This car is not to be confused with the GLE 63 AMG, a full-blown twin-turbocharged V8 monster.
The Mercedes-Benz marketing team has been on a bit of a roll lately. Last year, they announced new naming schemes right across the lineup, and now the “new” names are being phased out in favour of even newer ones. Introduced in the late 1990s, the ML-Class was Mercedes’ first entry into the luxury SUV market (excluding the military-grade G-Wagon). With the mid-cycle refresh of the third-generation model, the ML was given a new name – GLE. Now, the GLE also has a sportier and quirkily styled coupé (reviewed here), but this is our first go with the regular SUV – this is the body style that most will buy. Interestingly though, this 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE 450 AMG isn’t the motor the majority will opt for – it’s far too much personality for most luxury SUV buyers.
You see, the GLE itself is the perfect choice for the well-established family man (or woman!) looking for a sizeable upgrade from the C-Class (reviewed here). It boasts oodles of luxury, typical German refinement, and enough style to not look bland. This mid-cycle refresh gives the GLE a new front fascia, and this GLE 450 gets the AMG kitting, which includes unique skirting, running boards, and of course, the special powertrain defined by the “AMG” badging all over the car.
This car is not to be confused with the GLE 63 AMG, a full-blown twin-turbocharged V8 monster that competes with the likes of the BMW X5 M (reviewed here). Mercedes-Benz has developed this mini-AMG line to rival BMW’s M-Sport and Lexus’ F-Sport series. As of now, the Benz products are the only ones that actually offer power upgrades rather than just sportier appearance and handling tweaks. There may not be as much power as the more traditional AMG models, but the GLE 450 AMG is undoubtedly an AMG product in every way.
Powering this monster is the same 3.0L twin-turbocharged V6 as we experienced in the C 450 AMG (reviewed here). It’s an excellent powertrain, buttery smooth in operation and almost bimodal in its personality. The GLE 450 AMG is a subdued, luxury SUV when you want it to be, and the motor behaves quietly and smoothly. Turn the rotary dial into “Sport+” though, and the AMG pedigree becomes evident. The exhaust suddenly awakens, the throttle response becomes more immediate, and the transmission’s shifts become crisp.
Output for the GLE 450 AMG is 362 horsepower and 384 lb-ft of torque, considerably more horsepower than the base GLE 350d. The 4Matic all-wheel-drive system here has a rear-bias, and splits the power 40/60 between the front/rear of the car. When driving spiritedly, the rear bias is immediately evident and the GLE corners with poise and confidence, moreso than a comparable sport-trimmed BMW X5 and definitely with more capability than a Lexus RX 350 F-Sport (reviewed here). The GLE AMG is very obviously more athletic and dynamic in nature than the vast majority of its rivals – this isn’t your typical grocery getter.
One huge difference between the powertrains on the GLE 450 and the C 450 AMG is the transmission – both use completely different units. While the C-Class employs a seven-speed gearbox, the GLE uses the new 9G-Tronic nine-speed automatic that we drove in the GLE 350d. This transmission is not to be confused with the ZF-soured nine-speed that is slowly making its way through the industry, currently seen in applications from Honda as well as Fiat-Chrysler. This unit has a split personality and, though it can be awkwardly hunting between gears, behaves flawlessly in its sportiest setting, blips on downshifts, and cruises comfortably at 1,700RPM at highway speeds, helping significantly with fuel economy.
The ninth gear is a huge fuel saver when doing steady highway cruising, but as mentioned previously, the transmission can become a bit confused and bounce back and forth, nullifying the gain achieved by your prior highway run. Regardless, over our weeklong road test, we were able to average a very acceptable 11.8L/100km combined. Considering one of our editors observed 11.6L/100km in the much-smaller C 450 AMG, this number was very acceptable and very close to the combined rating of 12.1L/100km suggested. The GLE 450 AMG’s large fuel tank will hold 90L of premium 91-octane.
Seeing as this GLE 450 is simply a heavy refresh from the outgoing ML-Class, interior accommodations will be very familiar to those who have experienced the old car. The GLE receives the new Mercedes-Benz steering wheel, as well as the touchpad controller for the COMAND infotainment. There are a series of minor tweaks, but the dashboard layout and all major controls remain identical. As we have come to expect from Mercedes-Benz, fit and finish is some of the best currently available on the market, and the stitched Artico leather dashboard is a stunning touch that is a constant reminder that this is an upscale vehicle.
Our test vehicle was spec’d with Saddle Brown leather upholstery as part of the Exclusive Package, which meant the seats were also AMG Sport Seats. Not only is the Saddle Brown colour a beautiful contrast with the stitching on the dashboard and throughout the cabin, the seats are very comfortable and provide adequate support regardless of the driving situation. Adding to the comfort amenities is the GLE 450’s fantastic ride quality – the Airmatic suspension does a great deal to adapt the dampers to whatever the road surface might be, ensuring all on board are tended to appropriately.
Mercedes-Benz may be one of the world-standard leaders in the luxury class, but they have taken pride in their safety over the last century. Aside from producing vehicles with outstanding crash test ratings, the big German automaker has loaded this GLE 450 AMG with all of the latest in driver aids. This starts with but isn’t limited to forward collision warning, lane departure control with automatic braking, 360-degree camera (with unbelievably high resolution), Distronic Plus radar cruise, and lane keep assist. Each of these nannies can be turned off individually, depending on what the driver needs at any given time.
The GLE-Class actually starts at just $63,200 for the GLE 350d diesel variant, though stepping up to the GLE 450 AMG tested here will set you back at least $70,800. Already very well-appointed, our test vehicle added a $5,900 Premium Package that most will opt for – this adds Apple CarPlay, COMAND navigation, panoramic sunroof, 360-degree camera, active park assist, Keyless Go, heated rear seats, Harman/Kardon surround sound system, and a 115V power socket. The $2,700 Intelligent Drive Package adds all of the driver aids. The unique leather upholstery is an additional $1,990, and a few other small things including the Exclusive Package bring the as-tested sticker on our vehicle to just over $86,000.
With such strong competition from the new Audi Q7 (reviewed here) and the latest Volvo XC90, I’m interested to see what Mercedes-Benz pulls out of their hat for the next-generation GLE in coming years. To add to the aforementioned name-change confusion, this vehicle will be called the GLE 43 AMG as of model year 2017. As of right now though, this is the only luxury SUV within its segment that offers a performance model on the six-cylinder variant. The pops and bangs from the exhaust just like the C 450 and seamless transition from comfortable SUV to full-on Autobahn stormer makes the 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE 450 AMG a compelling choice for younger buyers wanting style, durability and real German engineering.