The distinctive Panamericana grille debuted on racing versions of the iconic 300 SL in the early 1950s. Picture: DENIS DROPPA
The distinctive Panamericana grille debuted on racing versions of the iconic 300 SL in the early 1950s. Picture: DENIS DROPPA

Following a pandemic-induced delay, the high-performance AMG versions of the Mercedes GLE midsize SUV were launched in SA earlier this year.

The Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S is the kingpin of the range with its thrusting V8 power (450kW and 850Nm) and R2.9m price tag, while the GLE 53 delivers a softened blow — both in terms of output and affordability — with a six-cylinder engine and a R1.85m price.

At a saving of more than R1m the GLE 53 is a compelling proposition for buyers wanting decent pace without needing to challenge land speed records.

Its 3.0l twin turbocharged engine makes 320Nm and 520Nm, paired with a nine-speed automatic transmission and 4Matic+ fully variable all-wheel drive.

An EQ Boost starter generator briefly provides an additional 16kW and 250Nm and additionally feeds the 48V on-board electrical system, providing enhancing performance and reduced fuel consumption.

It won’t rush to 100km/h in a Ferrari-challenging 3.8 seconds like the GLE 63, but at 5.3 seconds the GLE is still an impressively swift SUV. It has satisfying thrust and the power scrolls up quickly, without any turbo lag.

The engine makes a sporting roar, accompanied by snaps and crackles during throttle-lifts, but you have to buy the optional R22,400 AMG performance exhaust system to experience the full Jurassic vocals.

The GLE is available in a coupé or regular body styles and it’s the latter, more practical version on test here with its higher roof that provides more rear headroom and a larger boot. At nearly 5m long this big Benz swallows burly passengers and bulky cargo with ease.

The high-tech luxury doesn’t strive for minimalism. Picture: DENIS DROPPA
The high-tech luxury doesn’t strive for minimalism. Picture: DENIS DROPPA

The vehicle rides on AMG Ride Control+ air suspension which provides a button-selected option for either a more wafting ride or nimbler handling. There are drive programmes to suit varying conditions including Comfort, Sport and Sport+ modes. There are also two levels for off-road use: Trail and Sand.

For a big hulk the GLE 53 feels reasonably light on its feet and is capable of swift progress through corners without feeling topple-prone, and a high-performance braking system brings this big boy to a swift halt.

The ride quality, on the other hand, could do with some improvement. In comfort mode the air suspension was good at soaking up undulating roads, but the low-profile 22-inch tyres (a R56,800 option) jittered uncomfortably on bumpy surfaces. The standard higher-profile 20-inch tyres should prove more comfortable, and a lot cheaper.

Stylistically the GLE 53 conforms to AMG’s sporty template. It exudes an athletic swagger with its vertical grill louvres, a quartet of exhausts and rear diffuser.

Inside, the athletic ambience is laid on by an AMG Performance steering wheel and combination leather/microfibre upholstery, but opting for more premium Nappa leather will cost R43,000 extra.

The hi-tech MBUX infotainment system comes standard and contains AMG-specific content, while a widescreen cockpit combines the instrument cluster and touchscreen multimedia display into one unit.

It’s an impressive digital display but the aircraft-like instrument panel can be complex and overwhelm you with information sometimes. I wish there was a simple-view setting with the basics, for when I’m just driving to the shops to buy bread, not getting ready to invade another country.

Six-cylinder turbo engine hauls this big SUV from 0-100km/h in 5.3 seconds. Picture: DENIS DROPPA
Six-cylinder turbo engine hauls this big SUV from 0-100km/h in 5.3 seconds. Picture: DENIS DROPPA

For R1.85m this Benz comes with a reasonable amount of premium fare as standard, but there’s a raft of options on offer that can quickly push it over the R2m mark, including multicontour front seats with a massaging function (R40,200), panoramic sliding roof (R29,200) and head-up display (R19,600). Even a wireless phone charger has to be bought separately for R3,600.

Pricey extras are an industry-wide issue, however, and not just a Mercedes moan.

Overall, this toned-down AMG car lacks the face-stretching thrust of the GLE 63 but has all the power and premium features you’d reasonably need. For Mercedes enthusiasts seeking a roomy SUV with really punchy (and great-sounding) performance, it represents a huge saving over the top dog in the range.

That said, it’s still priced at the higher end of its segment, and if a three-pointed star on the grille is not a compulsory requirement, there are rivals offering arguably better value.


Tech Specs

Engine

Type: Six-cylinder petrol turbo

Capacity: 2,999cc

Power: 320kW

Torque: 520Nm

Transmission

Type: Nine-speed auto

Drivetrain

Type: All-wheel drive

Performance

Top speed: 250km/h

0-100km/h: 5.3 seconds

Fuel Consumption: 9.6l/100km (claimed), 12.1l /100km (as tested)

Emissions: 214g/km

Standard features

Air suspension with adaptive damping, AMG Ride Control +, climate control, MBUX multimedia system, adaptive high beam assist, leather/microfibre upholstery, navigation, electrically adjustable front seats, ABS brakes, nine airbags, stability control, LED headlamps, parking package with 360° camera, electric windows, electric mirrors, rain sensor wipers

Ownership

Warranty: Two years/ unlimited km

Maintenance plan: Five years/100,000km

Price: R1,851,280

Lease*: R39,428 month

* at 10% interest over 60 months no deposit

Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 4Matic +

We like: Pace, practicality

We dislike: Ride quality, expensive cost of options

Verdict: A sports SUV at a million-buck saving over the GLE 63

Motor News star rating

Design * * * *

Performance * * * *

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Competition

  • Volvo XC90 Twin Engine AWD R-Design, 300kW/640Nm — R1,529,500
  • BMW X5 xDrive 45e M Sport, 290kW/600Nm — R1,582,500
  • Audi Q8 55TFSI quattro, 250kW/500Nm — R1,598,500
  • Porsche Cayenne S, 324kW/550Nm — R1,620,000
  • Land Rover Discovery P360 R-Dynamic HSE, 265kW/500Nm — R1,778,070
  • Jaguar F-Pace P400e AWD R-Dynamic HSE, 297kW/640Nm — R1,795,400
  • Maserati Levante, 257kW/500Nm — R1,825,000
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