport, Sport Plus and Race modes, this SUV can transfer seamlessly from track to a family beach trip — and handle anything in-between with scalpel-like precision.
Mercedes-AMG brought me to this SUV’s spiritual home in hardscrabble Malibu, California, to test the GLE63 S in its natural environment. The vehicle was stupendous. But it left me with the same question I had embarking on the trip: Does anyone need this much automotive excess?
What We Like
The GLE63 S offers a ton of power — and, as Mercedes-AMG noted, it’s delivered intelligently. The nine-speed AMG Speedshift transmission is imperceptibly smooth, and the EQ Boost mild-hybrid system eliminates anything resembling turbo lag. There’s a convenient toggle switch to crank the AMG Performance Exhaust to full bore when you want to bask in it. The power is too much to use in normal driving — you can exceed the posted speed limit comfortably and still see the car drift into cylinder deactivation mode — but you never feel overwhelmed.
Indeed, the output belies the car’s sophistication. Driving the GLE63 S can feel like watching LeBron James play basketball; something so big (the car tips the scales in the 5,000-pound range) should not be able to move so deftly and gracefully. The grip and body control are phenomenal, and not just for an SUV; the GLE63 S handles itself like a Mercedes-AMG sedan. Following a Nissan Titan struggling its way through corners on a canyon road highlighted what an engineering feat this GLE is. If the GLE63 S has limits, I was not the driver to discover them on a public thoroughfare.
Watch Out For
Full disclosure: my first day driving the AMG GLE 63 S was sun-soaked bliss, but my second day stunk. I spent two hours in morning bumper-to-bumper traffic trying to escape from L.A. Eventually, I broke off my drive route to ensure I would still make my flight…only for the engine in my tester to overheat. My display turned into a giant temperature gauge, and I had to limp off an exit on the 405 to a parking lot and switch cars. AMGs generally run hot, but here’s hoping that meltdown was a pre-production issue that’ll be sorted out by the time the car goes on sale later this year.
Mercedes knows how to build cars, but the MBUX infotainment system can still be more frustrating than it needs to be. Switching drive modes covers the entire screen with an enormous, lingering graphic that obscures the navigation. Anything to do with music felt counterintuitive; I couldn’t figure out how to cycle through SiriusXM stations, even after pulling over. Switching songs on Apple CarPlay seemed to necessitate hitting a button on the touchpad, which would bring up a touchscreen menu, where I could then hit the “next” button. At least I was flying solo, so I didn’t have the Siri-like voice-activated MBUX engaging every time I said “Mercedes.”
We’re looking for sporty, hard-edged performance SUVs that cost about $100,000 and go from 0-60 mph in less than four seconds. The direct rival is BMW’s X5 M ($105,100+), but I also think this buyer would consider the more expensive Porsche Cayenne Turbo ($126,500+).
If the buyer is looking for even more space and luxury, I also drove the new Mercedes-AMG GLS 63 ($132,100) on the trip. It has the same powertrain as the GLE63 S, but it is more stately, comfortable and spacious, with decent third-row seating. You can also get 23-inch throwback black Monoblock wheels, which are magnificent.
The Mercedes-AMG GLE63 S is glorious. It’s also complete overkill for any human endeavor. No one needs this car. It exists because the people, the people who buy $100,000-plus Mercedes-AMG vehicles, demanded it; 50 percent of AMG customers in 2019 bought SUVs.
Personally, I would opt for the still-family-friendly E63 S wagon for the same price, or drop down the GLE family tree and save tens of thousands of dollars. But the buyer in the market for this is after unadulterated excess in SUV form. He or she is spending enough to have the manufacturer cater to them.
Mercedes hosted us and provided this product for review.
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