An injection of AMG steroids makes for an impressive, if confusing, take on the GLE.
– Malibu, California
Ace photographer Michael Shaffer directs me to turn off Pacific Coast Highway onto Decker Canyon Road, promising that it’s a great driving route and recalling the time he rode shotgun down here in a Ferrari 458 Italia. This time, however, I’m driving him in a Mercedes-AMG GLE43. Even with dozens of AMG tweaks – and they are extremely effective – this is still a big vehicle for such a narrow, twisty road. The GLE43 sounds great, goes like the clappers, and exhibits remarkable control around bends, but there’s no denying that it measures more than 15 feet long and weighs 4,987 pounds.
This gets to the heart of the dilemma posed by the GLE43. It’s an incredible performer, but is that what you really what from your big family crossover?
No-fear handling. The only reason I’m being so nervous on Decker Canyon Road is because of the GLE43’s width, length, and weight, not because its chassis doesn’t have the chops to keep up. Very little roll or pitch is evident in hard cornering, with the stiff air suspension keeping the GLE in check no matter how hard I push. Wide tires (265/45R20s all around) provide plenty of grip, and standard 4Matic all-wheel drive keeps things hooked up no matter how early you lay into the throttle.
Sports-car soundtrack. It takes a lot to make a six-cylinder crossover sound this exciting, but the assorted crackles and pops and snaps from the GLE43 will make any passerby do a double-take. There’s a fantastic metallic snarl from the exhausts as the revs build, which massively improves the sensation of sportiness from hustling the GLE.
Impressive power. The boosted V6 packs a serious punch considering how much weight it has to pull around. A broad torque band provides plenty of forward momentum no matter what gear you’re in. A 5.6-second run to 60 miles per hour is great for a vehicle of this size; anyone who needs more speed can upgrade to the GLE63, which performs the feat in as little as 4.1 seconds. Much credit also goes to the tightly spaced gears and snap-snap shifts of the nine-speed automatic transmission.
You’ll never forget its size. At all times, the GLE43 feels like a big, heavy vehicle. There’s a sense of inertia through the steering wheel when you change direction, and even with the air suspension set to Sport+, you get a good amount of vertical motion before the body is dampened into submission. If you want a truly sporty GLE, don’t forget that there’s a full-blown GLE63 and GLE63 S models available, too.
It’s not quite as sexy as some other 43 models. This crossover goes up against the likes of the Porsche Cayenne and BMW X5, so I wish it had a bit more curb appeal to back up its performance. Sure, this GLE wears unique 20-inch wheels, rides lower on its suspension, and so on, it’s just not a hugely dramatic visual overhaul compared to the GLE300. Notably, the new suit doesn’t endow the GLE43 with the same sexiness, wide stance, and curb appeal you get in the brand’s smaller GLC43.
Some subtle reminders it’s an older model. Mercedes has done well to fit the GLE-Class with most of its latest-and-great technology, but the GLE43 has two big giveaways it’s the old man in the room. For starters, you pick drive modes with a big rotary knob in the center console, rather than the more elegant buttons in other AMG 43 cars. And the 4Matic system has a 40:60 front-rear torque split, versus a slightly sportier 31:69 default in all the other 43 cars (except the rear-drive SLC43 roadster).
Photos: Michael Shaffer / Mercedes-Benz