If you’re looking for something mid-sized that’s a utility wagon, a high-performance machine, capable of towing at least 7,000 pounds, and a luxury vehicle with a beautiful interior, you’ll find it all with plenty of trim options and engine varieties between the 2021 models of the Mercedes-Benz GLE and the BMW X5.

With more than half of Mercedes-AMG’s sales today being utility vehicles, it makes sense for Mercedes to add more options to the GLE’s impressive range of engine choices with the performance-focused AMG GLE 53 and the insane 603-horsepower 63 S variants.  AMG flair makes the newest models a standout with vertical grille louvers, an aggressive front bumper with large black air intakes, flared wheel arches, and large rectangular exhaust pipes.  Inside, you’ll find a three-spoke sports steering wheel with aluminum paddle shifters, as well as standard heated and ventilated AMG front sports seats covered in nappa leather. While most GLE’s come standard with five-passenger seating and can be optioned with three rows to seat seven people, you sacrifice the third row option with the AMG GLE 63 S.

Our Mercedes tester was the 2021 AMG GLE 63 S 4MATIC+ with an MSRP of $113,950.  It sports the twin-turbo 4.0-liter V-8, which is the first AMG V-8 to get Mercedes’ 48-volt EQ Boost hybrid system.  The motor-generator is mounted between the engine and the standard nine-speed automatic transmission to power the electric air-conditioning compressor and electric water pump and can briefly kick in up to 21 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque to reduce the engine’s lag and improve fuel economy.

The latest in Mercedes engineering equates to a quick and seamless engine stop-start system, propelling the bulky 5568-pound GLE 63 S with authority, reaching 60 mph in just 3.4 seconds with 603 horsepower and 627 pound-feet of torque. Cornering is also beautiful, thanks to standard limited-slip rear differential and the 4Matic rear-biased all-wheel-drive system.  Another first for an AMG SUV, dynamic engine mounts stiffen automatically based on driving conditions. Adaptive dampers firm up the suspension noticeably in its Sport, Sport+, or Race settings.   The suspension setup can also drop the GLE63 S 0.4 inch above 75 mph to reduce drag or raise it 2.2 inches in the Trail and Sand modes to increase ground clearance.  AMG has also fitted its 48-volt Active Ride Control anti-roll system, which helps keep body roll tightly in check in the more aggressive settings.

If you were directly comparing models between the two German automakers, the BMW X5 performance SUV equivalent would be the X5 M with a similar six-figure price tag to the Mercedes AMG.  Power’s great, but BMW’s focus for 2021 is on the buyer still looking for performance, but also one who also appreciates a high-performing plug-in hybrid option.

Our X5 xDrive45e was listed with a $65,400 MSRP, just slightly higher than Mercedes’ GLE base 350 model.  The inline-6 with batteries and electric motor powers its accessories; it doesn’t contribute extra horsepower or higher fuel economy but does give it 31 miles in the fully electric driving range.  Grafting a mild-hybrid system onto BMW’s turbo 6 40i engine and teaming it to an 8-speed automatic transmission, the XDrive45e posts identical acceleration times to non-hybrid X5s, rating 335 hp and 330 pound-feet of torque and making 0 to 60 in 5.3 seconds.  The xDrive45e changes gears seamlessly without hesitation while available air springs soften the ride to deliver a controlled, pleasant drive experience and also allows the vehicle to be lowered for better efficiency when cruising or raised for up to 8.7 inches of ground clearance

While it still sports massive air intakes, a wide grille, and LED headlights, the X5’s exterior is handsome but understated.  The drama is saved for the interior, with panels of open-pore wood, metallic trim, and lots of leather. A third row is an option. Fold the seats down to get flexible cargo space in the rear and a low load floor accessed through the two-piece tailgate. Satellite radio now comes standard, as does Android Auto compatibility.

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