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Daily Driven: 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLE AMG 63 S

Two turbos, 48-volt EQ Boost, all-wheel drive, and more!

The last new vehicle drive program to be hosted before the world was put on pause happened to be for a pair of shiny new Mercedes SUVs, and it was held in our own backyard. Trouble is, we missed it. Thankfully, Mercedes left a few of the test units behind, and we were able to park a 2021 Mercedes-Benz AMG GLE 63 S in our driveway for a week of testing during a time when Los Angeles was experiencing the lightest traffic volume likely since the beginning of the Interstate Highway System.

Introduced at the 2019 Los Angeles International Auto Show, the 2021 GLE 63 S is among the most powerful SUVs that AMG offers (along with its mechanically identical AMG GLS 63) and is the first AMG to feature Mercedes' new 48-volt "hybrid" 4.0L Biturbo V-8 engine. Called EQ Boost by Mercedes, the new 48-volt system utilizes an integrated starter-generator (ISG) that can add up to 21 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque to the driveline. The system works at low rpm and off-idle, so these figures do not contribute to the max power and torque figures (which are already impressive at 603 hp and 627 lb-ft of torque). Much like the other 48-volt mild-hybrid systems, Mercedes' EQ Boost replaces both the starter motor and alternator and works to add torque when pulling away from a stop, to smooth shifts, and to reduce NVH when shifting between four- and eight-cylinder operation. The EQ Boost system also allows the GLE to "sail," or driving and coasting at low speeds with the engine off.

Supplementing the power that is produced from the ISG is a hand-crafted Biturbo 4.0L V-8 engine. The engine produces a stomach-churning 603 hp and 627 lb-ft of torque, which is more even than the flagship G 63. Utilizing what Mercedes calls a "hot V", both of the engine's large turbochargers reside on top of the engine inside the space between the cylinder heads. Cylinder head flow is reversed, with hot exhaust gases coming directly to the turbochargers on the inside, while cool compressed air enters the heads from the sides (where the exhaust manifolds typically would be found). The AMG engine is also beltless, utilizing the ISG for starting and charging duties, and electric water and A/C pumps for cooling needs. Mercedes claims the big SUV will hit 60 mph in just 3.7 seconds and can reach an electronically limited top speed of 174 mph.

Suspension on the GLE 63 S comes with AMG's Active Ride Control, a 48-volt active anti-roll bar that uses a set of planetary gears on each bar to counteract body movements. The GLE 63 S also uses Mercedes' four-corner adjustable air suspension. You read that right, the AMG version of the GLE does not receive the fancy new 48-volt hydraulic suspension. Why not, you ask? Simply put, it's too heavy for the AMG team's liking. So no, it won't bounce down the road or free itself from a sand trap at the country club.

There's still a lot more tech and mechanics we could unpack, but we'll get straight to the good stuff how does it drive? In one word: amazing. Leaving the vehicle in Comfort mode would leave even the stuffiest mother-in-law believing she was riding in nothing more than a high-end luxury SUV. The ride is comfortable, the cabin is quiet, and there's nothing that would be cause for alarm. However, switch the GLE into Sport, Sport+, or Race mode, and it awakens into an entirely different beast.

The torque boost from the ISG virtually eliminates turbo lag, which allows the GLE 63 S to shoot off the line like a rocket. Passing and merging are nonevents, and if you're not careful with throttle input, the vehicle will scream past the century mark in no time flat. Everything tightens up in the more aggressive drive modes, which provides nice flat cornering while carving twisty roads on the way to soccer practice, of course. Steering feel and feedback are great for a nearly 5,000-pound SUV, and there's no lack of grip thanks to the GLE's 4Matic+ all-wheel-drive system and sticky Michelin tires.

