Just over twenty years ago, Mercedes-Benz inadvertently created what would become one of the hottest segments in the motoring world - performance SUVs. Unaware of what would follow, the engineers at AMG shoved a 5.4-litre V8 AMG motor under the bonnet of the first generation ML-Class. With 270 kW under the bonnet, Mercedes created the first performance SUV. While it may have had wayward handling and woolly steering, it was impressive in a straight line.
Soon, BMW and Porsche - and even Jeep - had performance offerings. Now, as we steam toward 2022, nearly every premium manufacturer (and some mainstream brands) offer a hot variant of their conventional SUV models.
Continuing with the tradition, the boffins at AMG have furthered the performance SUV range. At the upper end sits the big G63 and GLS AMG derivatives. On the smaller side is the GLA45 (still to be launched) and GLC63. In the middle, are the GLE twins - the conventional SUV and the swoopy coupé.
Available in two individual AMG model variants (53 and 63), Mercedes sent us both body styles with the stonking 4.0-litre V8 engine. With 450 kW and 850 Nm on tap, both are decidedly potent. Both will sprint to 100 km/h in 3.8 seconds and hit an electronic limiter at 280 km/h. The power is sent to all four wheels via a 9-speed AMG gearbox, which is as ferocious and quick as it is smooth.
While the styling is the biggest difference between the two cars, the interiors are very much the same. The stylish facia is dominated by swathes of leather and the MBUX infotainment system - one of the best in the business. In the case of the SUV, the test unit was fitted with the optional carbon fibre trim finish, which really looks fantastic.
Another discernible difference - also because of the styling - is the rear interior room and luggage space. With luggage space ranging from 655-1790 litres, the coupé is impressively commodious. However, the more practical (and cheaper) SUV offers up 690 litres before you fold the seats down.
While they're certainly hefty behemoths, the AMG twins are quite capable at tackling a set of s-bends with aplomb. While not as dynamic as an X5 M Competition, they're certainly impressive, with the slightly lighter coupé getting the edge.
Everywhere else, we find the SUV derivative to be the better buy. Not only is it cheaper, but offers plenty of space and more practicality. What's more, while styling is subjective, we prefer the more classic looks of the SUV. The sloping roofline of the coupé is perhaps a touch too far for us. At just under R3 million for both, they're undeniably pricey. If you really want an AMG SUV (and can afford it), the GLE platform is the sweet spot, in terms of performance, price and space. But from a practicality (and price point) we'd opt for the more sensible GLE400d. While nowhere near as potent as the AMG model, it's quick enough, beautifully refined and offers far more value.