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Aussies love a performance car, and a quick glance at the sales charts also reveals an insatiable appetite for high-riding SUVs, too.
But aren’t these two things diametric opposites?
That hasn’t stopped a bunch of brands trying to blend to two together, with a glut of performance-orientated SUVs hitting the local market from the likes of Audi, BMW, Porsche and even Nissan (remember the Nismo Juke?).
Mercedes-Benz has many takes on the go-fast SUV formula, but its latest is the AMG-fettled GLE 53, which is fitted with a clever 48-volt mild-hybrid set-up that allows for savings in fuel consumption, as well as sharper performance off the line.
Is this the ultimate blend of large SUV practicality and sports car performance?
|Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class 2020: GLE53 4Matic+ (hybrid)|
|Engine Type||3.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Hybrid with Premium Unleaded|
Priced at $166,700 before on-road costs, the Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 sits at the top of the five-door large SUV range, at least until the 63 variant lands before the end of the year.
While the high-tech engine and mild-hybrid system no doubt adds to the higher cost compared to the standard GLE range, the 53 also boasts a high level of equipment to help justify the extra spend.
For example, the 'Vision Package', which adds a panoramic sliding sunroof, 12-speaker Burmester sound system and wireless charger, is included as standard in the GLE 53, whereas it is an option for the rest of the GLE range.
A tyre pressure monitoring system, air suspension with adaptive dampers, anti-theft protection, memory package, Nappa leather interior and 21-inch wheels are also included as standard on the GLE 53.
These features come in on top of the 64-colour ambient lighting, open-pore oak wood trim, head-up display, heated front seats and auto-dimming rear view mirror that is standard across the entire GLE line-up.
As with most modern Benz’s, the GLE 53 scores the 'Mercedes-Benz User Experience' (MBUX) multimedia and instrumentation displays.
The latter can also be customised on the fly with different driving data and themes available.
Our test car also came with 'AMG Active Ride Control', adding $5700 to the bottom line.
It's the small touches to the cabin that lift the GLE 53 above more mainstream fair. Take, for example, the fold-down sun visors that are in two pieces to cover both the side window and front windscreen from sun.
Materials, such as Nappa leather, feel suitably premium throughout and I especially like the open-pore oak wood trim.
While the Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 comes fully loaded, it's more expensive than competitors, such as the $161,500 Audi SQ7, that come with seven seats as standard.
Taking the GLE large SUV as a basis, the AMG 53 version adds 21-inch wheels, a sports bodykit, blacked-out rear diffuser, quad exhaust pipes and the famed 'Panamericana' front grille.
The result is a big, bold and brash SUV that can back up its dominating road presence with sizzling pace (more on that below).
I especially like the headlights of the new-generation GLE, which eschews the trend of slim and sleek headlights for a wide, broad design that emphasises this model's girth.
Combined with the bulging bonnet, enlarged air intakes and the aforementioned Panamericana front grille, the GLE 53’s front fascia looks imposing and aggressive – just what you want out of a performance SUV.
From the rear, the slender tail-lights, large swathes of underbody black plastic cladding and generous rear window work together to visually slim down the derriere.
It’s not all sportiness and aggression though, as the 21-inch wheels are quite tame in style compared to other AMG-specific rims, while the prominent side steps, numerous safety sensors and high ride height remind you that the GLE 53 is as much about comfort as it is about pace.
Inside, the GLE 53 mirrors many recent Mercedes-Benz models, and centres on a widescreen display incorporating a 12.3-inch multimedia system and 12.3-inch all-digital instrumentation.
The centre console is also decked out in a nice woodgrain finish, while the customisable ambient lighting throughout elevates the atmosphere.
Of course, leather adorns nearly all touch surfaces, while climate controls are laid out in an easy and intuitive manner.
Overall, Mercedes has done a great job at balancing the sportiness of the GLE 53 with premium and luxurious touches.
Measuring 4937mm long, 2015mm wide, 1782mm tall and with a 2995mm wheelbase, the GLE 53 is certainly no shrinking violet when out on the road.
Up front, the driver and passengers have boundless amounts of room, while the seats are electronically adjustable to find the perfect position.
Storage is also excellent, with the glove box, deep centre storage bin and generous door pockets offering ample stowage options for large water bottles, takeaway coffee cups and anything you might find in your pockets.
The centre console also houses two big cupholders and a wireless smartphone charger. The latter is tilted, meaning it's much easier to grab your phone from the tray than if it were laid flat.
However, the storage lid doesn’t tuck all the way away, meaning wider phones might have to be tucked underneath for wireless charging, making it a bit tricky to retrieve.
Rear seat occupants are treated to heaps of room in all three seats, though the middle does suffer from a slightly raised position.
Being such a wide vehicle, three adults have no trouble sitting abreast, though shoulder-room does get a bit tight.
The boot space is also a sizeable 630 litres with the rear seats in place, which is plenty of room for a pram, groceries and more, while bag hooks and tie down points offer even more practicality.
Fold the second-row down and volume expands to 2055L.
For those with larger families, a seven-seat option is available for $3900, which also comes with electric adjustment for the rear seats and pre-install for rear-seat entertainment.
However, our test car came in five-seat configuration so we can’t speak on the usefulness of seats six and seven.
Pop the bulging bonnet of the GLE 53 and you will find a 3.0-litre twin-turbo inline six-cylinder petrol engine, good for 320kW/520Nm.
