2017 Mercedes AMG GLE 63 S

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You make the rules, we’ll find new ways around them.

That could be AMG’s motto and maybe is . . . unofficially. The Rhinoceros Thing you see before you is somehow fully compliant with every government reg; and yet… well, just look at it.

Al Gore does not approve.

But it’s all – for the moment – perfectly legal. There is nothing they – the short-haired termagants at EPA and the beetle-like killjoys at NHTSA – can do to stop you from buying one or Mercedes (via AMG, Benz’s in-house high-performance skunkworks) from building it.

It’s got to be making them nuts.

WHAT IT IS

Start with a GLE – a big and very heavy (5,000-plus pound) Mercedes SUV. Shave and swoop the roof but keep the regular GLE’s bog-hopping 9.1 inches of ground clearance. Chuck the puny 3.5 liter V6, the hybrid idiocy and the workhorse diesel. Install in their place your pick of AMG-massaged twin-turbo power plants, starting with a twin-turbo V6 and 362 hp as the appetizer and then – the main course – a hand-built, 5.5 liter, 557 hp V8.

Of course, this kind of fun costs.

Base price for the AMG GLE 43 and its 362 hp bi-turbo V6 is $69,650.

The twin-turbo V8 AMG GLE 63’s base price soars to $110,650.

If this thing has a cross-shop, it is the $103,195 BMW X6 M   which started the nuthouse riot by doing the same thing first. The X6 M is a slope-roofed, jacked-up X5 SUV with a twin-turbo V8, too.

AMG simply upped the ante.

WHAT’S NEW

They are still getting away with it.

Someone is bound to notice and then the game will be up.

I’d hurry.

WHAT’S GOOD

Outrun almost anything – or run over almost anything.

Despite being even more jacked-up than the X6, the Mercedes has the more pliant ride.

Head and legroom in both rows is still about the same as in the conventionally SUV-bodied GLE – and more than in the X6 M.

7,200 lb. max tow rating beats X6 M’s 6,000 pound max.

WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD

Imagine Brie Larsen is your girlfriend. But if you touch her, she’ll explode.

The USB hook-ups buried in the center console will make you want to explode.

UNDER THE HOOD

Everything is relative.

Our sun, for example, is relatively big  . . . compared with the Earth. But compared with VY Canis Majoris, our sun is a speck of sand.

The AMG 43’s 362 hp V6 is like the sun. Pretty impressive.

Until you have a look at the AMG 63’s 577 hp.

But either will do.

If you go with the AMG43, you’ll get a nine-speed “manually interactive” automatic paired with 4Matic AWD. This combo gets to 60 in about 5.2 seconds and manages 17 city, 23 highway.

The AMG 63’s additional 215 hp gets the 0-60 time down to 3.8 seconds, Mustang GT territory and not too far off the bumper of a new Corvette, which weighs only slightly more than half as much as the Benz and which you wouldn’t want to take out in the snow.

The bi-turbo V8 (signed by the craftsman who put it together) is paired with a seven-speed AMG-programmed Speedshift automatic, which is also paired with 4Matic AWD.

Why two fewer forward speeds for the AMG GLE 63? The extra leverage isn’t needed. The big 5.5 liter V8 (and big it is; the BMW X6 M’s V8 is just 4.4 liters) makes 561 ft.-lbs. of torque – the full swell on tap at 1,750 RPM and maintained all the way up to 5,250 RPM.

The BMW’s littler bi-turbo makes 553 ft.-lbs. but not before 2,200 RPM – and its horsepower (567) peaks higher, too: at 6,000 RPM vs. 5,500 for the Benz.

The EPA says you can go 14 miles in city driving on a single gallon of fuel – and 18 on the highway. This is actually pretty good given 5,200 pounds at the curb and (for the AMG GLE 63) the rolling resistance of 22 inch wheels shod with staggered size 285/40 ContiSport tires up front and 325/35 tires in the back.

With either engine, the GLE can tow 7,200 lbs. – which is 7,200 lbs. more than a Corvette can tow.

