The verdict: The Mercedes-Benz GLE was already an excellent mid-size luxury SUV, so AMG treatment just adds equal parts speed, silliness and serious bucks.

Versus the competition: In the realm of expensive, overpowered, medium-sporty luxury SUVs, the GLE53 fits oddly between top luxury and top performance trim levels of competing SUVs in terms of both price and power.

I don’t know how the German luxury brands are doing it. Go into any of their dealerships or peruse their various websites and you’ll find a dozen SUVs of slightly different sizes. Some are tall-riding “coupe”-style SUVs and some are more traditional, but each has several trim levels that amp up the power, style, performance and bottom-line price in increasingly complicated trim stratifications and an alphabet soup of model names. Mercedes-Benz is no exception.

 This SUV is the 2022 Mercedes-AMG GLE53, a name that requires some deciphering (though not as much as do most BMWs). For starters, it’s Mercedes-AMG, not Mercedes-Benz, because it’s part of Mercedes’ sub-brand of AMG-branded performance models, and the GLE is the automaker’s mid-size luxury SUV. The number attached to those letters once denoted engine displacement, but now it’s just a number (53) that lets you know it slots between the lesser GLE450 and the more powerful, V-8-equipped Mercedes-AMG GLE63. Finally, note that the model discussed here is the GLE SUV, not the GLE Coupe. That model has a chopped roofline and less practical space — and it costs more money.

What’s confusing about the AMG GLE53 is that its competitors offer either more power for more money or less power for less money, but no model lines up all that directly with the GLE53. That said, we’ll talk about it here in a couple of ways: Is it any good on its own, and is there a better choice (either within Mercedes or from a competing manufacturer) instead?

Extra Flash

The GLE53 gets some visual changes versus the GLE450, and they do a good job making this a sportier-looking model. The requisite AMG-style grille is present, with chrome trim and an A-Wing design, and it’s accompanied by a deeper front splitter under the bumper. My test vehicle had 21-inch wheels with black accents to go along with black exterior paint, giving the whole SUV a menacing, murdered-out look that’s really quite appealing. It looks like it’ll be fun to drive — at least, as much as any five-seat family SUV could be — hitting all the right notes to amp up its presence without being gaudy or outrageous. As we used to say, it looks money.

Things get even more dramatic inside, with splashes of red Nappa leather upholstery amid somber black surroundings and optional brushed aluminum trim. Everything is of the benchmark quality for which Mercedes-Benz is known; from button actuation to the way the switches and covers move, everything is smooth, damped and upscale.

The regular GLE is a comfortable SUV, but the AMG modifications make it a little less so: The seats are more firmly bolstered, and the steering wheel is shapely but not heated. In short, opting for the GLE53 means giving up some of the convenience items you’d expect in a $90,000 luxury vehicle in exchange for a sportier attitude befitting the AMG label. Admittedly, some of those trades are pretty cool, such as AMG Drive Unit steering-wheel buttons that are part of an AMG Dynamic Plus Package. They let you adjust settings like sport exhaust and drive mode via a neat little rotary wheel on the steering wheel itself. There are also a couple of ancillary organic light-emitting diode buttons that control other features.

It is not, however, a perfect interior. We still think Mercedes-Benz overcomplicates its touch-sensitive steering-wheel controls, gauge cluster information and multimedia system. The automaker’s latest MBUX multimedia system is here, and while it does have a rather significant learning curve, it generally works well — aside from the voice controls, which are still a bit buggy;  you can’t say the word “Mercedes” at all, such as in conversation with passengers, without triggering the system.  But it does provide some fun gee-whiz features, like augmented reality navigation, that are pretty cool.

 
 

Extra Dash

Powering the AMG GLE53 is a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six-cylinder engine making a hefty 429 horsepower and 384 pounds-feet of torque, mated to a slick nine-speed automatic transmission that drives all four wheels through permanent all-wheel drive. It’s growly and responsive, and it can fling the SUV from 0-60 mph in 5.2 seconds, Mercedes says. That’s reasonably quick for a mid-size SUV, and the powertrain’s responsiveness is among the GLE53’s highlights.

Handling is another. Steering feel is excellent — nicely weighted, full of proper feedback and managed through a thick AMG-style steering wheel that feels good in your hands. The GLE53’s adjustable suspension does an admirable job keeping the SUV level in corners, but there’s no getting around the fact that you’re sitting high up with a high center of gravity. I’d happily trade one of this AMG’s sport modes for the Curve mode found in the GLE450, which is an adaptive suspension mode that tilts the SUV in corners like an airplane, minimizing lateral G-forces. The GLE53 is indeed sportier and more aggressive than a basic GLE450, and it brakes better and sounds better, but its level of “sport” adjustability borders on silly.

The AMG treatment is meant to make you think this is a track-capable sports machine, complete with special lap timers, gauges, super sport modes and more. But that concept is ridiculous; a tall-riding, five-occupant, family SUV is simply not what you drive on a track, it’s the thing you drive to the track — perhaps towing your sports car on a trailer behind you.

All the effort put into trying to create a “sports-car SUV” just seems wasted to me. It’s all about image; these AMG SUVs are far more likely to clog the valet stand at Spago than carve corners at Spa-Francorchamps. I’ve yet to see a driver take their “performance” SUV to a track day or autocross. A vehicle like this is at its best traversing the high-speed Autobahn between two European cities — or at least looking to other American “affluencers” as if that’s something you do.

The performance goodies and styling improvements on the AMG GLE53 look and sound great, but it’s hard to match it up against a proper competitor. BMW offers the less expensive and less powerful X5 xDrive40i (335 hp and 5.3 seconds from 0-60 mph) for nearly $10,000 less, and the more expensive, more powerful X5 M50i (523 hp, 4.1 seconds) for about $10,000 more. Audi has the much less expensive SQ5 (349 hp, 4.7 seconds), but not a more powerful (or expensive) version of the Q5. The even less expensive Alfa Romeo Stelvio Veloce comes only with a 280-hp turbo four-cylinder or in a fire-breathing 505-hp Quadrifoglio trim for a lot more money than the GLE53. A Jaguar F-Pace R-Dynamic is less powerful, less expensive and slower, while an F-Pace SVR is more powerful, more expensive and quicker. Mercedes-Benz is either being clever, finding a niche nobody else has explored, or it has misplaced and mispriced this trim level in an area nobody else finds worthy of the investment.

The AMG GLE53 SUV starts at $74,600 (including destination). The version I drove had some choice options, including a $2,990 red leather interior, 21-inch wheels, performance exhaust, heated and ventilated multicontour seats, and multiple option packages (Driver Assistance, Acoustic Comfort and AMG Performance), bringing the grand total up to $90,550.

So back to our original question: Is the GLE53 any good on its own? Yes, it really is. It provides a more engaging driving experience than a standard GLE, though it comes at the cost of that SUV’s stellar comfort and a few luxury amenities. It’s quick, it’s quiet and it’s certainly a better idea than the truly daft AMG GLE53 Coupe, which eliminates the standard GLE’s useful cargo area and backseat headroom in favor of questionable styling.

Comparing the AMG GLE53 SUV against competitors, however, makes the question more challenging. It really is in a class of one; competitor SUVs are either cheaper and less powerful (but sometimes quicker) or more expensive and a lot more powerful. But if the GLE53 can find a sweet spot, it’ll be as a more budget-friendly alternative to those models (if a $90,000 SUV can really be referred to as a “value” option) and a strong SUV on its own.

https://www.cars.com/articles/2022-mercedes-amg-gle-53-review-adventures-in-unnecessary-sportiness-446085/

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