The Muscle SUVs Stay in the Hunt
The Smoky Mountain region of the American Southeast has much in common with Germany’s Black Forest. Both feature dense forestry, are steeped in local tradition, and host a vein-like network of tight, twisty two-lane roads carved into the mountainsides. Traveling those roads behind the wheel of the 2024 Mercedes-AMG GLE53 and GLE63 S performance SUVs, it’s easy to experience brief moments of intercontinental singularity. Corners appear without warning; heavy braking orders a firm downshift and a bark from the exhaust before the driver dives back into the accelerator and sets up for the next one.
It’s all pretty heady stuff, especially when you think about the fact that the machine you’re piloting also has room for five and their luggage in the cargo hold. And like the topography, the Mercedes-AMG GLE53 and GLE63 S don’t get hung up on the where but focus on the why and how: Envisioned and developed by Mercedes-Benz’s AMG division in Affalterbach, Germany, the Mercedes-AMG models we drove are assembled at Mercedes-Benz’s facility in nearby Tuscaloosa, Alabama, as verified by the VINs. Critically, the V-8 in the GLE63 S is assembled at AMG’s HQ, employing its “one man, one engine” philosophy that assures quality and—equally important—maintains prestige; the inline-six in the GLE53 is bolted together in Stuttgart.
Changes for 2024
The 2024 model year brings mild revisions to the GLE53 and GLE63 S—both those with the traditional SUV profile and those with the almost-a-coupe body style with a rakish backlight. Specifically, the AMG GLE53 and GLE63 S lead off with fresh LED daytime running lights. In addition, the GLE53 models benefit from a slight redesign of the front fascia, complete with side air intakes, to bring its look closer in concept to the 63 S. Revised taillamps benefit from some internal manipulation to create a new pattern of illumination.
Two new colors join the lineup: a bold enamel-looking solid finish called Alpine Grey and Twilight Blue Metallic, a hue that Mercedes has been splashing over much of its portfolio recently. The latter color brings some sizzle, but it’s far from tacky—a defining theme for the GLE53. A new 22-inch forged wheel in a 10-twin-spoke design is fitted standard on the GLE63 S Coupe and available as an option for the other models.
As expected, the AMG interior is a leather affair. New color combos include Bahia Brown/Black and Macchiato Beige/Black. Trim elements in High-Gloss Brown Linden Wood and Black Piano Lacquer Flowing Lines are optional.
The list of standard frippery is cranked up a notch for the GLE53. Items include an AMG Performance exhaust system (with user-selectable levels of obnoxiousness), a panoramic sunroof, and heated and ventilated front seats. There’s also some electronic tweaking in the form of the enhanced Burmester surround sound system with Dolby Atmos, MBUX augmented video for navigation, and a surround-view camera system with a “transparent hood” feature that stitches together an image of what’s immediately in front of the vehicle.
The GLE63 S and GLE63 S Coupe up the ante with massaging front seats, a head-up display, the Winter package with a heated steering wheel and heated windshield washers, and—to the amazement of onlookers—a logo projector with AMG-specific animation when the front doors open.
Driving the GLE53 and GLE63 S
While the feature content is necessary to keep the well-heeled interested, the powertrain and driving experience ostensibly defines an AMG product.
The GLE53 kicks things off with a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine with a 48-volt hybrid assist. It’s rated at 429 horsepower and 413 pound-feet of torque, the latter an increase of 29 pound-feet thanks to a larger turbocharger and a mild software tweak. Uniquely, the GLE53 also employs an electric supercharger to build boost until the turbo gets up to speed. The result is a 60-mph time Mercedes estimates to be 0.3 second quicker than before, which would put it at 4.4 seconds based on our last test of a GLE53. Output is funneled through a nine-speed automatic transmission and to all four wheels as determined by the standard 4Matic all-wheel-drive system.
The GLE63 S adds a lot more intensity by way of a twin-turbo 4.0-liter V-8, its output unchanged at 603 horsepower and 627 pound-feet of torque, numbers that would’ve made headlines a decade or so ago but now seem almost pedestrian in a world of forced induction and software sorcery. When we last tested that combo in a 2021 model, it proved good for a 60-mph time of 3.4 seconds.
The 48-volt hybrid assist for the 53 and 63 S uses an Integrated Starter Generator (ISG) that resides between the engine and the transmission. In addition to providing additional torque, the versatile device is responsible for regeneration and the restarting of the engine for the stop-start function. That motor can output as much as 21 horsepower in either model, with the GLE53 getting a maximum torque boost of 148 pound-feet, and the V-8 a claimed 184 pound-feet when the ISG leaps into action.
