It’s big, it's comfy and it’s relatively frugal… for a large SUV, anyway. Does that mean the Mercedes-AMG GLE53 can’t also be muscular? We grabbed the keys to Affalterbach’s inline-six powered behemoth and hit the roads in and around Melbourne to find out. But first we should point out that there’s a little more to the six than just the engine. This is Mercedes’ new 3.0-litre turbo six with a mild hybrid system, including an electric compressor designed to improve responsiveness and efficiency where the engine’s turbocharger can’t.
We’ve experienced this engine previously to much delight in AMG’s svelte E53 sedan and coupe, so does it translate so well to a big, plush SUV? Its 320kW and a burly 520Nm are certainly enough to reach and maintain highway cruising speeds smoothly, and its EQ Boost (overboost) from the mild hybrid system adds 16kW and 250Nm on top of that for a temporary 336kW/770Nm that makes overtaking effortless. The engine never feels like it’s struggling to pull the two-tonne mass around during normal duties.
Around the city and the suburbs are where the majority of the GLE53’s time will likely be spent, we’d wager, which is unfortunate because its air suspension (and AMG Ride Control, a $5700 option) makes it a lovely highway cruiser. Its rather chunky Michelin Pilot Sport 4 SUV tyres also help that suspension keep harsh bumps from unsettling the ride or intruding into the cabin, while keeping road noise quite minimal. Inside the GLE53 feels abundantly capacious, so much so that our need to transport a road bicycle at one point during our tenure seemed it could have been achieved by riding the bike into the boot sitting upright.
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What we’re saying is that the GLE53 is big. And it looks it. And feels it. Once you hit a winding road on a country drive, some adjustment of your extended kinaesthesia to the vehicle is required, especially if the last car you drove was a small coupe. In Comfort or even Sport, the GLE’s bodyroll is rather noticeable, though never to the point of concern. It’s just there. Sport Plus stiffens up the dampers enough to get a bit of speed more properly involved, which also means that tricky engine is at its most awake, the nine-speed TCT auto snapping through gears keenly and smoothly, the exhaust letting its AMG roots be known. Quite loudly, at times.
Once you’re in the groove of managing the GLE53’s weight, it corners and accelerates rather keenly for something of its size. The engine’s e-compressor filling the lag gap nicely and providing a smooth yet alert throttle response, while even the top end of the tacho is worth exploring for the extra gusto the EQ Boost provides. Even better is that it achieves all of this without skolling 98 like an ex-PM with a pint. After more than 300km, with a fair bit of hard driving, the ’53 still had more than half its 85-litre tank left.
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It’s no dynamic wunderkind, but it’s enough to keep the kids (not included with the car) in the back seats entertained/terrified on the trip to the family’s weekend getaway. Realistically, the balance between comfort and handling is bang on what it needs to be in this segment. The only real complaint with the GLE under hard driving was its brakes, which were strong but would begin to smoke after hard use, which is quite understandable given the heft they’re required to pull up.
One additional bonus the GLE53 has over some more performance-focused SUVs is a wider range of drive modes, including Trail for unsealed tracks and a Sand mode for beach driving. We took the opportunity to twist the dial into Trail, wait for the air suspension to raise the portly GLE, and hit the tracks. Even at a relatively quick cruising speed through wide unsealed (and slightly muddy) tracks, the GLE was able to disperse the bumps from corrugated sections of track with ease, power through soft surfaces and mud, and corner without slipping, though at an admittedly lower speed.
Wrap that up, and it’s back onto the mountain roads in Sport Plus in no time. At the risk of sounding trite, it’s a testament to the GLE53 being a jack of all, even if it’s a master of none. No-one will buy it instead of a sports car, or a proper rugged off-roader, or an economical family car, but it’s got a bit of all three about it. A C63 sedan won’t do everything this can, nor will a Landcruiser or Lexus LX. We’re impressed.
Mercedes-AMG GLE53 specs
Engine: 2999cc I6, DOHC, 32v, turbo
Power: 320kW @ 6100rpm
Torque: 520Nm @ 1800-5800rpm
0-100km/h: 5.3sec (claimed)
Weight: 2250kg • price $166,700
Like: Fabulous engine; comfortable; malleable for varied lifestyles; thrifty
Dislike: Very big; interior feels sparse; buying $500 of groceries just to fill the boot