Not too many SUVs offer the breadth of performance that the GLE-Class boasts. With three different AMG offerings, there's more performance to be wrung out of this ritzy Benz SUV than some bona fide performance cars.
On the sane side of things, there's a 3.0-liter twin-turbo powerplant that makes 329 horsepower and 354 pound-feet of torque. It's a strong engine that pulls the SUV with a smoothness that mimics a larger displacement engine. It manages to run to 60 mph in 5.9 seconds, far outpacing the old base engine that held down the affordable end of the GLE lineup last year. The nine-speed automatic transmission that routs power to all four wheels is sharp and crisp in its operation, and seems to work well in each of the various driving modes available via the GLE's drive mode selector.
The first of the AMG-branded models starts off with the AMG GLE 43. Consider it AMG-lite: rather than go whole-hog with a hand-built V8, it uses a slightly massaged version of the 3.0-liter motor found in the base model. Power is brought up to a respectable 385 hp and 384 lb-ft of torque, and the zero-to-60 time loses a few tenths of a second as a result. Compared to the regular GLE, everything seems slightly more dialed in. Steering, handling, engine response, the works – all of it feels like there's a dusting of something special. It's nothing blatant, and easily missed. But have no doubt about it, there's still enough of the AMG magic here to let the 43 merit it's AMG badging.
There's no concern about the use of the AMG moniker when it comes to the mighty AMG GLE 63 and AMG GLE 63 S. Both models use a handcrafted V8 displacing 5.5 liters; it makes 550 horses in the 63 and 577 in the 63 S. The zero-to-60 time for both models is a speedy 4.2 seconds. There's not too many SUVs that can thump their chests with this kind of authority. It takes a lot of money to get behind the wheel of one of these, but wheeling it around a few back roads is enough to try to justify splurging on it.
On all models, handling is commendable for what is a top-heavy, high-riding vehicle. An optional active-curve suspension brings in active anti-sway bars that stiffen the suspension in corners, giving the big SUV a flatter and more predictable demeanor when the road twists and turns. Exploiting the various drive settings also works to make the GLE a better performer in the handling department. When the road is straight, the GLE cruises serenely, absorbing bumps and road imperfections without fuss.