Inside, the GLE has all of the luxury niceties that you would expect from a six-figure Mercedes. And honestly, it came to us equipped with far more features than we could even begin to explore in just a week with the vehicle. The Energizing Comfort Package Plus was among our favorites. The $1,650 option includes Active Multi-Contour massaging front seats and the Air Balance package complete with integrated air freshener. We also enjoyed the Burmester 3D surround sound system, though the $4,550 price tag for that feels a bit steeper. Also, a fun find was the Warmth and Comfort package, which tacked just $1,050 onto the price but provided heated door center panels, arm rests, and center console.

Also enjoyable was the new Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX) infotainment and information system. The dash is now flanked with a pair of 12.3-inch screens, one serving as a digital instrument cluster and one as a media display. The screens pair seamlessly for more than 2 feet of screen space. Options are the name of the game, and the new MBUX can be controlled by four different means: voice command, touchscreen, console touchpad, and steering wheel-mounted touch control buttons. We enjoyed using the voice control to command the system, as it responded very well to natural language. Once we learned the best trigger words for the system, it became very easy to use. The touchpad and touch control buttons took a bit more time to figure out. Using the touchscreen was easy but proved to be quite a reach due to its sheer size. As if from the future, the MUBX Interior Assistant uses a camera mounted at the windshield to sense if the driver or passenger is reaching for the touchscreen or touchpad and adjusts the icons appropriately in anticipation. The system also uses artificial intelligence to learn your actions and prepare for them. For example, if you call the same person each day at 5 p.m., the system will provide prompts for setting up the call and reminding you to make it. The sheer volume of features made it quite difficult to experience everything in just one week.

Speaking of artificial intelligence, the MBUX system has the ability to use the same windshield-mounted camera to display on the screen a view of what is coming up ahead of the vehicle. Combined with the advanced AI, the system can overlay street names, house numbers, directional arrows, and much more. We definitely appreciated this function when using the built-in navigation system. This augmented video system is a $250 option that we'd say is well worth it.

Safety is also big on the new GLE, with standard features such as Attention Assist, active brake assist, active parking assist with surround-view camera, blind spot assist, and active LED headlamps. For $1,700 you can add on the Driver Assistance Package Plus, which includes items such as active distance assist, active blind spot assist, active lane keeping assist, active lane change assist, active steering assist, active brake assist, evasive steering assist, traffic sign assist, route-based speed adaptation, and more. Again, another totally worthwhile option.

All of that basically amounts to semi-autonomous driving. With all of the system functions active, the vehicle will maintain speed, hold in a lane, and even perform lane changes when indicated. The adaptive cruise worked as intended, as did the steering assist. The automatic lane change function was certainly novel and something that we hadn't experienced since driving a Tesla. The one function we didn't care for, however, was the active speed limit assist. On several occasions, while the adaptive cruise was set to 75 mph (5 over the speed limit on this particular highway), the GLE abruptly decelerated to 55 mph. Not knowing the difference, the vehicle thought that the 55 mph semi-truck speed limit applied to everyone. Had it not been at night in light traffic, this could have resulted in many horn honks and finger gestures in our general direction—or worse.

Overall, we thoroughly enjoyed our time with the 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLE AMG 63 S. It's civil when it needs to be and a brute when it wants to be. It's got the luxury befitting the Mercedes-Benz emblem and the performance to justify the AMG tag. Over the course of nearly 600 miles we averaged nearly 17 mpg. While the EPA ratings weren't available at testing time, we figure this can't be too far off of its forthcoming combined rating. So, for those folks looking for a two-row, five-passenger luxury SUV with the performance of a sports car, welcome home.

2021 Mercedes-Benz GLE AMG 63 S

Base price: $113,950
Price as tested: $133,075
Engine: Turbocharged 4.0L V-8
Transmission: 9-speed automatic
Horsepower: 603 @ 5,750 RPM
Torque: 627 lb-ft @ 2,500 RPM
Towing capacity: 6,600 pounds
EPA fuel economy rating: Not Yet Rated
Actual calculated economy, 592.1-mile trip: 16.86 mpg

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