And 1,200 lbs. more than the X6 M can tow.

ON THE ROAD

Push the ignition button and a gnarly pre-catalytic converter snarl erupts out of the quad tip AMG exhaust. It contrasts curiously with the delicate, almost Prius-like control toggle you use to put the transmission in gear.

There is nothing delicate about what happens next.

The wormhole dilates, the world around you refracts. Each gear change accompanied by a sonic boom as baffles in the AMG exhaust open, then slam shut again, wastegate-like, to let the backpressure build for the next boom.

The BMW may be slightly quicker, but it can’t touch the Benz’s pipes.

But keep a tight grip on the wheel.

Most high-performance cars sit low to the ground – and it’s not just for looks. Handling – and high-speed stability – tend to be better when there’s less daylight between the asphalt and the floorplans.

But the AMG GLE has more clearance than a Subaru Outback.

And yet, somehow, the AMG people have made this huge/heavy/high-riding Rhinoceros thing capable of doing things laterally that would probably result in the Outback or any other similarly jacked-up crossover getting daylight underneath its tires . . . just before it tips over.

No doubt some of the credit for this is due to the steamroller contact patch of those massive 22 inch meats. If you look at the GLE 63 from the rear, it’s almost as if there’s one continuous tire running the entire width of the axle. AMG also developed an Active Curve system for the GLE coupe. The front and rear stabilizer bars are not the usual fixed-in-place things but instead have their tension adjusted looser or tighter via actuators, to keep body roll in check during high-load cornering.

The huge tires are also pronated inward slightly for the same reason.

The GLE can pull nearly a solid “g” on the skidpad (you can actually toggle up a display that shows you weight transfer as your corner) and – like the X6 M – it can run through autocross cones as adroitly as sports cars weighing half as much. It is big fun to hang on the bumper of a Mustang as it tries to leave you behind – and then roar past him coming out of that last curve before you reach the top of the mountain – the V8’s song peeling the paint off your rival. He will likely need years of therapy.

But all that clearance does have consequences.

Punch it up to speeds well in excess of the speeds an Outback is capable of and the GLE 63 gets a little twitchy.

This is not surprising, given all the air flowing underneath the Rhinoceros thing and those monstrous steamroller tires. And this is part of the entertainment value of the Rhinoceros thing; it keeps you paying attention – in the same way that running an old muscle car on 14-inch Cragars and bias-plys with overboosted power steering up to 120 or so used to.

But the GLE 63 can go a lot faster – a lot sooner.

It has the brute power to reach Ludicrous Speed – the speedo reads to 200 – but Mercedes electronically limits its maximum to 155 MPH, 5 MPH less than the X6 M (which sits a full inch lower to the ground).

 This may be the one rational thing about the AMG GLE 63.

Well, that and the standard 4Matic AWD system. Which keeps it in a straight line most of the time. If this were a rear-drive ride, you’d be going sideways as often as going forward.

That is the true reason for this being an AWD-only deal.

And the 9.1 inches of clearance? It keeps the debris of the Rhinoceros thing’s victims from hanging up on the floorpans.

AT THE CURB

Nature comes up with some weird designs – the Rhinoceros being one. It is a mammal that appears to be armored like a Pleistocene reptile. Other animals know to give the Rhino a wide berth. Not even a Cape Buffalo – which is a mean, obstinate beast – screws with a Rhino.

That’s the idea here.

AMG/Mercedes really ought to offer a horn option. Not the beep-beep kind. The spear you through the guts kind.

Maybe a little wiggle-piggy tail for the rear, too.

Preposterous as it is, the GLE 63 is more practical than you’d expect it to be.

The roofline is about three inches lower than the regular GLE SUV’s, so watch your head getting in. But  – surprisingly – the Rhino has almost as much headroom once you are in as in the not-swoop-roofed GLE SUV: 38.9 inches for the driver and front seat passenger and 38.5 inches for the people in the second row.

