The new Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 brings poke and surprising refinement to the premium performance SUV segment.
If you’re looking for a Mercedes alternative to the Porsche Cayenne or the Range Rover Sport – and are prepared to fight your way through the Daimler-owned firm’s confusing nomenclature – you’ll find your way to this, the Mercedes-AMG GLE 53, the second-generation high-performance SUV that made its debut in Geneva a bit over a year ago and is due for Australian roads soon (you can also order one now).
It’s a typical AMG product – very thoroughly developed, extremely rapid and richly equipped to the extent that the only thing the company’s people could think of to add to our test car – apart from pricey towing and off-road gadgetry – was $1500 worth of brilliant metallic paint. Oh, and a set of handsome 22-inch wheels to replace the standard 20s. It’s big, over five metres long, and spacious enough for a seven-seat configuration. The third row is really for kids only, but that’s mainly because the armchair-like front bucket seats take so much space.
The engine is the latest iteration of the AMG-developed twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre petrol straight six, running a 48V integrated starter/generator that contributes 16kW and 250Nm of torque and helps with extremes of acceleration and smooths power interruptions – not that there are many, given that the GLE 53 has AMG’s latest Quickshift nine-speed auto and a 4Matic all-wheel drive system that is extremely quick and flexible about sending power wherever it’s needed.
The car is AMG-ised via a toothy ‘Panamericana’ grille, bonnet power bulges, different bumpers and a big rear diffuser. The GLE 53 is undoubtedly imposing and eye-catching but it’s now handsome in a Cayenne or Range Rover way. Many of its styling cues are repeated from other Mercedes models, and unless you’re up to date or can see the badge, you may have trouble knowing exactly where this model sits in the Mercedes firmament.
The interior is plush and well lined with brightwork, with special AMG graphics for the steering wheel and sophisticated, screen-based instrumentation. The seats are upright and not exactly sporty but they’re supportive and luxurious. Your overall impression is of a densely equipped and beautifully finished cabin.
The whole plot weighs 2250kg, less than many SUVs this size. It can run a 0-100km/h acceleration time of 5.3sec (with top speed governed, as usual, at 250km/h).
What sets this car apart is when you start to drive it. The engine feels light and free-revving, with a sporty note to go with the powerful thrust. To control the configurable powertrain and the variable height air suspension, there’s a choice of seven driving regimes (Slippery, Comfort, Trail, Sand, Individual, Sport and Sport+) but we soon found that for the on-road driving this model will do practically every day of its life, Sport is ideal. It speeds the car’s responses, sharpens the gearbox kickdown, adds tautness to a ride that can occasionally allow a little too much body movement in Comfort and provides supreme stability on turn-in.
The steering and ride are perhaps stars of this show, exhibiting clear evidence of the AMG’s preference for refinement. This is a big and bulky SUV but it can be threaded through small gaps with outstanding confidence because the steering is so precise and quick-acting. No waiting for a response from this five-metre 4×4.
Despite the excellent body control, bump absorption is also very good. Time after time, we’d watch a pothole disappear under the high nose and wait for the jolt, only to feel something less than expected. Noise control is well-judged, too. Use the GLE 53 hard and you’ll know you’re in an AMG product. Cruise more quietly and the powertrain will show its creamy and long-legged side. Wind noise is very well controlled, too.
This is not the handsomest beast going, but its quality, equipment and AMG-honed driving dynamics make the GLE 53 a fine choice from this sector.
Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 price and spec
Price in Australia $166,700 before on-roads On sale Now Engine 6 cyls in line, 2999c, twin-turbocharged, petrol, plus electric starter/generator Power 320kW at 6100rpm Torque 520Nm at 1800-5000rpm Gearbox 9-spd automatic Kerb weight 2250kg Top speed 250km/h (limited) 0-100km/h 5.3sec Rivals Porsche Cayenne S Coupe, Range Rover Sport, Audi SQ8, BMW X6