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First Drive: The 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S SUV Is Equal Parts Sport and Utility

During a SoCal test-drive, the latest version of the midsize SUV handled more like a high-performance GT.

The 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S. Photo: Courtesy of Mercedes-AMG.

Sometimes running late can present one with unexpected opportunities. While trying to make up lost time while driving Mercedes-AMG’s latest ode to tech-infused opulence, the GLE 63 S midsize SUV, I decide to take a shortcut through the Malibu hills. I was already carving up Topanga Canyon Road from the shimmering Pacific up to US 101, but needed to shave about an hour from the drive. I opt for an old shortcut on the route, banking a hard left up through Fireside Road. The route would miss the freeway portion of the drive—linear thoroughfares would highlight the obvious torquey benefits of a girthy hauler like this—but the detour ended up supplying an opportunity for the GLE 63 S to shine in ways I could never have predicted.

The 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S.

The 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S.  Photo: Courtesy of Mercedes-AMG.

While cruising along the coast, the overwhelming avalanche of torque from the sublime 4.0-liter, twin-turbocharged AMG V-8 allows me to overtake slower cars as if swatting gnats. Hand-built in Affalterbach, Germany, under AMG’s famed One Man, One Engine flag, it is luxurious in ways only one who has experienced 627 ft lbs of torque can relate to; absolute power does corrupt absolutely, especially when liftoff is available at only 2,500 rpms. But when on these winding two-lane roads, crossing through some of the most beautiful territory in LA County, you see just how tightly sprung this machine is. What makes it more impressive is that the vehicle tips the scales at over 5,300 pounds and has such a high center of gravity (the roofline is at a height of about 68 inches). The GLE 63 S is substantial, but there is no give in the four corners, even when dipping and tucking into serious off-camber S-turns.

The 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S.

The GLE 63 S can race from zero to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds and reach 174 mph.  Photo: Courtesy of Mercedes-AMG.

Credit the suite of otherworldly technology that grants the GLE the license to pretty much defy the laws of physics. Primarily, the ACTIVE RIDE CONTROL+’s air suspension and adjustable Adaptive Damping System tightens suspension under duress to ensure optimal traction (or softens it for a cushier ride), while also dropping the GLE by 0.4-inches in Sport, Sport+ and Race driving modes. The 4MATIC+ all-wheel drive’s torque distribution can push 100 percent of the power to the rear axle for exhilarating rear-wheel-drive action, or split it equally between the front and back. And the electronically locking rear differential ensures maximum grip while cornering. There are also active roll stabilization bars augmented by a 48-volt EQ Boost system. The combination helps keep this ship shockingly level, even on the squiggly asphalt that defines remote Malibu roads.

The 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S.

For the family that likes to carve canyons.  Photo: Courtesy of Mercedes-AMG.

At one point, while driving sharply in the canyons, I’m steering with my left hand while my right hand white-knuckles the grip handle on the center console, preventing my body from flailing side to side—all while a smile is etched from ear-to-ear. Remember, this is from a two-and-a-half-ton SUV that can cannonball from zero to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds and reach 174 mph. Thankfully, my test version has the optional fade-resistant ceramic brakes—but even the standard 6-piston / 16-inch steel brakes delete velocity quickly.

The 2021 model is the first GLE to boast EQ Boost. Not only does it power the stabilization bars, it also charges the engine start/stop function and can goose power output in spurts (an extra 21 hp and 184 ft lbs of torque when needed). It’s a clever little system that helps in handling, power surges and fuel efficiency. Pure AMG genius.

Inside the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S.

Interior features include head-up display, massaging seats and the MBUX infotainment’s twin 12.3-inch screens.  Photo: Courtesy of Mercedes-AMG.

Of course, the interior exercises every trick that Mercedes-Benz has learned in its 125 years in motorsports, and almost as long defining automotive luxury. Every touch point is substantial: door locks are knurled aluminum; steering wheel is fat, wrapped in Alcantara and a polished carbon-fiber weave. Every material is either supple leather, Alcantara, veneered carbon-fiber or metal, like the perforated speaker grills in the optional Burmester 3D surround sound.

There’s also head-up display, wireless phone charging, five USB ports and heated and ventilated massaging seats. The MBUX infotainment’s twin 12.3-inch screens—one a gauge cluster, the other the central touchscreen—is arguably best in the business, as is the new AMG Performance steering wheel. And then there’s the GLE’s 33 cubic feet of cargo space and rear seats that can comfortably accommodate 6-foot humans sitting behind 6-foot humans.

With the technology that Mercedes-AMG is lacing its SUVs with, it’s little wonder that the model type has eclipsed sedans, coupes and convertibles in annual sales. The emphasis is clear with 10 all-new or completely redesigned SUVs in the marque’s portfolio. Landing in showrooms this summer, the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S starts at $113,950.

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