2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Review: Mild-Mannered Mild-Hybrid

Kyle Patrick
by Kyle Patrick


Engine: 3.0L I6 Turbo w/ electric motor
Output: 429 hp, 384 lb-ft (21 hp, 184 lb-ft EQ Boost)
Transmission: 9AT, AWD
US fuel economy (MPG): 18/22/19
CAN fuel economy (L/100KM): 13.2/10.8/12.1
Starting Price (USD): $73,345 (inc. dest.)
As-Tested Price (USD): $102,980 (inc. dest.)
Starting Price (CAD): $92,500 (not inc. dest.)
As-Tested Price (CAD): $113,550 (not inc. dest.)

For as long as AMG models have existed, their engines have dominated their personalities.

AMGs are the hot rods of their class, all snarling, howl-at-the-moon aggression. The GLC 63 S is a muscle-bound monster of a compact crossover, with a literal sports car engine shoved underneath its hood. It’s impossible not to laugh when gunning it.

Get a Quote on a New Mercedes-AMG GLE 53

The 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 is a different proposition. There’s no angry V8 up front, but instead a smooth-revving 3.0-liter inline-six. This turbocharged six-pot also benefits from a mild-hybrid system, dubbed EQ Boost, which augments the gas powerplant with more power, yet also improves fuel economy. True to tradition, this high-tech drivetrain still dictates the overall attitude of this Affalterbach creation, turning the GLE 53 into a kinder, softer, and better-balanced SUV.

Comfy cocoon

Step into the GLE’s cabin—more of a lateral movement than either up or down—and it’s a familiar modern Merc environment. In fact, from the front row you’d be hard-pressed to tell it apart from the larger GLS. (Both SUVs share the same platform.) A large “floating” panel houses both the central infotainment and the instrument panel, with two larger vents flanking. A quartet of vents sit front and center, sitting slightly proud of a chunky strip of high-gloss carbon fiber.

Every touch point feels suitably premium in here, from the door armrests to the climate controls. The leather-and-suede seats have sizeable bolsters, but remain incredibly comfortable on longer trips, with the right amount of shoulder—and thigh—support. The massage function, which can activate when the GLE senses any driver fatigue, is a nice touch. Merc’s ambient lighting remains the best in the segment, thanks to its vast array of colors and smooth cycling. As first impressions go, the GLE 53 makes an incredibly strong one—even if the center console grab handles still reflect too much in the side windows. On the other hand, heated and cooled cupholders are very, very welcome.

The second row may be lacking in the myriad adjustments of the front thrones, but it’s just as comfortable for adults. There’s lots of space for noggin and limbs, and the seats aren’t bolt upright, either. A nearly level window line and huge panoramic glass roof increase the feeling of spaciousness too. A pair of USB ports means middle-row devices remain fully juiced too.

The optional way-back seating, as present here, is fine in a pinch. It’s not the easiest to access for those done their public school years, and doesn’t feel much more accommodating than the third row in the smaller GLB. Still, if you need the extra perches, even if only once in a while, it’s better they’re available.

SEE ALSO: 2020 BMW X6 M50i Review: Diet M is Still Filling

What can I tell you about MBUX that hasn’t already been said? It’s a smooth, speedy user interface, and while the center-mounted trackpad takes a little time to get used to, the small touchpads on the wheel spokes don’t. Left for the IP, right for the infotainment: simple. The wow factor of the single panel is undeniable, but crucially, Mercedes has made its UX as approachable as it is pretty.

Come see the softer side

Thanks to unseasonably mild January weather, I wasn’t able to test the GLE’s snow-tackling abilities. A lightly dusted trail was all we tackled together, and the standard air suspension gave the big Merc added ground clearance for peace of mind. During the rest of the week, on roads paved and not, the air suspension keeps the GLE level with minimal intrusions from the outside world. Even on those great-looking 21-inch wheels, the 53 remains supple and composed in its default suspension setting. Ratchet things up to Sport+ and there’s a harder edge to the ride, but still nothing to worry your chiropractor. At highway speeds there is a slight whistle coming from the driver-side window frame, but beyond that the GLE is near-silent.

