2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S review: Searching for Sanity in an SUV World Gone Mad
How does the newest AMG SUV stack up against the best of the steroidal best?
DRIVEtorque has entered rarified air with its new 450kW GLE 63 S. By my count, and not counting its fraternal twin GLS 63, there are presently 12 production SUVs that make 450kW or more. In alphabetical order: Bentley Bentayga (both the 450kW hp W12 and 466 kW hp Speed), the driven-but-as-yet-untested BMW X5 M/X6 M and X5/X6 M Competition, the 530kW Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk, the 478kW-hp Lamborghini Urus, the 500kW Porsche Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrid (and Coupe), and the Rolls-Royce Cullinan Black Badge, which squeaks in with 441kW (600 horses.)
That’s it. The Audi RS Q8 and Maserati Levante Trofeo? Pikers. They each fall 9 or 10 hp shy. Acura, Cadillac, Infiniti, Lexus, Jaguar? They got nothing close. One outlier that does need to be mentioned is Tesla’s Model X, which makes 396kW yet is dripping with 967Nm of torque. The question, then, is this: Of the dozen super SUVs listed above, how does the 2021 GLE 63 S stack up?
The 48-Volt Powertrain
Before we get to that, just a bit about what’s under the GLE 63 S’ hood. Chiefly, a twin-turbo 4.0-liter V-8 that’s good for 450kW and 850Nm of torque. There’s also a hybrid motor pancaked into the transmission that offers up 16kW and 250Nm of torque, though the latter mostly provides torque-fill when the gasoline engine isn’t on full boil.
The GLE 63 S sports a nine-speed transmission that sends power to all four wheels. Big, fat Brembo brakes slow down big, fat 22-inch wheels, covered in big, fat, sticky rubber. Air springs work with a 48-volt active anti-roll bar and active, magnetic-fluid engine mounts to help sort out the AMG’s 2480 kgs while cornering.
AMG GLE 63 S Performance
For non-drag racing aficionados, the No. 1 most important performance metric is 0-100kmh. In my First Drive story I predicted that the GLE 63 S would be quicker than the 3.7-second run Mercedes claimed it would do. I was right. We got the GLE 63 S to 100km in 3.4 seconds. That’s (obviously) nuts for such a heavy SUV. Where does it rank amongst the other super SUVs we’ve tested? Sixth place. The Urus (3.0 seconds to 100kmh, quickest SUV we’ve ever tested), Bentayga Speed (3.1 seconds), Model X P90D and Porsche Cayenne Turbo (3.2 seconds), and Jeep Trackhawk (3.3 seconds) are all a bit quicker. Still, 3.4 seconds to 100kmh is stupid quick. The 567kW (though RWD) Shelby Mustang GT500 needs 3.6 seconds.
As far as drag racing the quarter-mile run goes, I guessed 12 seconds flat. I was wrong. This AMG cracks into the 11s, at 11.9 seconds at 185kmh. That’s a tenth of a second behind a 595kW Dodge Challenger Hellcat Redeye by our stopwatch. One tenth behind that pesky Porsche, too. In terms of Super SUVs, like with 0-100 kmh, the GLE 63 S sits in sixth place behind the Urus (our quickest ever SUV at 11.3 seconds), Bentayga Speed (11.5 seconds), and in a tie for third, the Jeep Trackhawk and Tesla Model X (11.7 seconds).
Right on the AMG’s heels is the 377kW 2020 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio at 12 seconds flat, though the Italian weighs 499 kgs less. Of note, both the Bentley and the Lamborghini have trap speeds over 193kmh (194.2 and 193.2kmh, respectively), which leads me to believe that the big Bentayga makes way more power than advertised. Speed, indeed.
Braking from 100kmh happens in 31.6 meters, nearly the shortest stopping distance of any super SUV we’ve ever tested. A current-gen Porsche Cayenne Turbo (not the S) stops from 100kmh in 30.5meters—0.6 meters shorter than any other SUV we’ve tested. The previous-generation X6 M did the deed in 32 meters, and the Tesla Model X takes 32meters. The Urus takes 107, and the both the Stelvio QF and the Trackhawk stop from 100kmh in 33meters.
Our figure eight test is great for separating the performance car wheat from the huge horsepower chaff. It’s relatively easy to add huge horsepower to a mall mobile. Getting said soccer schlepper to quickly corner, well, that’s a higher order of engineering magnitude. I typically say that anything in the 24-second range is pretty damn good, whereas anything under 23 seconds can be thought of as possessing world-class handling. The Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S covers our 1,600-foot double circle in 25.0 seconds. That’s almost pretty good.
Compared to all the other super SUVs we’re talking about; the AMG is toward back of the pack. The previous-generation GLE 63 S Coupe (we never tested the non-Coupe for whatever reason) could do a 25.2, while the Tesla can do it in 25.1 seconds.
The Jeep Trackhawk—which curiously began life as the last-generation GLE (in the DaimlerChrysler divorce, Jeep got the SUV bones for the Grand Cherokee from Benz)—manages a 24.7-second lap. The Trackhawk is a giggle-inducing hoot, but I’d never call it a sports car. The 5,606-pound Bentayga (somehow) recorded a 24.6-second lap, whereas the Cayenne Turbo (23.9) and the Urus (23.5 seconds) both broke into the 23-second range, a seemingly impossible achievement. Not too long ago 23-second laps were the near exclusive domain of Porsche GT offerings, sticky-tire Corvettes, and Vipers with ironing boards as wings. What a world.
One quick note before we go on. Yes, there is a GLE 63 (non S), but like Mercedes-AMG decided with its hot E-Class sedans, the non-S is never coming to American soil. Pay it no mind.
What do we make of this AMG, then, the GLE 63 S? Well, it certainly is quick, in a classic, more-muscle-than-brains AMG sort of way. But is it quick enough? Keeping money out of the equation for a moment, you can purchase quicker, better-handling SUVs.
But if you’re worried about dollar signs, only the Jeep Trackhawk is a better value
What would I choose? Of the SUVs mentioned, I’d take the Urus. Duh. If that’s too much scrilla, then I’d go Trackhawk. Though if I were actually in the market for a great, big, overpowered, overpriced SUV, I would go with the new 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLS 63. A bit numb to the touch, a tick slower, but worlds more appealing. What a Bentley should drive like. Yeah, I’m that guy.