It also has three inches more legroom in the second row than the BMW X6 M.

Cargo capacity is 60.7 cubes (second row folded; 23 with the second row in place) which is about the same as an E-Class wagon – and more than a Lexus RX350.

The rear liftgate opens hugely – almost like the nosecone of one of those Russian heavy-lift cargo planes. You could haul a refrigerator home, probably.

The interior layout is very down to business. Very little in the way of distracting gadgetry. There are even buttons for most things.

Knobs, too.

Mercedes does a better job than BMW of “backgrounding” elaborate electronics. Both the GLE and the X6 M have all the latest Stuff – including things like automated emergency braking and adaptive cruise control that can bring the car to a dead stop – and then get going again – without any intervention from the driver. But the Benz’s systems are less nannyish; I hardly noticed them at all during a weeklong test drive. The BMW’s systems make their presence known sooner and more insistently. Odd, given the BMW is supposed to be the driver’s car of the bunch.

THE REST

The most practical thing about the GLE is its civility. Unless you’re in Sport+ mode (which turns the thing into a straight-piped, catalyst-free, spark-spewing Teutonic berserker) your mom could drive it. No, wait. That’s not quite the right way to put it. Your mom would not be afraid to drive it.

In Comfort mode, it could be a jacked-up Camry.

Really.

And that is something.

The BMW X6 M is a berserker all the time. Your mom would not like driving it.

The two least-practical things about the GLE are the staggered-sized cupholders (one’s big, the other’s small) mounted in the center console, which – being designed by Germans – are too shallow on top of that and so it’s very easy to spill stuff. And the two all-but-impossible-to-reach USB plug-ins located inside the center console storage bin.

But the cupholders are heated – and cooled. And hey, you can get massaging seats!

The main problem with this thing is what it can do vs. what they will do to you if you do it.

The hulking body is one hell of a radar target.

On the other hand, with 9.1 inches of ground clearance, the AMG GLE can go places most cop cars can’t.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Even if you don’t buy one, you’ve gotta admire the idea of it. The audacity, the insolence.

It’s a twin-turbo’d hurricane fart-in-their-faces.

High time.

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45 COMMENTS

  1. Even with all that ground clearance, it’s not enough to run over the fat cops without flipping the hot rod. Great to see some car companies making these type of cars. Wish I could afford one.

  2. You have me pegged again Eric. While I’d probably buy the X6, I definitely give the Merc a standing ovation for the discomfort it’s mere existence causes so many clovers.

    “You mean there’s another kind of V8 that’s not the vegan drink?! I’m appalled by the very thought.”

    “Yes and this particular V8 is brimming with BEEF”!

    Priceless!

  3. A luxurious, chromed-and-plastic version of a Tiger tank. Just put an 88mm gun on that bad boys and we’re ready for some SERIOUS ‘shit’…and, unlike Doc Brown’s DeLorean, it’s not even winded at 88 mph!

  4. A coworker and I had a theoretical discussion recently of what to buy if you could only buy 1 car and spend no more than exactly $150,000. Unfortunately the M760i base price is $155,000 so I had to settle for an optioned-out M5. After reading this review, we may have some (theoretical) competition!

    P.S. He chose the Tesla Model X. No thanks.

    Thanks, Eric!

    • Hi Wally,

      Per Ferris Bueller… if you have the means…

      Seriously. This is the most fun I’ve had on four wheels – and this far off the ground – ever.

    • Funny aside to that. I was out driving waaaayyyy out in the NC sticks a while back and came across an old barn that looked like it had been converted to a small repair garage. Literally in the middle of nowhere. But what blew my mind was that there were 8 cars in the lot, and they were ALL Teslas. Not wrecked, not for sale, just dead. How do I know? Because a drove by again yesterday and they were all still there, unmoved from the first time I saw them months ago. I couldn’t confirm if the barn itself was stuffed full of more of them but there would have to be at least a 50/50 chance right? So it occurred to me that if you were Tesla and you made a car that cost too much, had unattainable expectations, was heavily subsidized, could not be disposed of safely, and dropped dead inside of a year , what else could you do besides haul them off to the middle of nowhere and hide them from everyone. I am convinced that that’s what I saw. If a Tesla dies in rural NC does the rest of the world hear it? Unfortunately for Elon, I did.

