In the late 1990s, SUV buyers weren’t nearly as spoiled for choice as they are today. Most offerings were either serious off-roaders or large people movers. The formula for the modern SUV wasn’t clearly defined, and potential performance variants weren’t even in the conversation. That is until 1999 when Mercedes-Benz introduced the ML 55. AMG’s first SUV changed everything, ushering in a new era of high-horsepower high riders. Stuffing a big engine under the hood of a plush off-roader did not make a track star out of a couch potato. It did, however, mean that speed, comfort, space, and refinement didn’t require multiple vehicles.
This week’s tester is a perfect example of this formula. It’s the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S Coupe 4Matic+, a big, high horsepower, top dollar SUV, and the ML 55’s direct descendent. In an unusual twist, this vehicle isn’t currently available for sale. Due to a slowdown in engine production at AMG, the twin-turbocharged V8 that lives under the hood isn’t available for the 2022 model year. The good news is that production should resume for future model years, and after a week behind the wheel, it’s definitely worth the wait.
Two decades ago, the idea of a 600+ horsepower SUV was unthinkable. Today, there are about as many high-horsepower SUVs as there are supercars. The GLE 63 S is no exception. Its 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V8 pumps out 603 horsepower at 5750 rpm and 627 foot-pounds of torque at 2500. But the GLE has more than turbos up its sleeve to make power. It also features a small electric starter-generator called EQ boost. Essentially, it combines the starter and alternator into one electric motor and sandwiches it in-between the engine and transmission. The result is up to an additional 21 hp and 184 lb of torque. However, this power isn’t used for straight-line speed. Instead, it’s sprinkled along the power band to fill areas where the turbos lag. In the real world, this results in instantaneous acceleration. At no point is the GLE sluggish. It’s quick off the line and quick at speed. Something this big shouldn’t be able to move so fast.
Not to mention that opening up the taps reveals a proper ferocious bark from those gloss black exhaust tips. It may not sound as good as its 6.2-liter predecessor, but it’s still damn good. Like its dot-com-bubble great-grandpa, the GLE 63 has all-wheel drive as standard, supplemented by a nine-speed automatic transmission. This is one of its weak points as the auto’s tuning favors around town comfort rather than all-out performance. Switching to manual shifting remedies this, but it is still not all that sharp on the downshift. But let’s face it, this isn’t a canyon carver, and around town, it’s more than responsive enough.
At no point does the GLE 63 let you forget that it weighs nearly 5,500 pounds. It’s quick to understeer, and despite having surprisingly little body roll, it’s not eager to turn in. None of that matters in the driving the GLE 63 does. In a crowded city, its air suspension is tuned to near perfection, delivering a firm and AMG-appropriate ride that’s still comfortable. Not even the massive 22-inch wheels spoil the ride. While it’s far from a track star, its dominance throughout the city proves that the GLE 63 is a masterclass in knowing precisely what your audience wants.
This GLE is a coupe-style SUV with the now-infamous sloping roofline. Enough people love this style for Mercedes-Benz to adopt it across the GLE and GLC classes. In a body this big, it works because it helps de-boxify it. The GLE is already a bit of a big bertha, but thanks to the way its roof seemingly melts onto the rear three-quarters, it still looks sleek despite its size.
Large tail lights that wrap around the rear emphasize this effect as its lighting elements are proportional to the extensive body. Like the ML55, the GLE 63 S has flared wheel arches sharing the same color as the rest of the bodywork, and while they may not be as aggressive as on the old-timer, they work to visually widen the 63 and separate it from a standard GLE.
On the hood, two prominent lines run almost parallel to one another. This isn’t new. It’s a design trait shared with the ML55 and what Mercedes originally called “power domes.” They go back to the 300 SL Gullwing of the 1950s. Darkened elements such as the diffuser, wheels, and front intakes help create contrast and neatly tie in its aggressive aesthetic without being over the top.
Any and all criticisms of its size vanish once you step in, a big body immediately turns into immense comfort, and when you’re lugging a family around, extra space is a godsend. Not even the sloping roof spoils the size. Your 5’10 author fits in the back with plenty of headroom to spare, so passengers young and old should have no complaints during long drives.
Throw in a pair of highly adjustable heated and cooled front seats, and there’s more than enough comfort to go around. Comfort aside, interior quality is also spectacular. The GLE wins on the tech front as well. With two 12.3-in displays that seemingly melt into one another, the cabin feels forward-thinking and nicely laid out. The onboard MBUX infotainment system is a pleasure to use and easy to learn. However, smartphone connectivity such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
The 63 S commands a heavy price delta over a 53 model, but the material use is night and day different. You’ll see either leather, suede, or carbon fiber everywhere you look. Stark reminders of how well you’ve done in life. The GLE’s interior feels every bit its price tag.
$117,050. That’s how much the GLE 63 starts at. However, you can’t currently buy one because there is no 2022 model year option available. This one is a 2021 model year press vehicle with over 9,000 miles on the clock. As tested, it comes in over $130,000. For a bit of context, that’s not enough to get you into a Cayenne Coupe Turbo, which starts at $133,500, and you can forget about the $167,800 Turbo S. Its direct competitors then are the BMW X6 M and Audi RSQ8, two SUVs that also nail this tried and tested formula. And that’s become a double-edged sword as these three German rivals deliver practically the same experience. For now, this isn’t a problem as these SUVs are huge money makers. However, as time goes on, these giant family haulers will struggle to stand out.
The Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S nails its intended purpose, fast as a sports car in a straight line but comfortable enough for a family road trip. It is a proper Swiss Army knife. However, the trade-offs in the performance department are significant, and if on-road comfort isn’t a priority, the GLE leaves a bit to be desired. However, as an expensive object to putter around town surrounded by expensive materials with more power than a nuclear power plant at a moment’s notice, it’s damn near perfect. To the people that will inevitably fork over large sums to get one once production ramps back up, you won’t be disappointed.