The man behind the AMG GLE 43 and everything else at Mercedes-Benz is a real-life look-alike of Mister Geppetto, Pinocchio’s creator.

Like Geppetto, Dieter Zetche is kind of warm and fuzzy in person – at least as far as car company CEOs go. I like him; most everyone does. And I really like the AMG GLE 43; dollar-for-dollar, it may be the best mid/large SUV (sport-utility vehicle) in the world.

Which stuns me a little, given Zetsche’s history. But everything that’s happened with Mercedes in the last decade is a little breathtaking, given Zetsche has been in charge. Today, Mercedes-Benz is the world’s No. 1 luxury brand, having just toppled BMW from a perch held since 2005. Under Zetsche. Who’d a thunk?

Back in 2006 when Zetsche became Daimler’s CEO, no one was writing loving profiles like the one Bloomberg just penned about Zetsche and Daimler. Today, Bloomberg notes, Daimler’s decade-long turnaround “is largely due to what the CEO’s done right — including overhauling the brand’s stodgy styling and expanding its range of SUVs.”

Sure, Daimler has been helped by the bumbling at BMW and Audi, but CEO Zetsche who “ditched his suit and tie for skinny jeans and sneakers” deserves credit for Daimler’s resurgence.

If you’re a brand-conscious car buyer in 2017 – and at these prices, who isn’t – Mercedes-Benz is a wonderful fit. New products like the GLE 43 are excellent. Moreover, despite the fact Mercedes is a global luxury brand with a 131-year pedigree, there is something youthful and hip about Merc.

Much credit goes to Zetsche, whose personal brand is in lock-step with Merc itself, argues Bloomberg. He’s the “likable Dr. Z,” a successful and smart fellow who is also accessible and chummy. He’s the good-natured academic car guy with a bushy mustache and a soft German baritone — engineer CEO as huggable “marketing personality.”

But in a previous life, back when Daimler was running the former Chrysler Corp. into the ground, Zetsche could be found on cold January afternoons pulling beer taps in a downtown Detroit fire hall. He was CEO of Chrysler back then, around the turn of the century. During the Detroit auto show, Zetsche took to the taps in Chrysler’s makeshift pub, hosting journalists and other hangers-on during after-show hours.

It was all too easy to overlook then — and to forget now — that Chrysler’s road to bankruptcy in 2009 was paved by Zetsche and other Daimler bosses in the 1990s and early 2000s. After Daimler and Chrysler concluded their so-called “merger of equals” in 1998, Zetsche parachuted in to run Chrysler.

He seemed like a good fit: affable, an engineering background, fluent in English, comfortable in America and willing to wear an apron, slapping down cold mugs of beer in front of thirsty journos too lazy and coddled to dig into the calamity that was actually unfolding at Chrysler. Zetsche’s run at Chrysler culminated with one of the greatest wealth incinerations of all time.

Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche hands over the keys to the new official papal vehicle to Pope Francis, Head of the Catholic Church .

By the time Daimler dumped Chrysler onto private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management in 2007, a Chrysler that had been worth $37 billion (US) in 1998 was valued at less than nothing. In fact, once all the accounting had been done, Daimler paid Cerberus more than half a billion to close the deal. So $37 billion gone – poof, in less than a decade!

Zetsche’s run atop Daimler and Mercedes (he’s long retained personal responsibility for the brand) should make anyone believe in second chances. Merc’s sales are booming and long term there is plan to address the electric vehicle market. Daimler has Tesla firmly in its sights, knowing Tesla customers are also Mercedes customers.

Most of all, though, Mercedes has had the good sense or the good fortune to anticipate and exploit the global SUV boom. It seems Zetsche’s takeaway from his American misadventure was a deep understanding of the importance of SUVs.

In any case, you will be hard pressed to find a more satisfying SUV than the AMG GLE 43. It’s fast thanks to a turbocharged V-6 (362 hp/384 lbs-ft torque) that’s mated to a gem of a gearbox, a nine-speed electronic automatic that changes ratios instantly and as smoothly as slipping on a soft leather glove. At all speeds, you feel like you’re riding in a tall, luxurious car, but one capable of taking corners at a surprising rate.

The cabin is delicious, the seats are lounge chairs with side bolstering to hold you in place. The infotainment interface is easy to manage, with functions simple to program even if you’re not a Millennial. At the back you’ll find lots of cargo room and rear-seat passengers sit tall and coddled. The materials everywhere feel expensive.

They should. The base price for this rig is $71,400, but it’s easy to add $15,000-$16,000 in extras. With taxes, you’re out the door at something close to 100-large.

If I were in Zetsche’s pay bracket and I wanted an SUS, I’d buy an AMG GLE 43.


Price: $71,400. As tested: $86,390.

Engine: 3.0-litre V-6, turbo (362 hp/384 pound-feet of torque).

Drive: all-wheel.

Transmission: nine-speed automatic.

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 13.6 city/10.1 using premium fuel.

Comparables:  Volvo XC90, Porsche Cayenne, Audi Q7, BMW X5, Range Rover Sport.




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