      Feel free to share this story with your idiot coworker who would dump more than he makes in a year into one of these junkboxes that he already paid for anyway. Or maybe he can come visit NC and pick up a fixer upper on the cheap.

      I hope the ghost of Nikola Tesla haunts Elon Musk every night for shaming his name.

      • Funny thing – my coworker and I both live in (not-so-rural) North Carolina. Heck I’m from a town literally named Rural Hall.

  5. Just wanted to remind everyone foreign tyrants have tried to suppress people determined to stay free in Texas. The people who now want to re-write history come from universities with tenured professors who don’t have the honesty to repeat the honest history of this state and the south. Their illegal immigrant minions are simply ignorant of the facts. So, here for your edification, is some real history of this country and the state of Texas(taken over by force by yankee forces doing the King’s bidding).

    http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/mexicans-execute-defenders-of-goliad

    • 8SM,

      Have you seen that mini series called Texas Rising? It covers the Goliad massacre in horrid detail. The series is 10 episodes long and was recently broadcasted non stop one after the other. Lots of good stuff in there for Texas history buffs.

      David Ward
      Memphis, Tennessee

      • David, I haven’t seen it but I’ll look for it on DVD. When growing up all those people at Goliad and the Alamo were true heroes to Texans. The Lone Star State was once unique in many ways. It still is……but in more infamous ways. The newly formed Texas Justice Project has already spawned some good bills that should lessen the infamous Just Us system, something no real Texan should admire.

  6. eric, great write up. I love luxobarges with uber power. Getting windows tinted down to the last nth the other day I inquired about the shop’s owner’s Camaro. It’s a 14 SS with a $17000 Calloway package meaning new suspension, brakes, fuel system, air intake(big shaker hood but not functional except for the clear glass window to the plastic supercharger). It sits low, way low with some really big tires. He said it made 572 HP at the rear wheels in its present form and he was considering changing supercharger pulleys and no upgrade is needed for the fuel system. The engine is under warranty and will be to 900 HP if he so chooses. He told me there was no point in using full throttle till well into 3rd gear, no surprise there. I’d seen the car with advertising for his shop for a couple years or more. It was easy to see there was nothing stock about the suspension. I’d never have guessed it was that bad a boy nor that the warranty applied to such heights. His wife drives a less powerful Camaro but over 450 HP stock from GM. The exhaust note tells anyone with a half brain it ain’t stock.

    • Dear 8, Eric,
      Great article. Great writing. That said, I must confess I’ve never understood the appeal of this sort of vehicle.

      I really like sedan chassis based sport wagons, with their low centers of gravity. I like the early SUVs, such as the early Land Rovers, Jeep Wagoneers, and Jeep Cherokees. I like utilitarian full size pickup trucks with regular cabs and long beds.

      But vehicles like the GLE and X6 leave me scratching my head. What’s the point, I ask myself? Do I really want high speed performance from a vehicle with over 9 inches of ground clearance?

      I freely admit I’m surprised that they can achieve a 1 G lateral acceleration. But I can’t help wondering “What for?”

      • I would never risk such an expensive vehicle going off-road, but I once met a well-to-do farmer who paid cash for a $40,000 pickup and then tossed chains from his old pickup into the pristine bed and scratched it all to hell. There may be people who would view mud on the fender of this beast under discussion as no big deal.

        • Shock, what else to do with a work truck? Wish I could still buy a pickup like my old 82 Chevy with a galvanized bed even though my thing now is a spray on lining but even that is often penetrated by sharp objects.

