How do you take a small crossover and make it better?
Slap the AMG badge on it and give it the AMG treatment.
That process turned the 2023 Mercedes-Benz GLE 53 AMG from just another crossover into something that’s reasonably fun to drive – though the price tag will make eyes water.
It can be hard to justify nearly 100 grand on a small crossover, but 429 horsepower and 413 lb-ft of torque will help. So, too, will AMG-massaged ride and handling.
The 3.0-liter, inline-six turbo underhood also gets a boost from an electric starter/generator.
Having that amount of thrust on hand makes for easy passing and merging – one can find oneself violating the speed limit quickly.
Sometimes tuning for handling can lead to a sacrifice in ride, and while the GLE is a bit on the stiff and sporty side, it’s comfortable enough for urban running while still being ready to corner, thanks to the air suspension. You can, of course, select the proper drive mode for the situation and/or your mood. The GLE has all-wheel drive.
It’s a neat package, giving you comfort, performance, and luxury and combining that with blandly handsome German styling. The interior does feel a tad cramped, though.
Cramped though it is, it’s still a nice place to do the business of driving. Mercedes’ MBUX infotainment is one of the better systems out there, with easy-to-read visuals and lots of customization options, though I do find that it can occasionally require too much menu diving. Some of the controls are haptic touch and the functionality is hit or miss. Same goes for the mouse pad.
I liked the use of steering-wheel mounted controls for the drive modes. As noted, Mercedes is doing screens and haptic touch better than most, but simple still usually remains better. You can also adjust screens with finger swipes.
The digital gauges are easy to read and the instrument panel also offers plenty of customization.
As fun to drive as the GLE can be, and as nicely appointed as it is inside, an 86 grand price of entry is difficult to stomach, even accounting for the cache associated with both the Mercedes-Benz and AMG names. Standard features included the dual 12.3-inch screens for instruments and infotainment, navigation, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Burmester audio, the MBUX infotainment system, power-folding side mirrors, interior ambient lighting, heated and cooled front seats, dual-zone climate control, and a panoramic sunroof.
Standard safety aids include active brake assist, blind-spot assist, LED headlamps and taillamps, adaptive high beam assist, rearview camera, and active parking assist with surround view.
Options included carbon-fiber trim, an AMG steering wheel, a winter package, 21-inch AMG wheels, and the Night Package (front splitter, roof rails, AMG exhaust, and more). With destination, the price tag was $93,400.
That number is the biggest problem with the GLE 53 AMG. Yes, you need to pay a lot for high performance. But since it’s not necessary, you’re going to have to really want the AMG performance – or at least the AMG name – if you want to drop the extra coin.
I understand that with a few exceptions, most performance vehicles are all about wanting something that’s not logical. Yes, you can find certain sporty vehicles that aren’t too pricey, don’t make you sacrifice too much, and in some cases, have respectable fuel economy.
Most of the time, though, you’re paying extra just to have access to more fun, and you sometimes pay a price at the pump, too (in this case, the numbers are 18/23/20). The question is, is it worth it?
Each individual buyer will make his or her own choice. In this case, I’d say the answer is yes based on what the GLE can do.
That’s if you make full use of its capabilities. Otherwise, you might want to save the dough and not opt for the AMG trim.
It’s your call. Just know that if you start to feel buyers remorse, especially when the monthly payment gets extracted from your account, you can always find a great road and feel better.
[Images © 2023 Tim Healey/TTAC; Mercedes-Benz]
Become a TTAC insider. Get the latest news, features, TTAC takes, and everything else that gets to the truth about cars first by subscribing to our newsletter.