Review: 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLE and GLS hit the high note
For the 2021 model year, Mercedes-Benz has added AMG tuning to both its midsized GLE sport utility and its full-sized GLS. These luxury SUVs now come in both standard and AMG-tuned models with powerful six- and eight-cylinder engines.
The Mercedes-Benz GLE and GLS models were both completely revamped for the 2020 model year. For 2021, AMG sport variants were added that boost power output and road presence in these new-generation SUVs. We tried both models in AMG formats to see what was what.
Our test models were the AMG options in both the GLE standard and Coupe (63 and 53 respectively) as well as the GLS in its AMG 63 variant. In all cases, standard equipment was plentiful and power output from the engines was on point. The 53 models are powered by a 3.0-liter inline-six turbocharged to produce 429 horsepower (320 kW) with a 48-volt hybrid system adding another 21 hp (15.6 kW) to the nine-speed automatic transmission. The 63 models feature a 4.0-liter V8 bi-turbo engine that produces 603 horsepower (449.7 kW) with another 21 hp from its 48V system. The same nine-speed automatic also matches this engine.
Both the six and the eight produce beautiful engine sounds, though the throatiness of an eight-cylinder engine is hard to compete with. We enjoyed both engines for their responsive power output and smooth delivery; and the nine-speed automatic is an excellent match for either engine. On top of those qualities, they look great and include a long list of safety and convenience items.
There are downsides, however, especially when you talk dollars. The starting price for the AMG GLE 53 Coupe is fairly reasonable at around US$76,500, but that quickly gets higher as options are added, with our fully-loaded test model ramping that number to $93,155 (including shipping). That includes $2,100 in seat massage options, $1,250 for a performance exhaust system (worth it), and $1,950 for the well-executed driver assistance package. The latter adds active systems for steering assistance and even active lane changing assistance, allowing the SUV (under cruise control) to change lanes on a driver signal. Still, pushing past $90,000 for what is essentially a chopped down sport utility (aka “wagon”) seems a little much. But compared to the starting price for the standard GLE SUV in its AMG 63 variant ($113,950), it’s far less eye-boggling. Our test model ran to $131,880 with delivery, which is only $280 shy of the starting price for the AMG GLS 63 full-sized sport SUV ... and our test model for the GLS 63 had another $20,000 in add-ons and delivery charges after that.
To put it bluntly, the Mercedes-Benz family of SUVs can get very expensive very quickly. If your financial math routinely uses six figures, though at the end of the day that's probably not a huge surprise.
As a daily vehicle, all three of the Mercedes-Benz SUVs we drove have merits. The GLE is the smaller of the two models and the Coupe variant is the smallest of that. In its standard format the GLE enjoys the benefits of a square-bodied utility with all the headroom, cargo space, and legroom that implies. It’s a big, comfortable, five-seater with a large amount of storage besides. The Coupe model cuts down the rear into a fastback style, reducing cargo space significantly and slightly impacting rear headroom with the curvature of the roofline. Even at that, however, it’s a roomy, practical wagon-style utility with great driving dynamics and performance as upsides.
Upsizing further to the GLS adds an adult-usable third row, seating for 6 or 7 (depending on second row configuration), and a large cargo area. This variant benefits greatly from the eight-cylinder grunt as well, given the SUV’s bulk. It’s a classy, capable, and muscular vehicle with a beautiful pipe symphony.
There’s a lot to be said for a well-done luxury SUV, and benchmarks for the class usually have the Mercedes-Benz three-pointed star on them. We think that’s still true here with the GLE and GLS models. Assuming you can afford them.