          I still use a pickup for whatever the job requires but for the last 20 or so years, I use heavy steel caps on top of the bed with much heavier steel square tubing so that no matter what I decide to carry it won’t dent the bed on top. With the 3/8″ X 4″ headache rack frame connected by 1″ X 3/16″ square tubing and an 1 1/4″ square tubing that sits in pockets of those thick square rails over the endgate I can carry thousands of pounds of steel or other long things without ever touching anything but the top of the headache rack and the piece over the end. I split some very heavy 1 1/4″ ABS tubing and put over both cross pieces so sliding something heavy is easy but it doesn’t ruin the finish. It’s quite a system and gets moved from truck to truck. One thing I no longer do to a truck is loading with gravel or concrete rock with a 10 yard loader. I reserve that for trailer use now which works much better if you don’t need it all at once.

      • I’m with you, Bevin. I don’t understand all of these subtle categories they now have! “Crossovers” and “mid-performance sport sedans”, and such. Take a mini van and add AWD and it becomes some kind of new class of vehicle…or take a mini SUV and chop the roof of the cargo area so it’s now a car, and call it something else….it’s all BS!

        It’s all about psychology. They don’t sell actual products anymore; they sell “lifestyle” and dreams and image.

        Want to sell a car to someone who wants luxury and status when they drive to the “fine restaurant” and yet has go-anywhere off-road capability? Just jack up the fancy sedan and put in a fancy electronically controlled AWD system. You would DARE go 4-wheeling in it, because now it costs $70K instead of $30K, and the minute a tire sees a patch of mud it starts spinning, regardless of which of the 17 “modes” you have it in; and if a trig brushes the axle, you have to call for a flatbed, and it’s $5K in repairs….but just looking the part, and having the theoretical capability, and dreaming about what you *could* do if you didn’t have to be so worried about scratching the paint or getting stranded when the super-automatic-push-button henweigh fails, is good enough now-a-days, ’cause the car will likely spend most of it’s time in the commuter train station parking lot anyway…….

        Who needs to make real CARS and TRUCKS, when you can sell dreams at three times the price? Cars and trucks are only for realists who actually use their vehicles, and who are concerned about it’s longevity and utility, and how much it’ll cost to fix.

        Hey, C’mon, who wants to move that nasty old lever which is connected directly to the transfer case, when you could just press a button, and send an electronic signal through a computer, to a solenoid and into a servo to actuate a mechanism?

        • Dear Nunzio,
          I read your previous reaction as well as this one, and I guessed you felt the same as I do. I really don’t get the point of the whole “crossover” class of vehicles.

          I understand the old Land Rover and Jeep Cherokee. These were genuine purpose built vehicles. Truck chassis. 4WD, not AWD. High ground clearance for real world off-roading. Not for jaunts from Beverly Hills down to Rodeo Drive to pick up the latest designer handbag.

          I understand the early station wagons. These too were genuine purpose built vehicles. Car chassis. 2WD. Standard sedan ground clearance for on road use. No pretense about off roading. The extended passenger compartment was great for carrying an occasional lumber purchase or surfboards.

          I understand the current “sport wagons”. These are merely a revival of the early station wagons. The Brits called them “shooting brakes”. They used them to carry their shotguns when bird hunting.

          “A station wagon… is an automotive body-style variant of a sedan/saloon with its roof extended rearward[1] over a shared passenger/cargo volume with access at the back via a third or fifth door (the liftgate or tailgate), instead of a trunk lid. The body style transforms a standard three-box design into a two-box design — to include an A, B, and C-pillar, as well as a D-pillar. Station wagons can flexibly reconfigure their interior volume via fold-down rear seats to prioritize either passenger or cargo volume… [the] station wagon-style … follows that of the production sedan of which it is the counterpart. Most are on the same wheelbase, offer the same transmission and engine options, and the same comfort and convenience options.”[3]

          Station wagons have evolved from their early use as specialized vehicles to carry people and luggage to and from a train station, and have been marketed worldwide.”

          From Wikipedia

          What I don’t understand is the current “crossover” and crossover-ish, crossover-like vehicles, especially those with sky high sticker prices. These strike me as neither fish nor fowl.

