Mercedes-AMG GLE63 S

New name; familiar defying of physics

ALEX INWOOD

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

YOU HEAR Australia’s most powerful SUV long before you see it. There’s a bark on start-up, and, with the throttle pinned open, it cracks, pops and snarls more like a low-slung hot-rod than a high-riding family bus.

That’ll be the upgraded sports exhaust then, which is nearidentical to the bi-modal system fitted to AMG’s flagship GT. It’s just one in a raft of changes Benz has fitted to this ‘new’ GLE63 S.

There’s a different name for a start. Look closely and you’ll see this isn’t an all-new car, but a facelifted version of the existing ML SUV, with a new naming convention and some handsome exterior styling tweaks. Benz has pulled the same trick across the entire GLE range, all of which now sport a new bonnet, new bumpers front and rear, LED lights, chrome tailpipes and fresh alloy wheel designs. There’s also a new, styleconscious Coupe version to rival the BMW X6 (see breakout).

Inside Benz has done of a good job of refreshing the ML’s ageing cabin. Front and centre is an iPad-esque 8.0-inch touchscreen, the instrument dials are new, as is the steering wheel. There’s more equipment too, with all variants receiving keyless start, a power tailgate and Benz’s Driver Assist system that combines radar cruise control, lane assist, active steer, blind spot detection and Pre-Safe for rear collisions.

Engine wise there’s the same choice of four drivetrains – a 150kW 2.1-litre turbo-diesel four (GLE250d), 190kW 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel (GLE350d), 245kW twin-turbo V6 petrol (GLE400) and 320kW twin-turbo V8 (GLE500) – but all are now more efficient and in some cases, like the 500 and 63 S, considerably more powerful.

Diesel-powered GLE wagons use Benz’s new 9G-tronic nine-speed automatic while petrol wagons retain the old seven-speeder.

Of the bunch, it’s the AMG 63 S that has received the most attention. Benz has upgraded the 63 to the more powerful S version which, as well as a revised chassis and unique rear-biased (40:60) all-wheel drive system, adds 44kW/60Nm to its 5.5-litre twin-turbo V8 for a total output of 430kW/760Nm.

The handling is hugely impressive for an SUV weighing 2270kg, helped by air suspension that lowers the ride height as road speed increases and new active anti-roll bars, called Active Curve Control, designed to reduce lean through fast corners.

The result is a super SUV with brutal grip and tremendous poise, but one that’s more expensive than the car it replaces. Prices are up across the GLE board from $3000 in the 250d to $7000 in the 63 S, but that jump is justified by the suite of extra equipment and performance included in the deal.

Model Engine Max power Max torque Transmission Kerb weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S 5461cc V8 (90°), dohc, 32v, twin-turbo 430kW @ 5500rpm 760Nm @ 1750-5250rpm 7-speed automatic 2270kg 4.2sec (claimed) 11.8L/100km $189,900 Now

PLUS & MINUS

Not cheap; busy ride; more visual changes would’ve been nice Improved cabin; great soundtrack; physics-bending performance

In the wake of X6

THERE’S finally a rival for the polarising BMW X6. It’s called the GLE Coupe, an SUV best described as the GLE wagon’s sleeker, sportier and less practical brother. It shares the same basic mechanicals and 2915mm wheelbase as the wagon, but is 65mm lower, 81mm longer and 68mm wider. It also has less headroom and a smaller boot by 40 litres. The Coupe offers just three engines: a 190kW turbo-diesel V6 in the 350d, a 270kW 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 petrol in the 450 (each tied to a nine-speed auto), and the 430kW twin-turbo V8 in the 63 S. In 350d spec, the Coupe costs $17,000 more than the equivalent GLE wagon.