- Max Speed
Start the week right with a 600bhp uber-4x4, yeah?
Yep, happy Monday. Welcome to one of those exceedingly silly cars the crazy, zany Germans have an insatiable thirst for: the super-SUV. Germany makes more of these nuclear-powered hippos than any other country, and AMG is responsible for the majority.
Thanks to a token 48-volt e-boost for the 4.0-litre bi-turbo V8, this latest AMG GLE63 ‘S’ (the only model offered to Brits) now churns out a colossal 604bhp. An equal power output to a Porsche Carrera GT, in a (private) school-run bus. Excellent.
I’d expect nothing less from AMG.
Indeed. You can also buy a GLE63S in slicked-back ‘coupe’ form. Or you can supersize this powertrain into the enormous GLS, which needs planning permission from the council every time you park. And of course there’s the car all these Merc tanks riff off: the mighty G63. It makes do with a mere 577bhp, but that’s plenty for a skyscraper.
So that’s four SUVs with near-as-dammit 600bhp, all from one sub-brand. Imagine being the salesperson who has to explain that to the eco-conscious Benz customer popping in to ponder an all-electric EQC.
“Right this way, madam. That’s it, left at the tower block with windscreen wipers that chucks out more CO2 than Beijing. Nope, you’ve gone too far, that’s our 600bhp seven-seater. Wait, that’s the exit, where are you-… oh.”
Guess they’re paying the bills…
Not just for Mercedes. These ultra-chariots show no signs of going out of fashion. Porsche has just created a new ultimate drivers’ Cayenne Turbo GT as a riposte to the daft Bentley Bentayga Speed and Lamborghini Urus.
Aston Martin has a 542bhp, DBX-shaped slice of the mega-SUV game. And BMW’s X5M and Audi’s RSQ8 had begun to make the old GLE63’s 550bhp output look a tad undercooked.
So it’s now a hybrid?
Not really. Mercedes talks a good game about the GLE63S’s ‘EQ Boost’ starter-generator adding 22bhp of electric oomph, and the clever cylinder shut-off which puts half of the V8 on standby when cruising, but this is still an oil tanker fire on 22-inch rims.
There’s a helpful little hybrid boost gauge on the dash to show you how much energy is being re-gen’d back into the battery or deployed when you prod the gas. You’ll find it opposite the read-out that says you’re averaging 17 miles to the gallon.
Ouch. That’s rather juicy.
The official claim is 22.8mpg, which you’ll match if you stick to motorways and cruise in ninth (yes, nine gears) while the engine mooches along off boost at a mere 1,500rpm.
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After all, the standard GLE is – Mercedes claims – the most aerodynamically slippery SUV in its class, which is like being the Slimmer of the Week in a herd of elephant seal herd.
So you can’t feel the hybrid system doing much?
Not really – even though the starter-generator housed between V8 and twin-clutch gearbox is heaping 184lb ft onto the V8’s already muscular efforts. That’s a whole Mazda MX-5 and quarter’s worth of twist, but this was never an engine that suffered unduly from turbo lag, so the effect of the e-boost is masked. Throttle response is fabulously obedient.
In total, you’ve got 627lb ft under your right foot. That 2.1-tonne kerbweight is a trifling inconvenience to be swatted away with a big toe flex.
Stupidly fast. Despite being a few horsies shy of BMW’s equally daft X5 M Competition, the massively torquier GLE63S equals its main rival’s 3.8 second 0-62mph sprint. And it’ll snort and bellow its way all the way to 175mph.
Nine gears is frankly too many. Drive it in manual mode and the prequel to any headlong charge is about forty-three paddle-clicks to arrive in the correct gear. And when you’ve got more power to deploy than most countries' air forces, you just don’t need nine gears. Two would do. Forward and reverse.
What sets the GLE apart from all the other absurd German battlecruisers?
A few things that give it – get this – an agreeable, friendly personality. Very much unlike the intended customer, who – we all suspect – is going to be of the boot-cut jeans persuasion.
First, the ride. The GLE63S rides on air-sprung multi-mode suspension, and choose to have an awful, teeth-vibrating time if you select Sport Plus mode and run over an insect. Left in Comfort mode, there’s compliance and sponginess.
And yet, when you inevitably arrive at a corner considerably earlier than you had planned, 48-volt anti-roll active suspension ensures the GLE doesn’t keel over, leave you hanging off the side like a dodgy windsurfer.
This comfort is by no means a common thing in yer German uber-barge these days. AMG’s C63 and E63 are magnificent beasts, only let down by their brittle ride in our eyes. The X5M is stiff too. The GLE rides as pliantly as the Aston DBX and Bentley Bentayga, but costs tens of thousands of pounds less.
It’s also trustworthy. BMW and Porsche’s hyper-SUVs feel a bit rear-wheel drive, presumably because the engineers would rather be honing super-saloons and want their SUV brethren to have the same ‘don’t make me angry’ mean streak. The GLE’s all-wheel drive system can still prioritise the back axle, but it never feels – on dry roads at least – like it’ll unstick itself just to see the look on your face.
The GLE takes itself a bit less seriously than others, too. In the BMW, you can actually change the brake pedal between Comfort and Sport modes, for no good reason. It’s jumped the shark. Too much choice. The GLE63 is a simpler device.
I’m sure if you took it to a track, a Porsche Cayenne Turbo GT or Lamborghini Urus would lap a GLE before its brakes caught fire. But they wouldn’t be half as cushioning to your backside on the way home. Or sound as volcanic.
One of the very best, truly. The Porsche / Audi V8 is gruff. BMW’s is overdubbed by the hi-fi. But this AMG wallop-rocket has a brooding burble at idle and a proper cackle as the revs build. It’s every bit as home here as it is in the sublime AMG GT R Pro.
Could I live with it every day?
If you could afford to run it, then yes. Besides its cosseting manners, it’s an accomplished cruiser, the twin 12.3-inch screen interfaces are crisply annotated, and if you’re a knurling enthusiast, then this interior will bring you out in a hot flush. The switchgear feels dense and expensive – all except the mode-changer knob and toggles which dangle from the steering wheel like plastic testicles.
As standard there’s heated massaging seats and 64 colours of ambient lighting. It’ll tow three and a half tonnes of whatever the hell you like, and there are Snow and Trail modes that these road-biased tyres would rather you left well alone. How many other cars have a Trail Mode, a lap-timer, and launch control built in? Not many. How many cars need such features? Exactly.
If you’re a wealthy speed enthusiast who’s also fertile, be aware you can’t have seven seats in the ‘63S – it’s a five-seater only. Loads of space in both rows though.
This is sounding dangerously close to being ‘a good car’.
Interesting one: can any super-SUV be ‘a good car’ in 2021? We’re a bit past being blown away by how these things corner and accelerate now. The element of surprise has gone.
And there is simply no vehicle more out of step with the times, regardless of the token cylinder deactivation and electrical supplement. It is mesmerisingly bonkers that cars like this still exist. For as long as they do, I’d have to say AMG does them better than the rest.