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.