First Drive: The Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 brings performance and composure to the SUV segment

Merc’s big GLE has been given the AMG treatment with the new 53 – but what’s it like to drive? Jack Evans finds out.

Mercedes-AMG GLE 53
Mercedes-AMG GLE 53

What is it?

Mercedes-AMG GLE 53
The GLE boast Merc’s new Panamericana grille

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This is the Mercedes-AMG GLE 53, and it’s a car that is designed to offer somewhat of a compromise. Punchier and more dynamically-minded than a ‘standard’ GLE, yet tamer and not as over-the-top as the V8-powered GLE 63, it’s meant to provide the best of both worlds.

So can it do just that? Can it let you have your cake and eat it? We’ve been behind the wheel to find out.

What’s new?

Mercedes-AMG GLE 53
A sports exhaust system gives the car a distinct sound

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Fundamentally this is the same GLE that we’ve seen before but, because it’s an AMG, it’s got a whole host of additions in the quest for a more sporty nature. The bulk of those changes centre around the engine of course, but elsewhere there’s standard air suspension with changeable modes and a smooth-shifting nine-speed gearbox.

For those in need of a more practical SUV then the GLE could be the right fit too, as it comes with seven seats as standard. Over and above, it’s got all of the technological features you could want, while the exterior of the car looks markedly different to the regular GLE thanks to a wider, more aggressive bodykit and a more imposing grille.

What’s under the bonnet?

Mercedes-AMG GLE 53
A 3.0-litre petrol engine sits at the heart of the GLE 53

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Though ‘53’ might lead you to believe that there’s some 5.3-litre leviathan under the bonnet, the GLE makes do with a far more conventional powertrain. It sees a 3.0-litre turbocharged petrol unit sending 429bhp and 520Nm of torque to all four wheels via, as we mentioned, a nine-speed automatic gearbox. Its performance figures are more than respectable; zero to 60mph takes five seconds, while all-in it’ll do 155mph.

The engine is also fitted with Mercedes’ EQ Boost mild-hybrid tech, which integrates a 48-volt electrical system into the car’s design to fill in the gaps in torque, therefore boosting performance and reducing the sense of ‘lag’. Mercedes claims 30.4mpg and 212g/km CO2 though during our time with the car, we were struggling to break beyond the high 20s.

What’s it like to drive?

Mercedes-AMG GLE 53
The GLE’s composed ride is welcome on the UK’s roads

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The GLE 53 makes its performance roots known from the off. Start the engine up and there’s a rasping, metallic growl from the exhaust which, at times, feels somewhat stylised. Move off and the gears shift smoothly and in comfort – with the dampers at their softest – it even rides pleasantly too. The steering is one of the stand-out aspects of the whole affair, as it’s well-weighted and direct.

But it’s that engine which comes out head and shoulders above the rest. It’s beautifully smooth and keen to rev, yet because maximum torque is available from 1,800rpm, you can lean on it to pull you up to speed in impressive fashion. You can, of course, take control of the gears too via the steering wheel-mounted paddles, but the nine-speed gearbox is responsive and quick-witted when left to its own devices.

How does it look?

Mercedes-AMG GLE 53
A long wheelbase means that the GLE offers plenty of interior space

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The standard GLE is a handsome car as standard – in our eyes, at least. However, with the addition of a chunky bodykit and Merc’s eye-catching Panamericana grille, the 53 variant is genuinely pleasing to view. Our test car also came in a ‘brilliant’ blue shade, which really helped the GLE to stand out against the vast number of greys and blues on the road today.

AMG cars also ride on 22-inch wheels which, though massive in size, do look the part on the GLE. In all, it appears to us like a well-rounded design.

What’s it like inside?

Mercedes-AMG GLE 53
The interior of the GLE 53 features screens aplenty

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Merc’s latest cabin architecture is easily one of the most tech-laden about, and that’s certainly noticeable when it comes to the GLE’s screen-heavy interior. Despite being dominated by displays, the GLE has a solid feel to it and the satin-silver finish applied to many dials and switches help to lighten an otherwise quite dark place to be.

Those sitting in middle seats are well catered for in terms of head- and legroom, while controls for the heating and ventilation located in front of the middle road allow those in the back to get the temperature just as they’d like.

The third and final row is best reserved for children; adults could fit there, but it’s not going to be an awfully comfortable journey. Fold down the middle and rear row of seats and there’s a massive 2,055 litres of boot space too, while with the second row in place it remains a decent 630 litres.

What’s the spec like?

Mercedes-AMG GLE 53
Power is sent to all four wheels through a nine-speed automatic gearbox

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As one of the highest-specification GLE models on sale, the 53 benefits from an impressive amount of standard equipment. Priced from a snick over £80,000, it receives the full windscreen infotainment system which links up to the drivers’ display to create one, ultra-stretched screen. In it there’s satellite navigation, media function and Apple CarPlay too. Heated seats are thrown in as well, while all of the rows of seats can be electronically lowered or raised via switches on the doors and in the boot.

That configurable driver screen is excellent too. You can tailor the displays to showcase a variety of functions or, as we found, place it in a stripped-back, darkened mode which really helps when driving at night.

Verdict

The Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 feels like a near-ideal balance between performance and everyday useability. It’s good to drive, good to look at and practical too, while the engine’s smooth and free-revving nature is likely to appeal to anyone who gets behind the wheel.

Though it might not have the raucous character of the full-fat GLE 63, that’s not what this car is about. Plus, when you add in the wealth of standard equipment – not to mention the increase in performance – that this AMG version brings over the regular GLE, then it starts to make a good deal of sense.

  • Model: Mercedes-AMG GLE 53
  • Base price: £80,485
  • Model as tested: GLE 53 4MATIC+ Premium Plus
  • Price as tested: £81,170
  • Engine: 3.0-litre turbocharged petrol
  • Power: 429bhp
  • Torque: 520Nm
  • Max speed: 155mph
  • 0-60mph: 5.0 seconds
  • MPG: 30.4
  • Emissions: 212g/km CO2
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