I wonder if back in 1967, when two Mercedes Benz racing division engineers, Hans Werner Aufrecht and Erhard Melcher started their private Motor Car Performance Business in the little town of Grossaspach, they would ever have dreamed of the incredible leap in technology as we were so privileged to experience today?
For Aufrecht Melcher Grossaspach (AMG)— would change forever after a 1990 co-operation agreement with Mercedes Benz commenced what is now the fully integrated performance branch of Mercedes Benz.
With that in mind, we arrived bright eyed and bushy-tailed at AMG’s Driving Academy at the Zwartkops Raceway to test AMG’s latest batch of top end GLE and GLS super-SUVs. Today however, we would not be limited to the tight confines of the Pretoria racetrack. After a quick briefing, we were on he road to Gerotek — a once clandestine military testing ground to the West.
Estates & Coupes for the 53 and 63 S
On the menu today were four versions of the AMG GLE — Estate and Coupé versions of the all-new GLE53 and GLE 63 S. We also had a bash at the new GLS 63 S later on, but we’ll get on to that anon.
Our briefing outlined the most important changes and improvements — for instance, the latest Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S and the AMG GLS 53s now feature Active Engine Mounts for softer and stiffer settings at each end of their Active Dynamics settings. To ensure a broader range of suspension performance. Active Roll Stabilization adds even more agility, and a Ride Height controller keeps it on an even tack. No matter what the load is.
All of this technology brings improved balance and road comfort during braking, acceleration and cornering.
Optimized Traction, No Matter the Situation
That’s over and above GLE’s 4Matic Plus four-wheel drive for optimized traction whatever your driving situation. Torque is split front to rear depending on road conditions and driver inputs. That’s backed up by a standard electronically controlled rear differential and there are up to eight driving modes available for whatever road conditions you may encounter.
Of course, the technology we were really here for sits under the bonnet. Each engine is of course hand crafted to AMG’s famous one-man one-engine philosophy. Big brother 63s get Affalterbach (that’s where they build AMGs these days) 603 horsepower 627 foot-pound Newton-meter 4-litre biturbo V8. Now further boosted by a 48-volt EQ Integrated 22 hp 185 lb-ft starter generator, it also has a four-cylinder deactivation system help cut fuel optimization.
And how quick is the Mercedes-AMG E63 S? We thought you’d ask! 0-60 happens in 3,7 seconds (yes, you read that right — this truck gets to one hundred in three point eight seconds!) and packing an optional AMG Driver’s Package, will top 175 mph.
Meet the mini-me AMG GLE
Then there are the mini-me AMG GLEs — the 53 4Matics propelled by Benz’ all-new 429 hp 384 lb-ft 2999 cc 3-litre straight six hybrid with an exhaust gas turbo and an electric charger too. Add a similar electric motor residing in its 9-speed gearbox for that same bonus 21 hp 185 lb-ft Nm EQ Boost additional output. For the record, GLE 53 rushes to 60 mph in 5.3 seconds and tops 155 mph. That’s quicker than an E63 was fifteen years ago!
My first SUV out on the road was the GLE 63 Estate. Solid yet nimble and well balanced, it feels more like a well-behaved medium SUV. There’s a feeling of being right at home in a plushily finished and comfortable space. The electronic settings and functions don’t take too long to fathom out, but there really is a lot to take in for the uninitiated. Of course, owners will soon be on top of these incredible MBUX Infotainment systems and their varying display styles.
The 63’s exhaust growls out a bark with a sense of urgency under hard acceleration. For such a large vehicle the pulling sensation is truly surprising with a continuous surge and without any directional misbehavior. The 9-speed gearbox is super smooth, and you’ll never, ever be in the wrong gear!
Out on a tight and sweeping road, there’s no noticeable over or understeer, which gave me a sense of trust way beyond what you’d ever expect from a vehicle of this size. Our route also took in roads of varying surfaces, from smooth highways to rutted, pot-holed and speed bump infested stretches. The significant Continental 275/45 ZR 21 front and 315/40 ZR 21 rear tires and electronic damped suspension took all of this surprisingly well.
My next module was a couple of flat-out laps around Gerotek’s banked high speed oval track, following a little expert instruction. The AMG GLEs tracked perfectly around the steep banks and stormed down the straights. Although I did find the 53s slightly lighter and a bit easier to drive at those high speeds!
From there it was a jump from the frying pan into the fire. The next mind-blowing activation saw us descend down a 27-degree concrete strip using only the electronically controlled DSR traction and Braking system. Setting off is basically like going over the edge in a roller coaster. Yet all you do is gently guide the steering with your feet off the pedals. The car does the rest for you.
AMG GLE: Rollercoaster Madness
And if that rollercoaster madness was not enough, the descent was followed by an immediate climb back up a similar but even steeper 35-degree strip. Well, there it is. From the bottom it looks like you are going to drive up a wall and your AMG GLE does just that! No settings, no fuss. Just add constant power and steer the massive SUV up the strip. All this in a four-hundred- and fifty-kilowatt bruiser… Wow!
from there we drove drive through a series of deep offset holes that tested axle articulation, traction and pliability to the limit. Not that we came anywhere near these incredible car’s limits. It more tested mine! All four wheels take turns to lift way up off the ground as the diagonally opposite one dips deep into the hole as you slowly crawl along.
These AMGs have a raised suspension setting that provides a perfect platform more than sufficient to deal with the steepest entry and exit angles front and back. Just in case a GLE 63 S owner ever needs this sort of versatility!
Our final exercise was braking from very high speed on a slippery test track with the one side of the car on the normal surface and the other on a slippery painted strip. To demonstrate the AMG GLE’s ability to stop on a dime. Even on compromised surfaces. It took trusting me to attack such a treacherous surface. But after a few runs I was soon comfortable that these vehicles can so easily cope.
There’s no hint of brake fade or loss of directional control. Even when the same high speed straight strip was set up with cones for a slalom runs that these incredible machines still managed without a hint of instability or drama.
There was much to take in over a very short time on this most professionally run event. But after a full and fun packed day of driving, these stunning vehicles had well surpassed all and any expectation. Superbly built, supremely comfortable, safe as houses, great to look at and wonderful to drive, whatever the conditions, I can say after a day with these trusty steeds, is that I want an AMG GLE!
Mercedes-AMG GLE Pricing
– GLE 53 4Matic $72,350
– GLE 53 4Matic Coupé $76,500
– GLE 63 S 4Matic $113,950
– GLE 63 S 4Matic Coupé $116,000