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2017 Car Review - 2017 Mercedes-Benz AMG GLE 43 4MATIC SUV Review +VIDEO By Dan Poler

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Dan Poler
Senior Editor and Chief
Rocky Mountain Bureau
The Auto Channel

It's Worth It! For the price increase of the 2017 Mercedes-Benz AMG GLE43 you get one of the most stylish and fun-to-drive SUVs we’ve reviewed in recent years.

By In the recently revised acronym soup of Mercedes-Benz’s current lineup, the GLE has replaced what was once the ML, representing the midsized SUV in the lineup - “GL” representing an SUV, “E” representing midsized (akin to the “E” sedan). Further confusing matters, two models wear the GLE badge - the traditional SUV we’re discussing here, and a “coupe” model - four doors but with a sloped back end (think BMW X6, versus the X5).

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Think we’re done? Not even remotely. What about the AMG portion? Relative to a base Mercedes-Benz model, typically this signifies a vehicle with more aggressive looks, a higher level of performance, better handling, better stability and sometimes, extensive use of carbon fiber. All true for the AMG GLE43. However, in most cases the AMG badge also represents an engine hand-built in Affalterbach by a single builder, stamped with a hand-engraved plaque bearing their signature. Not so for the AMG GLE43 - although the engine and transmission are German, the car is nearly two-thirds North American-sourced and assembled in Vance, Alabama. Reading the fine print of this model, you might note that the engine is not specifically AMG, but rather “AMG-Enhanced”. Want the one-man, one-engine model? You’ll need to hand over an additional $34,540 for the AMG GLE63, which has a base price set at an eye-popping $101,690.

Now that we’ve gotten all that out of the way, the GLE43 is new for this year. It slots between the GLE350 and plug-in hybrid GLE550e in the traditional Mercedes-Benz lineup, and that GLE63 on the top end, providing a middle ground for those not able to spring for (or justify) the six figure pricetag commanded by the GLE63. The base GLE350 starts at $52,000 even, so the GLE43 does represent a $15,000 premium at base prices.

But it’s worth it. For the price increase, you get one of the most stylish and fun-to-drive SUVs we’ve reviewed in recent years.

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Our test unit came in Brillant Blue Metallic. The color is a real head-turner, not an overly bright blue, but noticeable enough to stand out against the blacks, whites, beiges and maroons of everyday. Combined with the more aggressive styling such as brushed aluminum running boards and 21” AMG twin 6-spoke wheels, it looks fantastic and received compliments at the gas pump and at stop lights.

Once inside, one finds a spacious cabin with all the amenities one comes to expect from Mercedes-Benz (or, rightly, any nearly-$85,000 vehicle) - three-zone climate control, massaging, heated, and ventilated front seats that seem infinitely adjustable in their support options, beautifully-grained wood trim, a panoramic sunroof. Even front cupholders that can heat or cool to help maintain the temperature of your beverage. Although not brimming with storage space, what there is has a logical layout and is easily reachable, and there’s plenty of hip-, shoulder-, and leg-room for all (except perhaps the middle rear passenger, of course).

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The first realization when heading out for a drive is that the GLE43 isn’t an SUV. It just can’t be. Not possible. Doesn’t handle like one. The roughly 5,000 pounds settle in nicely on adjustable suspension without a hint of roll or errant behavior one might expect from a vehicle this size. For the way it feels it might as well be a sporty little two-door coupe, apart from seating position - and a glance in the rearview mirror to see the expansive rear seat and cargo area reminds you what you’re really driving. The 9-speed AMG-Enhanced transmission moves through gears effortlessly with power always available, yet never over-eager to downshift.

The GLE43 has three driving modes, as we find on many Mercedes-Benz vehicles - Comfort, Sport, and Sport+. Whereas in some vehicles the modes feel fairly similar, that is not the case here; there’s a distinct difference between each of them. Comfort is exactly that: Mellow, light effort, cushioned ride isolating out the reality of the road, still firm without being obnoxious about it. We did however notice a significant hesitation in passing at highway speeds in Comfort mode, for example accelerating from 60 MPH to 75 MPH, which can be a bit unsettling on the freeway.

