Mountain Wheels: Mercedes-Benz AMG GLE 53 brings stylish performance
If you are a fan of fine German engineering, Mercedes-Benz and its reliable and performance-oriented 4Matic all-wheel-drive system can help to make even the most icy and treacherous roads in Colorado a safe and somewhat simpler experience.
One of the more distinctive new members of the somewhat larger side of the company’s G-Class SUV group is the GLE, available both as a traditional, squared-off SUV and an all-new Coupe model, with a more car-like sloped roof in the rear. Late last year, I got to drive the AMG GLE 53, which swaps in a 429-horsepower, 3.0-liter inline-six engine and Mercedes’ new 48-volt technology – a precursor of the increasingly electrified vehicles we will see in the near future.
That Coupe is definitely the most distinctive looking member of the entire G family, with a shape somewhat reminiscent of BMW’s X6, its own coupish crossover — tall, rounded, ultra-aggressive, and very unique. Parked on 21-inch wheels (or, goodness, 22s), the GLE’s stature and stance is more like an overgrown, off-the-ground automobile, not your typical boxy SUV.
Granted, you might get a little less room in the far back for loading very tall furniture, but the sweep of the roofline is still gentle enough to allow full passenger headroom in the back, and total cargo space with the rear seats down is 74.9 cubic feet. Another consideration with that swept roof is diminished rear visibility, with just a crescent moon of rear window.
Of course, the AMG GLE 53 is just one point on the compass, as there are six variations of the GLE SUV and three additional different strengths of the Coupe. Mercedes-Benz has indeed got a little bit of everything for everyone, though I have to admit that the rigidity and sportiness of the AMG GLE 53 was a little overwhelming on regular pavement. In the corners, the GLE held and had poise and grip that I would not have expected on a vehicle of this size.
While I would have loved the unadulterated madness of the larger V-8 of the AMG 63 version, the 53 still gives you cracks and pops of thunderous exhaust when you floor it. And the sport version of the 4Matic system means that the vehicle essentially acts like a rear-wheel-drive automobile when you want the power put to the pavement – or can move it back-to-front or even side-to-side to maximize grip.
The current generation of Mercedes models are all about shock and awe inside as well, with an ultra-wide digital display that stretches from the instrument panel all the way to the navigation screen. You use tiny trackballs on the sporty and very rigid steering wheels to thumb through dozens and dozens of screens, allowing you to call up racetrack performance options or dial in a massage and onboard lightshow mode like you’ve headed to the spa. Yes, the car really does that.
On Mercedes’ performance models, however, you also have to be careful as you really can digitally control nearly every aspect of the driving experience – the responsiveness of the throttle, the feel of the air suspension – and even place the nine-speed automatic transmission into manual mode, perhaps when you did not expect to do so. It’s a vehicle that really calls for a college-level introduction course to its electronics.
I also had a chance to do some cruising in the AMG GLC 43 SUV, priced at $70,110 (optioned up from its $59,500 base price), and it provided a completely different experience. In its AMG version, you get 385 horsepower in a lighter platform, and it was capable of truly terrifying acceleration in all of its own velvety brutalism, like the rest of its upscale family.
Bliss for me came on Squaw Pass where, with a summertime window cracked open, I was able to hear the full fury of exhaust noises and experienced steering and handling that seemed a little more right-sized – I did not have to fight or overthink things, based on having too much vehicle to handle. GLC seemed like a better overall fit, and not quite as grandiose or intense as the GLE. It came with the same flat, red-stitched dash, oversized air vents, aluminum door inserts and a crazy-loud Burmester surround sound system.
Andy Stonehouse’s column “Mountain Wheels” publishes Saturdays in the Summit Daily News. Stonehouse has worked as an editor and writer in Colorado since 1998, focusing on automotive coverage since 2004. He lives in Golden. Contact him at email@example.com.
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