With drive sent to all four wheels via Mercedes’ '4Matic' all-wheel drive system and a nine-speed automatic transmission, the large SUV can accelerate from 0-100km/h in just 5.3 seconds – not bad for a vehicle weighing over 2.5 tonnes.
The powertrain also scores a 48-volt mild hybrid system, dubbed 'EQ Boost', which incorporates a 16kW/250Nm electric motor generator between the engine and transmission.
This system is designed to re-engage the engine from idle-stop and gives the engine a boost in performance off the line, while recouping braking energy to recharge.
Fun fact: The GLE 53 shares the same engine and transmission as the CLS 53, but the circa-500kg lighter stylish sedan will blitz the 0-100km run in just 4.5s.
Officially, the Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 sips 9.4 litres per 100km, though we managed a slightly higher 12.6L/100km figure in a week with the car.
To be fair, driving consisted mainly of inner-city running, and the occasional highway blast to find some twisty country roads.
The official fuel consumption figure is lower than some petrol-powered competitors like the BMW X5 M50i (11.5L/100km).
Though the Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 has not been tested by ANCAP or Euro NCAP, the standard GLE range was awarded a maximum five-star rating in July 2019.
Standard safety equipment in the GLE 53 includes autonomous emergency braking (AEB), nine airbags, surround-view monitor, front and rear parking sensors, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keep assist, tyre pressure monitoring, and traffic-sign recognition.
The standard GLE line-up scored 91 and 92 per cent respectively in adult occupant and child occupant protection tests, while the vulnerable road user and safety assist examinations yielded scores of 78 and 79 per cent.
ANCAP says the AEB system in the GLE operates from seven-200km/h, and features a forward collision warning system.
5 years / unlimited km warranty
ANCAP Safety Rating
Like all new Mercedes vehicles, the GLE 53 comes with a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, which easily outclasses the period offered by its BMW and Audi rivals, which is three-years/unlimited kilometres.
The GLE 53 also comes with five years of roadside assist.
Service intervals are set for every 12 months or 25,000km, whichever comes first.
The first scheduled service is priced at $800, while services two and three are $1300 and $1400 respectively, totalling $3500 for the first three years of servicing.
Mercedes offers a prepaid three-year service plan for $2800 (a $700 saving), while four- and five-year plans are also available for $3800 and $5200 at the time of the vehicle purchase.
Looking at our favourite performance SUVs, there's a common theme: the engine matters.
Does the 320kW/520Nm 3.0-litre straight six do enough to push the GLE 53 into our coveted (not really) favourites list? Almost.
There is no doubt the GLE 53 is quick, as evidenced by its 5.3s 0-100km/h acceleration time, but the engine can’t quite overcome its significant mass.
No doubt the GLE 63 will deliver the patented AMG thrills thanks to the ubiquitous 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 engine, but the GLE 53 is still an admirable half-step.
The EQ Boost system does a great job of getting the GLE 53 off the line with noticeable pep, but the in-line six does run out of huff when the revs start to climb.
Flick the right steering wheel paddle for another gear and the nine-speed automatic will shift quickly and seamlessly enough, but its only when the GLE 53 is in its sportiest settings that the exhaust will let rip with pops and burbles.
I'd like a bit more rear-end noise, but understand that the GLE 53 is balancing performance with comfort.
Tip the GLE 53 into a corner though, and the air suspension with adaptive dampers does a wonderful job of controlling body roll and pitch.
The front end feels surprisingly sharp on turn in, especially for a large SUV, while the meaty 275/45 front and 315/40 rear tyres, as well as the all-wheel drive system, serve up plenty of grip.
The brakes also do an okay job at scrubbing speed thanks to beefy drilled front discs, but even more stopping power in a 2.5-tonne large SUV would be welcome.
Slow it down and the GLE 53 is comfortable enough around town.
Smooth roads offer no problems for the big Benz, but the craggy roads and uneven surfaces (including tram tracks in Melbourne’s inner city) can upset the serene comfort of passengers.
The Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 might not be the last word in performance or comfort, but it does a great job of blending the two.
Those who want the pinnacle of performance in a large SUV might have to look elsewhere or wait until the GLE 63 hits, but for those that only need enough pace to put most hot hatches to shame, the GLE 53 will easily fit the bill.
The usable space, liveable ride comfort, long list of equipment and generous warranty also help its case, so its probably best to think of the 53 as a much sportier GLE, rather than a cut-price AMG.
|GLE 300 D 4Matic||2.0L, Diesel, 9 SP AUTO||$83,900 – 106,040||2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE-CLASS 2020 GLE 300 D 4Matic Pricing and Specs|
|GLE 400 D 4Matic||2.9L, Diesel, 9 SP AUTO||$99,000 – 125,180||2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE-CLASS 2020 GLE 400 D 4Matic Pricing and Specs|
|GLE 450 4Matic (hybrid)||3.0L, Hyb/PULP, 9 SP AUTO||$93,400 – 118,140||2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE-CLASS 2020 GLE 450 4Matic (hybrid) Pricing and Specs|
|GLE450 4Matic||3.0L, Hyb/PULP, 9 SP AUTO||$96,700 – 122,210||2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE-CLASS 2020 GLE450 4Matic Pricing and Specs|
|Price and features||7|
|Engine & trans||8|