Think about this: You can walk into more than a half-dozen luxury dealerships right now and drive away in a 600-plus horsepower crossover. Ten years ago, that was unthinkable. But with the surge in crossover sales – specifically those on the higher end – buyers in that market want more than just a fancy family hauler. And the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S is pretty much the definition of “more.”
With 603 horsepower, the latest and greatest MBUX infotainment system, and advanced active safety equipment, the Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S has pretty much everything you’d ever need in performance crossover. But of course, all that necessity comes at a cost; the GLE 63 S asks $113,950 before options, and our tester rings in at a hearty $133,660.
The base GLE looks good, if not a bit innocuous. The GLE 63 S, meanwhile, is borderline bonkers. The sporty SUV’s gaping Panamericana grille and massive vents add some angriness to the GLE’s otherwise staid front bumper. The 22-inch matte black wheels further toughen up the exterior, and the $750 AMG Night package on our tester drapes gloss black on the front splitter, mirror caps, window surrounds, and rear apron to complete the sinister look. The GLE 63 S is a big SUV with bold character, particularly in the gorgeous Designo Diamond White that cost $1,515 on the vehicle we drove.
Stepping inside the GLE is like walking into a supercomputer on wheels. The single-piece MBUX infotainment system is the big visual draw, which connects the 12.3-inch touchscreen with the 12.3-inch virtual dash via a big glossy black surround. If you’ve seen any other Mercedes with MBUX, this should look familiar.
The 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster (behind the steering wheel) has tons of configurable options as well, but mainly four core designs to choose from: Modern Classic, Sporty, Discreet, and Supersport. Each one displays different variations of the traditional speedometer and tachometer – but the Supersport is our favorite, with torque, horsepower, and boost figures on display.
Unfortunately, the inside of our GLE 63 is pretty plain elsewhere. The Alcantara steering wheel is nice, as is the black Nappa leather on the seats and dash, but it’s all a bit bland compared to some of the available leather options. And honestly, we could do without the optional AMG Carbon Fiber Trim ($1,590), which adds the lightweight material to the door panels and parts of the dash in place of wood and/or aluminum. But these are minor concerns for an otherwise all-around attractive SUV.
Off the bat, we have to ding the GLE 63 S for its harsh ride compared to traditional SUVs. Even with the AMG Ride Control Plus air suspension, this GLE still rides rough – as many AMG vehicles do. The big 22-inch wheels and the hulking 5,225-pound curb weight probably don’t help its case. That said, the GLE 63 isn’t as stiff as competitors like the BMW X5 M Competition or the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio.
The Nappa leather front seats with Alcantara inserts and various massage functions (controlled via the infotainment system) are exceptionally soft and supportive, and help alleviate some of that harshness – the rear ones, too. And the GLE is supremely quiet on the road. Even at highway speeds, the only thing audible from inside is the roar of the exhaust.
The GLE also has a ton of space. The 38.9 inches of front headroom and 40.3 inches of legroom triumph over your six-foot-tall author, and the two rear passengers should be more than fine with 40.3 inches of available headroom and 38.4 inches of legroom. There’s also a whopping 38.2 cubic feet of cargo room behind the second row, beating next-biggest competitors like the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk (36.3 cubic feet) and BMW X5 M Competition (33.9 cubic feet). All that space makes the GLE 63 feel like it’s a bathroom away from being a 173-mile-per-hour tiny home.
Technology & Connectivity
MBUX is the infotainment MVP, and the GLE 63 S gets the most advanced options. The 12.3-inch touchscreen is a technological tour de force, with things like augmented reality navigation, “Hey, Mercedes” voice assistant functionality, and of course, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. It’s all managed via an easy-to-use touchpad in the center console, touch-capacitive pads on the steering wheels, or the touchscreen itself.
The only problem we have with the setup is that CarPlay and Android Auto aren’t wireless here like they are in the X5 M and some other competitors. Also, Mercedes only has USB-A outlets in the front compartment, so it takes an adapter to plug in modern smartphones that come only with USB-C plugs.
Performance & Handling
The biggest draw of the GLE 63 is its twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V8. That’s the same ridiculously good engine you get in every other AMG 63 model, but with the addition of AMG’s mild-hybrid EQ Boost assist, it’s even better here. The battery aid adds 21 horsepower and 184 pound-feet to the final output, giving the GLE 63 S a hearty 603 horsepower and 627 pound-feet. With that, the SUV can rocket to 60 miles per hour in 3.7 seconds – that’s right, this 5,225-pound mass of metal can move to 60 in under four seconds.
The GLE feels a lot like a muscle car in the way it accelerates. The twin-turbocharged V8 has the rumble of something American when you get on it, smoothly building power all the way up to redline, seemingly with no plateau. The nine-speed automatic isn’t as crisp as we’d like, but it has a similar feel to the engine: it’s smooth and deliberate.
The standard AMG Ride Control Plus air suspension (that we dinged for being too harsh) makes GLE 63 S pretty good in the corners. Body roll is fleeting, and even in the firmest “Sport+” mode, the suspension doesn’t feel crashy. The steering is well-weighted, too, with a nice heft and firmness that tells you exactly what the tires are doing at all times.
It’s hard, though, not to compare the GLE 63 S directly to the BMW X5 M Competition on the performance spectrum – and in fact, we’ve already done a true comparison. But after driving these two 600-plus horsepower crossovers within a few weeks of each other, our butt test tells us that the BMW is quicker off the line, its ZF eight-speed automatic crisper, and its cornering abilities are slightly better.
As the GLE’s range-topping option, the GLE 63 S comes standard with active safety features like automatic emergency braking, active parking assist with a 360-degree camera, and adaptive LED headlights. It also has additional safety features like blind-spot monitoring and attention assist at no extra cost; some of those standard features do cost extra on the base GLE.
But our tester comes even better equipped, sporting the $1,700 Driver Assistance Plus package. That option adds lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise control with stop and go, active steering, lane-change assist, traffic sign recognition, and a few others. With the Driver Assistance button ticked, the GLE stays centered in the lane, keeps a steady pace to the vehicle in front of it, brakes smoothly down to zero, and changes lanes seamlessly. Outside something like Tesla Autopilot or Cadillac SuperCruise, the Mercedes Driver Assistance Plus is one of the most advanced active safety suites available anywhere.
The EPA hasn’t released efficiency figures for the 2021 GLE 63 S yet, so fuel economy doesn’t factor into our final score. That said, we do know that the powerful AMG V8 runs on premium fuel only. And if when comparing the GLE to the BMW X5 M Competition – which achieves just 13 miles per gallon city, 18 highway, and 15 combined – expect similar fuel economy figures. We’ll update this rating and the GLE 63’s overall score once the EPA gets around to issuing figures.
The Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S starts at $113,950, which isn’t cheap. And with expensive options like 22-inch AMG wheels ($1,750), the Energizing Comfort massage package ($1,650), a carbon fiber engine cover ($1,500), plus a few more, our tester rings in at $133,660. That’s not including some options we didn’t mention.
To give the GLE some credit, it is more “affordable” to start than alternatives like BMW X5 M Competition ($114,100), Audi RS Q8 ($114,500), Porsche Cayenne Turbo ($126,500), Maserati Levante Trofeo ($149,900), and Lamborghini Urus ($207,326). But you can nearly reach $150,000 in the GLE 63 S with every option.