          These I suspect, were designed not to fill a real functional niche, but as you suggest, merely as part of a marketing strategy.

          • Well-said, Mr. Bevin!

            And, it’s not just automobiles on which they inflict this insanity; They do the same with bicycles (BICYCLES!! 😮 ) and motorcycles, and cameras and boats, and many other things.

            We keep hearing how “versatile” everything is, and yet, at the same time they seem to have everyone convinced that you need all of these multi-function products which do nothing 100%, but 10 different things in a half-assed way (Isn’t that what we could do with the old products?), and at the same time, that you need 18 different incarnations of the same type of product so you have one for every conceivable purpose.

            And then they make pick-ups with 20′ of cab….and 6′ (or even 5′) beds! Meanwhile, these “things” that masquerade as pick-ups, would probably serve their intended demographic better if they were instead [what the Aussies call] “Utes” (Like our old El Caminos/Rancheros.

            And I totally agree with you about the old Wagoneers and first generation Cherokees. Now you look at what Jeep is making: a 4-door Wrangler, which is pretty much useless for anything except the road. A Cherokee which has basically become a car, sans trunk, much less any SUV-like cargo area, and similar vehicles, which aparently are just variants/combinations of the above, which I guess are just marketed for looks, because they really have no purpose or special functionality- For all of their high-tech crap, and expense, a simple old Comando or Jeepster would make them look like the toys that they are.

            My friend just sold a 25 year-old bone=stock Wrangler- 6 cyl. A/T, stripped down model for $5K- Meanwhile you can get a fairly new Commander, Patriot or Liberty for about the same price, which shows the real value of the newer ones vs. the old.

            And for what it’s worth: I’m glad we had station wagons back in my day, instead of mini-vans!

      • If you’re up for RR in April you’re welcome to stay awhile (Venice, FL). I organize an
        annual community car show. Drive the AMG down or the Trans-Am 🙂
        http://www.lowofj.com/

        “Lakes Community Car Show. It’s an opportunity to display your vehicle and check out other interesting cars/motorcycles/vehicles. It’s casual and free. Classics, and newer appealing vehicles, are welcome. Come to the Lakes of Jacaranda Clubhouse parking lot on Sunday, April 23, 1:00-4 PM . Cruise on in… BE THERE! (575 Lake of the Woods Drive). Organizer: ‘libertyx”

  7. Especially with the big motor, this thing seems like the answer to a question nobody ever asked. In some ways, it’s a rolling oxymoron.

    I can’t really guess whether this will bring big bucks at classic car auctions in 2047, or be viewed as a tasteless, worthless joke.

    Whichever, it is one extraordinary beast!

  8. Eric, Methinks you are too easily swayed by the frills- or rather, of being able to play with them for free. I’ll bet your opinions on most of the cars you test and seem to like, would be quite different if you had to pay for them, and live with them long-term.

    If I were doing these reviews, I would try and do them from that perspective.

    Gonna go 4-wheeling in your $70K Benz? I think not. So who cares about the ground clearance?

    Haven’t Benzes become one of the most unreliable and most expensive to maintain and repair vehicles out there? (And they sure don’t hold their value like they used to!).

    Yeah, if you pay enough, you can still buy a Lambo that Al Gore won’t approve of…. So what? And OJ Simpson got away with murder, but you or I couldn’t.

      • Hey, nothin’ll make you feel a li’l better than some sparkling lights and responsive throttle in a comfortable car, eh? (What IS IT this year? I was even sick once this year- albeit short-lived and mild- AND had a few instances where it seemed like it was thinking of coming back- Thought maybe it was just me, getting old and all…)

  9. “Our sun, for example, is relatively big . . . compared with the Earth. But compared with VY Canis Majoris, our sun is a speck of sand.”

    UY Scuti is even bigger. For now. Both these suns are gonna go supernova relatively soon. That kind of size is really unstable — kinda like mashing the pedal of this AMG in V8 trim if you don’t know how to drive with that much power.

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