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Battle of the Brothers

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Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S 4MATIC+ vs Mercedes-AMG E 63 S 4MATIC+ |

The notion of performance SUVs has been the subject of intense debate since the first super-powered Merc wagon hit the streets. As conventional wisdom would have it, a person should either buy a proper sports car or a super-sedan instead of, say, the Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S. However, these super SUVs have survived scorn and risen to popularity, leaving the more traditional super-sedan in its sales dust. Yet, for some niche-within-a-niche buyers, cars such as the Mercedes-AMG E 63 S remains a statement purchase. With the GLE SUV being the familial off-shoot of the E-Class sedan, Driven recently pitted these two examples of ultimate AMG-power against one another in a proverbial battle of the brothers.

MERCEDES-AMG E 63 S

Mercedes-Benz can trace its E-Class roots back some 70 years, and in that time, has led revolution after revolution in the sedan space. Evermore progressive styling, safety, power, and refinement have contributed to crafting the car’s virtually unassailable reputation as one of history’s most revered passenger cars.

From a styling point of view, the recently updated E-Class – specifically the muscled-up E 63 S – is a beau of a car. Treated to Mercedes-AMG’s distinctive brand of trim that includes redesigned dual-LED daytime running lights, the Panamerica grille design that is also applied on its GLE offspring (but originally comes from the AMG GT-R), and massive air-intakes that promise, and deliver, a commanding road presence. AMG styling also includes wider wheel arches to accommodate beefier rubber, while, at the rear, the trapezoidal exhaust tips are chromed, and there are updated LED lights, a rear spoiler that is the very essence of understated, and an F1-inspired diffuser that it is decidedly not. 

INTERIOR

Considering that the E 63 S and GLE 63 S’ respective three-box and two-box design compels a substantial variance in cabin volume, both environments are surprisingly alike in look and feel. The E 63 and GLE 63 share the dual-cockpit display set-up that is configurable for the driver, and several AMG-specific touches that separate the cabin experience from more modest Mercs. Foremost, the driver faces an AMG sports steering wheel with mounted paddles and dedicated switches and dials for the various drive modes. Standard seats are replaced with AMG sports seats clad in Nappa leather, and boast massage, heating and cooling functionality.

True to its nature, the E 63 S is an E-Class first, and a fire-breathing sports-sedan second. This means that, as it should, the car feels and looks truly luxurious inside, and offers many class-leading technologies as standard fare.

Naturally, there is smartphone integration for either your iOS or Android device, with the LTE Communications module to allow for the use of Mercedes Me connect services. PRE-SAFE pre-collision warning with active brake assist is, well, pre-installed, as is AMG RIDE CONTROL+, Traffic Sign Assist, tyre pressure monitoring, and much more.

Our test car arrived with a raft of optional extras added to the interior and exterior. Wireless charging (R3,600), head-up display (R19,600), a panoramic sliding sunroof (R25,100), an AMG carbon fibre centre console (R23,400), and general carbon-fibre trim (R68,800) comprise the bulk of the luxury additions. Exterior and performance enhancements added R283,100 to the car’s R2,436,440 base price, bringing the total as tested to a lick under R2.9 million. The most notable dynamic upgrades were the AMG high-performance ceramic composite braking system (R145,600), and 20″ AMG cross-spoke forged wheels at R41,000.

INSATIABLE POWER

Recently, Mercedes-AMG has been using their bi-turbo 4.0-litre V8 petrol engine in just about every top-end AMG car. Although the smaller V8 offers less than two-thirds of the displacement of the 6.2-litre V8 that did duty in previous generation AMGs, performance has not been compromised. In its latest iteration, the twice-turbocharged engine has been tuned to deliver 450 kW and 850 Nm in the E-Class. Few words accurately describe how enthralling this beast of an engine is in the E 63 S. In the bonkers “Race mode”, for example, Launch Control allows the E 63 S to rush from zero to 100km/h in a paltry 3.4 seconds. The E 63 S will reach a governed 300 km/h at the top end for those who are brave enough.

In ‘S’ guise with its 4Matic+ drivetrain (we don’t get the “standard” E63 in South Africa), the E 63 S enjoys a continuously even distribution of torque to all wheels, endowing the car with hugely respectable handling characteristics both off the line, and around the bends. Naturally, with a lower centre of gravity than its GLE 63 S compatriot, the E-Class easily wins in the dynamic handling stakes. 

