Under the hood
Formerly called ML63, the GLE63 is powered by a 5.5-liter V8 engine that uses a pair of turbochargers to generate 550 horsepower at 5,750 rpm and 516 lb-ft. of torque from 1,750 all the way up to 5,000 rpm.
Bolted to a seven-speed automatic transmission that spins all four wheels, the eight-cylinder sends the GLE63 from zero to 60 mph in just 4.3 seconds. Surprisingly, it can still tow 7,200 pounds.
New for the latest model year, the GLE63 S cranks the dial up to 11 with an evolution of the aforementioned V8 that delivers 577 ponies at 5,500 rpm and 561 lb-ft. of twist from 1,750 to 5,250. Also equipped with a seven-speed automatic, the S can reach 60 mph from a stop in 4.2 seconds, a figure that makes faster than a Porsche 911 Carrera.
There's a penalty at the pump for all that power and performance: although they come with a start/stop system, both models are rated at 13 mpg in the city and 17 mpg on the highway.
Ensuring that the GLE63 isn't just a straight-line special are handling-enhancing features such as an AMG-developed sports suspension. When it comes time to bring the party to a halt, the GLE is equipped with a high-performance braking system with high fade resistance, featuring ventilated and perforated brake discs at all four corners.
Looking the part
Visually, the GLE63 stands out from its less fire-breathing siblinsg to an aggressive-looking front fascia with a deep front bumper that incorporates three air dams, mesh inserts in the grille, side skirts and a model-specific rear bumper with an air diffuser and four exhaust outlets.
"V8 BITURBO" emblems on both fenders hint at what lurks under the hood, and also clarify the switch from its predecessor's 6.2-liter engine.
Inside, the cushy five-passenger cabin is dressed up with special touches like a meaty three-spoke steering wheel, a sporty-looking instrument cluster, aluminum trim elements, and a sprinkling of AMG emblems. The front passengers ride on specially-bolstered sport seats.
An eight-inch screen that sticks out from the center console runs Mercedes' COMAND infotainment system. Controlled either by a central knob or steering wheel-mounted buttons, COMAND integrates the sedan's audio, navigation and Bluetooth-based connectivity functions into a single unit.
Mercedes' mbrace system adds a host of cloud-based goodies, including a concierge service, location-based traffic and weather updates, stolen vehicle location assistance, automatic collision notification and more. Available apps add internet browsing, Google local search with street view, Yelp reviews, Facebook access and news reports.
Standard and optional features
Generously equipped, the GLE63 comes standard with steering wheel-mounted shift paddles, roof rails, burl walnut wood trim, brushed aluminum pedals, a sunroof, an alarm, keyless entry and start, Nappa leather upholstery, heated and cooled cupholders, dual-zone A/C, a 115-volt outlet, a power liftgate, navigation, Bluetooth audio streaming, and 20-inch alloy wheels.
The GLE63's list of standalone options includes an in-car WiFi hotspot, an upgraded Bang & Olufsen sound system, a rear seat entertainment system, an in-dash DVD player, a heated steering wheel, soft-close doors, a three-zone climate control system, rear sunshades, a heated steering wheel, heated rear seats, a panoramic sunroof and 21-inch alloy wheels.
Buyers can also choose from several option packages. Notably, the Night Package adds 21-inch alloys and gloss black exterior trim. The Driver Assistance Package bundles a long list of driving aids including Distronic Plus with steering assist, Blind Spot Assist and Pedestrian Recognition.
Mercedes-Benz has long been known for its safety features, and the GLE-Class looks to continue that tradition. In addition to ABS and ESP stability control, the SUV boasts eleven supplemental restraints including two-stage front air bags, a knee air bag for the driver and pelvic air bags which work together with curtain and side air bags to provide extra protection for front occupants in dangerous side-impact collisions.
Also standard is an ATTENTION ASSIST system that can alert the driver to the first signs of drowsiness, a factor that causes more than 100,000 accidents a year in the U.S. A steering sensor is coupled to smart software that uses 70 parameters to establish a unique driver profile during the first 20 minutes of driving. Between 50 and 112 mph, the system identifies the erratic steering corrections drivers make as they begin to get drowsy and triggers an audible warning and a "Time for a Rest?" message with a coffee cup icon in the instrument cluster.
It also boasts Collision Prevention Assist, which uses a dedicated radar sensor to monitor the distance to a vehicle in front and to stationary objects. If the system senses a risk of an imminent collision, it pre-charges the brakes and alerts the driver with a warning beep and flashing light on the dash.
The GLE63 has a range of worthy rivals including the precise-handling BMW X5 M, the stupid-fast Porsche Cayenne Turbo and the off-road capable Range Rover Sport Supercharged. The less-expensive Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT is also a capable performer that, interestingly enough, shares a basic platform with the GLE63.