Words by: Adam Allen
The last time we drove Mercedes Benz’s relatively new GLE, we came away suitably impressed with the handsome, clean sheet redesign bequeathed upon one of the best-selling SUVs in the brand’s portfolio. We used words like “exquisite” and “serene” to describe what it’s like living with the GLE 450 trim level we had in the Carpages Garage about a year ago. We stand by those descriptors, but since then Mercedes has made available for sale two additional models that turn up the heat to varying degrees, and we wondered what the GLE would be like with more suds under the hood. We asked for the keys to the bacon-wrapped-foie-gras exercise in indulgence at the pinnacle of the range, which is the GLE 63, featuring a hand built 4.0 turbocharged V8 that makes an enormous 603 horsepower, but it wasn’t available. All hope was not lost, because Mercedes did have a GLE 53 on hand and we jumped at the chance to see what’s what.
The GLE 53 could best be described as the Goldilocks trim level in the GLE family. No one can deny that it is substantially more aggressive than the GLE 450 we drove several months ago, but not quite as bonkers as the fire breathing 63. Sitting crouched on its air suspension in the parking lot at Mercedes HQ, it looked properly badass what with its Panamericana grille and a good slathering of Hyacinth Red paint accompanied by a set of huge 21” wheels on correspondingly large Michelin performance tires.
Once we got settled in the cockpit- which is just as luxuriously appointed as it was the last go around- we took inventory of what the 53 brings to the table over its more mild-mannered stablemate. The seats are clearly designed with sporting bent, feeling much less like a comfortable lounge chair than something intended to keep you in place during spirited driving. There’s carbon fibre trim galore, and at night the entire cockpit glows with red ambient lighting.
Pleased with our surroundings, we thumbed the Start button and the turbocharged inline six comes to life with a rather pleasing rasp. Thankfully, ours came with the AMG Sport Exhaust which adds a healthy dose of menace and deepens the voice coming out the quad exhaust outlets. This is not a handcrafted model like you get in the full fat AMG versions, but rather it has been ‘enhanced’ by the Mercedes in house tuner. It makes for pleasing numbers on the spec sheet, churning out 429 horsepower and 384-foot pounds of torque. We danced a jig when Mercedes announced it was going back to building inline six engines some years ago, and we were reminded why during the first meaningful dip into the throttle. This engine is as smooth as glass, makes strong, linear power and sounds great while it does its thing, but in the GLE 53 that experience is elevated in every way and sounds much better throughout the rev range but its soundtrack is the most scintillating when you take off from rest and the exhaust setting is set to Powerful regardless of the drive mode you have chosen. That does make for a thirstier GLE but unfortunately not that much fleeter of foot; it is quicker than the GLE 450 but not meaningfully so. Still, it sprints away from stoplights smartly and it offers more power than most will need. Aiding in the cut-and-thrust of urban driving is a mild hybrid system that helps with some oomph until the turbos come into play, feeding 21 hp and 184 lb.-ft to the drivetrain. This system also gifts the GLE 53 with the most unobtrusive engine stop/start hardware in the business- no jolting or thuds, the engine just whirrs back to life discreetly. Looking after gear shifting duties is the same 9-speed gearbox that we are familiar with from Mercedes, but the calibration has been fettled with to give faster, more urgent shifting behaviour. When you need to scrub off speed, the 53 shrugs off velocity without any effort but the pedal is surprisingly mushy and is not fully in line with the sportier ethos of the AMG Lite philosophy. Similarly, the suspension is much more buttoned down and offers the crisp kind of handling you would expect, but in the GLE’s more aggressive drive modes the sublime ride quality is eroded somewhat. We know it’s not the tires because while they are a sportier compound that the previous GLE 450 we flogged they have the same huge footprint. But it stands to reason if you opt for this model you don’t mind a little more starch in the suspenders, so customers shouldn’t mind a bit.
There are a few other notable features of the GLE 53 that in the pursuit of delivering a cohesive review to you, dear reader, we decided must be singled out. We will start inside, where we once again found ourselves enamoured with the massive digital instrument panel. Not only is it gorgeous to look at, but once you get over the many buttons and menu layouts, it becomes almost second nature to operate. MBUX, your on-board digital assistant, is unfortunately not as crisp as the screens and we just took to doing everything on our own; we’ve never seen adjusting the fan speed on the climate control as a hardship anyhow. Lastly, the ambient lighting on our tester was spectacular and easily the best realization of this gimmicky feature and is spectacular to behold at night, bathing the cabin with restraint and never becoming a distraction.
There is also one asset the GLE 53 has up its sleeve that you will not find on a spec sheet, or throughout Mercedes comprehensive technical data. That would be this car’s unerring solidity, a trademark from Stuttgart we’ve come to love over the years. There’s something satisfyingly reassuring about having what feels like a bank vault surrounding you respond obediently to your every whim.
Do not get us wrong, the GLE 63 would be the one we’d pine for but let us be honest- it’s expensive and ridiculous overkill. We discovered that the GL E 53 is the sweetest spot of the lineup, with feet firmly planted in both camps of sport and luxury. If the 350/450 models just aren’t doing it for you and 603 horsepower seems like a bit much for groceries, look no further than this baby.
2021 Mercedes Benz AMG GLE 53 4MATIC+ SUV- Specifications
- Price as tested: $113,550
- Body Type: 5-door, 5 passenger SUV
- Powertrain Layout: Front engine/all-wheel drive
- Transmission: 9-speed automatic
- Engine: 3.0 litre twin-turbo V6 with EQ Boost, DOHC, 24 valves
- Horsepower: 429 @ 6,100 rpm
- Torque (lbs-ft.): 384 @ 1,800 rpm
- Curb weight: 2,373 kg (5,232 lbs)
- Observed Fuel Consumption: 14.3L/100km (13 mpg)