Both cars benefit from cylinder deactivation – where only four of the hand-built engine’s eight cylinders are employed during cruising, helping to significantly improve fuel consumption when spirited driving is not required.

GLE 63 S 4MATIC

Off the bat, the GLE 63 S is one mean looking machine. The exterior design sports substantial changes over its predecessor, making it impossible to mistake the new car for the old. Upfront, there are redesigned headlights, with the dual-LED DRL design paying homage to the E Class family. Nestled between the two headlights is a redesigned grille, now sporting the AMG Panamerica design first seen on the AMG GT-R a couple of years ago. Lower down, there are giant air intakes designed in AMG’s signature ‘A shape’ design language. At the rear, the car has sleek redesigned LED tail lights, a more aggressive bumper with an integrated diffuser flanked by a quartet of trapezoidal exhaust tips. If the aggressive styling is not enough to signify that the GLE 63 S is something special, the AMG badging on the tailgate and the V8 Bi-turbo 4MATIC+ badge on the front quarter panel ought to hit the home run. To complete the look, this beast runs on 22” alloys.

Interior impressions

The cabin of the GLE 63 S mirrors that of other derivatives in the range. However, the dual-cockpit display with configurable instrument cluster and infotainment system is accentuated with a choice of high-quality materials. Like the E 63 S, the GLE 63 S is differentiated from non-AMG derivatives with various visual cues. Adding to the car’s list of notable standard features, our test vehicle also arrived equipped with a panoramic roof, and an upgraded Burmester premium sound system.

Despite its performance-oriented personality, the practicality of the GLE 63 S SUV is its stand-out feature. Sure, you cannot get the optional third row of seats with the AMG, but there is still plenty of head and legroom to comfortably accommodate three adults in the rear. The car also comes with 630L of storage space, which is more than enough for anyone’s daily needs.

Performance impressions

The piece de resistance of the GLE 63 S, along with any other AMG product, is that monster lurking under the contoured bonnet. Therein lies a 4.0-litre bi-turbo V8 unit mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission. The engine produces 450 kW and 850 Nm, supplemented by Mercedes’ EQ Boost starter-generator (also in the E 63 S) that can temporarily add 16 kW and 250 Nm. These impressive figures translate to a zero to 100km/h sprint in 3.8 seconds, and a top speed of 280km/h. An SUV that weighs the best part of two tonnes has no business being this obscenely quick. All this performance is accompanied by one of the best exhaust notes coming from a turbocharged engine in recent times. At lower speeds, the V8 burbles in the background, egging you to go faster. As soon as you tap the accelerator pedal, the grumble rises to a raucous growl punctuated by cracks and pops. It may not be the sonorous soundtrack of the naturally aspirated 6.2-litre of yore, but the current engine still manages to be a head-turning aural delight. Should you muster the willpower to be a bit more civil, however, a simple press of a dedicated exhaust button shuts off the valves in the exhaust system and makes the car much quieter.

The GLE 63 S comes standard with active air suspension and adaptive dampers. With every setting turned down to its most comfortable, the SUV transforms into a comfortable luxury cruiser. The GLE 63 S also comes with a 48-volt active anti-roll system that keeps the car on the horizontal plane around corners by counteracting body roll – a key requirement for a large SUV such as this. 

Driving slowly in the GLE turned out to be a major challenge. There’s something about that exhaust note and the throttle response that threatens to turn any driver into the traffic light racer.

LAST WORD

Anyone experiencing either the E 63 S or the GLE 63 S will likely walk away astounded by their unbridled power and nimble handling. Given its nature, the E 63 S might not be an everyday runner (it is just too extreme), but in the proper environment – and in skilled hands – it will be one of the most rewarding cars you have ever driven.

Equally, the GLE 63 S masterfully combines astounding performance with the practicality of an SUV and the luxury of a Mercedes-Benz. This is the car for a diehard petrol head, but with the way the world is going with emissions regulations, this sort of car will not exist forever, which makes the R2,907,440 investment a reasonable investment for what is bound to become a collectors’ car.

Report by BRYAN KAYAVHU & BERNIE HELLBERG JR

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