At the other end of the scale, Sport+ turns the GLE43 into a tight-handling, exhaust-snarling, quick-off-the-line monster. The exhaust note in Sport+ is particularly delicious, although perhaps a bit of an aggressive tone in residential areas.

The GLE43 rides on Continental CrossContact tires wrapped around those 21” AMG twin five-spoke wheels. The tires are outstanding in the dry, but did feel a bit sloppy in some mixed sleet and freezing rain that came down during our test. In climates with a real Winter like the Rocky Mountain West, a proper set of winter tires would be advisable. During our testing, we averaged a respectable 22mpg in combined driving against city/highway/combined estimates of 17/23/20.

For its excellent driving characteristics, the GLE43 does bring with it a couple of minor flaws - the GLE43 is equipped with an engine auto start/stop system that is in need of some fine tuning - for example, if the vehicle stops at a light on an incline it will roll before the engine restarts with a heavy jolt. The system cannot easily be disabled; not only does it switch back on with every park of the vehicle, it additionally will switch back on when the driving mode is changed, for example from Comfort to Sport or vice-versa. We also found the lane-keeping system to be somewhat over-aggressive, harshly steering the car away from the line almost to the point of coming to the line on the opposite side.

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But then there’s a significant flaw we simply cannot overlook: The COMAND system. COMAND is Mercedes-Benz’s system that controls navigation, entertainment, and telematics, as well as vehicle features and settings. Let’s start with the control: There are two overlapping controls placed between the front seats, a click-wheel with a trackpad sort of arrangement directly above - similar to what one might find on their laptop. When we say “overlapping”, we mean both in terms of function, and in the literal sense; the trackpad is positioned directly atop the click wheel with insufficient clearance to make either comfortable to use. Then there’s the menu structure: Basic functions like tuning the radio or adjusting the seat are buried in menus that don’t make a great deal of sense in their structure and order, and require a great deal of the driver’s attention to adjust; this presents a safety issue. Finally, there is yet another seemingly separate system for the driver to control systems like lane keeping and other driving systems; this one is in the dash with controls by the steering wheel. The arrangement of what is in the central COMAND system versus the driver’s system is nonsensical, as some vehicle features are controlled by one, and other features by the other system. All of this adds up to a frustrating experience for the driver to perform rudimentary functions and detracts from the safety and enjoyment of the vehicle.

In the end the Mercedes-Benz AMG GLE43 is a compelling proposition: A vehicle with the utility and size of an SUV but the handling characteristics of a sports car much smaller and lighter than it really is. If you’re in the market for a premium midsize SUV, it’s absolutely worth a look - but we’d advise significant time spent with the COMAND system to ensure you don’t find it as maddening as we did.

2017 Mercedes-Benz AMG GLE 43 4MATIC SUV Specifications

Engine: AMG-Enhanced 3.0L V6 Biturbo

Transmission: AMG-Enhanced 9G-TRONIC

Horsepower: 362

Torque (ft-lbs): 384

Wheelbase / Length (in): 114.8 / 191

Curb Weight (lbs): 5,000 (est.)

Pounds per HP: 13.8

Fuel Capacity (gal): 25 (est.)

Fuel Requirement: Premium Unleaded

Tires: Continental CrossContact; 265/40R21 105Y

Ground Clearance (in): 6 (est.)

Drivetrain: AMG Performance 4MATIC All-Wheel Drive System

EPA Fuel Economy - city/highway/combined/observed: 17/23/20/22

Towing Capacity (lbs): 7,200

Base Trim Price: $67,150

Price as Tested With Options: $83,745.00 (includes paint, leather, wood trim, air ionization with air filter, MB-Tex upper dash and door trim, passenger seat with memory and lumbar support, active multicontour front seats with massage feature, heated and ventilated front seats, power tilt/sliding panorama roof, trailer hitch, 3-zone automatic climate control, 21” AMG twin 5-spoke wheels, brushed aluminum running boards, pre-wiring for rear-seat entertainment, magic vision control, lockable rear storage compartment, premium 3 package, AMG night package, and destination/delivery)

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