Figuring it best to start small, figuratively speaking, we began the day in the Mercedes-AMG GLE53 SUV. A bit of an anomaly in the world of bruiser SUVs where absurdity is often the norm—we’re looking at you, Lamborghini Urus and Porsche Cayenne Coupe Turbo S—the GLE53 is neither a baller nor a sleeper. Instead, think of it as the GLE with a secret wild side for when you’re feeling frisky. Balance is its forte, and it delivers that slightly elusive cerebral and dynamic feeling of satisfaction inherent to the architecture of an inline-six-cylinder engine. While forced induction, electric assist, and software conspire to deliver maximum torque starting at a low 2200 rpm and maintain it until 5800 rpm, it remains buttery smooth and stays well shy of raucous.
The GLE63 S, on the other hand, never lets you forget there are 603 horses under the hood, each one of them a willing partner in your poor decision-making process. Mercedes claims a top speed of 174 mph—although we only surpassed the century mark on one occasion, the engine was still pulling and seemed disappointed in our decision to back off and not lose our driver’s license. Seven separate drive modes (Comfort, Sport, Sport +, Individual, Race, Trail, and Sand) are on tap to help you break laws in nearly any environment or weather.
We were eager to learn the significance of the 178-hp delta between the GLE53 and GLE63 S in the real world, so we participated in an impromptu mountain-climb challenge with another driver. From a rolling start in a relatively flat stretch, the GLE63 S pulled to an early lead. It then proceeded to walk away from the GLE53, disappearing into the fog and treetops, never to be heard from or seen again. That left us to pretend it never happened in the first place and revert to making small talk about how ideally suited the turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six is for a refined Mercedes product.
Handling for both AMGs is impressive for vehicles comfortably above 5000 pounds. Steering via the thick AMG wheel is typically light, but the speed-sensitive variable-rate system is direct and accurate without being overly flinty in casual situations. Likewise, the adaptive suspensions work hard to shield you from the reality of our nation’s deteriorating roadway infrastructure. Still, pneumatics and software can only go so far as to mitigate the impact of 22-inch wheels (21-inch on the GLE53) with low-profile tires rolling through a concrete minefield. Only rarely did impacts jar the vehicle, but when they did, there were no rattles or disturbing noises.
Mercedes says the anti-roll system and air-spring suspension software are updated for 2024. We can confirm that both AMG GLEs are capable of near-physics-defying acts of agility that would have had their forebear (the Mercedes ML) lean over and grind its door handles into Charivari jewelry.
The brakes hold up their end of the bargain, too, the pedal in the GLE63 S, in particular, engaging with strong bite and responding to pressure rather than pedal travel. Fade was not an issue, even on the long downhill sections. They’re still a bit synthetic-feeling, but a nation of drivers raised on video games rather than go-karts won’t have an issue.
Mercedes equips both SUVs with the latest generation of MBUX with an AMG-specific screen design. Tech enthusiasts will undoubtedly be thrilled that the multi-location collection of system control interfaces remains. Indeed, commands are issued via the touchscreen, the console touchpad, the steering wheel controls, and the “Hey Mercedes” voice assistant. There’s a fairly steep learning curve, but it all works as promised, even if it sometimes feels like the voice assistant needs to have the wax removed from its ears.
As expected, the price of AMG’s pavement-pounding SUVs is significant. Mercedes hasn’t announced official 2024 pricing yet, but we expect the GLE53 to land around the $80K mark and the GLE63 S at about $125,000. These numbers represent an increase of roughly $2000 and $4000, respectively. Look for the 2024 GLE53 and GLE63 S to arrive in showrooms this summer. And watch for them looming large in your rearview on twisty two-lanes in the forest soon thereafter.
2024 Mercedes-AMG GLE53 and GLE63 S
Vehicle Type: front-engine, all-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door wagon or hatchback
PRICE (C/D EST)
Base: GLE53, $80,000; GLE63 S, $125,000
turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 24-valve 3.0-liter inline-6, 429 hp, 413 lb-ft; twin-turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 32-valve 4.0-liter V-8, 603 hp, 627 lb-ft
Wheelbase: 115.6–117.9 in
Length: 194.4–195.3 in
Width: 79.3–79.4 in
Height: 67.7–70.2 in
Cargo Volume, Behind F/R: 63/28 ft3
Curb Weight (C/D est): 5400–5700 lb
PERFORMANCE (C/D EST)
60 mph: 3.4–4.5 sec
1/4-Mile: 11.9–13.2 sec
Top Speed: 155–174 mph
EPA FUEL ECONOMY (C/D EST)
Combined/City/Highway: 17–19/15–18/19–22 mpg
Andrew Wendler brings decades of wrenching, writing, and editorial experience with numerous outlets to Car and Driver. A rust-belt native and tireless promoter of the region, he once won a $5 bet by walking the entire length of the elevated People Mover track that encircles downtown Detroit.