The benefit of lining up the half-dozen cylinders instead of arranging them in a vee is a naturally smoother-revving engine. The 3.0-liter hums away underhood, with the turbo helping it produce a stout 429 hp and 384 lb-ft of torque. Floor the throttle and it produces a clean, sonorous cry, complete with mean blats on upshifts in Sport and Sport+ modes. It’s an engine you’ll want to exercise.

The EQ Boost system provides an additional 21 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque. It’s enough to launch the GLE 53 to 60 mph right around five seconds; not face-flattening quick, but ample for most drivers. It also allows the transmission to disconnect from the engine at speeds, helping improve fuel economy. On that front, my week-long test netted an average of just over 21 mpg (11.0 L/100 km), better than the official estimate. Illustrated another way, it just beat the smaller, less powerful GLC 43. You may possess your baked good, and consume it too.

SEE ALSO: 2020 Mercedes-AMG GLC 43 Review: Aufrecht Melcher Goldilocks

Only one issue tainted the otherwise superb drivetrain: low-speed lurch. Thanks to the more aggressive start-stop system, the GLE would occasionally shudder when maneuvering through my underground car park.

The steering wheel has an appropriate ratio for this sort of vehicle, never feeling darty nor lazy. It’s light, of course, but gains a bit of natural-feeling heft in sportier modes.

A softer hit on the wallet, too

It’s a shocking jump to add 10 to the badge on the back of the GLE. For 2021, the GLE 53 starts at $73,345, or around $92,500 CAD. (Note the US price includes destination, the Canadian does not.) That is a whopping $40,000 or so less than the 63.

It’s not like you get short-changed with the 53, either. Outside, it certainly looks the part, with the vertical-slat Panamericana grille, large air intakes, quad exhausts, and those tasty 21-inch wheels. The extra-cost Hyacinth Red is well worth it to my eyes, too: yay, not another monochrome look!

Even at this level, you’ll still need to pony up some additional cash for things like the driver assist package ($1,950 / $3,000 CAD), the sport exhaust, added levels of AMG goodness, and other bits. Third-row seating is also optional ($2,100 / $2,400 CAD). Pricing and packages are very different on either side of the border, but roughly, our tester sits right around $100,000 ($113,550 CAD, before destination). For reference, the V8-powered BMW X5 M50i starts at $83,795 ($95,480). The plug-in hybrid Volvo XC90 kicks off at $70,940 ($88,315). Inching ever closer to a 63, but remember that sledgehammer of a SUV will also need nearly as many boxes ticked.

Verdict: 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Review

The two-tiered approach is working well for AMG. Here we have a great-looking, immensely comfortable SUV that can still entertain when the road calls for it. The GLE 53 doesn’t always want to run around, either: a 63 is always tugging at the lead, wanting to unleash that blood-and-thunder soundtrack at every opportunity.

For some, that might be a drawback. I’m not going to tell them they’re wrong: the appeal of 600-plus horsepower under your right foot is strong. But keeping in mind this is a mid-size SUV, the GLE 53 is the better bet in my eyes. It offers a tough-to-beat blend of looks, ride quality, high-tech amenities, and easily accessible performance. It turns out the engine is still the conductor after all.

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  • Smooth inline-six sound, power
  • Perfectly-judged ride/handling balance
  • Typical Benz build and infotainment quality


  • Not as sporty as you expect
  • Low-speed lurch
  • Some options should be standard
Kyle Patrick
Kyle Patrick

Kyle began his automotive obsession before he even started school, courtesy of a remote control Porsche and various LEGO sets. He later studied advertising and graphic design at Humber College, which led him to writing about cars (both real and digital). He is now a proud member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC), where he was the Journalist of the Year runner-up for 2021.

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