While we driving enthusiasts sat around complaining about the automotive world going to hell in an SUV handbasket, a funny thing happened: SUVs became great. As painful as it is to admit, many SUVs have become safe, stylish, comfortable, and in some instances, legitimately fun to drive.

Where previously the smart family money was plunked down on a minivan for their unrivaled practicality, or on a station wagon for their superior ride, braking and handling performance, sport utility vehicles simply grew in popularity as the family machine of choice that wouldn’t render its owner a social outcast.

Despite their popularity, crossover SUVs were always a compromise. They’d trade off performance and efficiency to a lower, lighter station wagon, or give up interior space and usability to a minivan in exchange for an SUV’s “cooler” image. All the while, manufacturers continued to rake in buckets of revenue from the steady increase of SUV sales across all segments and in turn, they have invested heavily in more SUVs, making models available from size XS through to XXL, and to fit almost any budget.

Mercedes-Benz is one such company that has systematically improved its growing fleet of SUVs (from cutesy-ute to macho beast). The Benz SUVs – particularly the compact GLK (now GLC) and mid-size ML (now the GLE subject of this review) – were outstanding examples in their previous generations. With exceptional build quality and truly excellent diesel engines, the GLK and ML unsurprisingly claimed a few past Autos.ca comparison test victories against some formidable products from competitive premium brands.

So perhaps I shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was that the new GLE 450 AMG is an excellent machine, full stop.

It’s rare to find a vehicle that can chameleon itself as completely as the GLE 450 does. Need a practical family machine to haul the kids, the dog and the boat to the cottage? No problem, this Benz’ll do it.

How ’bout a premium-brand luxury machine suitable to take even the snootiest of clients to a tony lunch? Again, this GLE – especially finished in deep, dark metallic blue paint over a gorgeous saddle-brown interior – is ready to please.

But what about when you’re simply by yourself and want to actually enjoy the pleasure of driving? Surely an SUV can’t be fun-to-drive too, can it? Heck yeah, it can – and this one is!

That last point remains the biggest shock to me following my week of driving the GLE 450. The AMG branding added to the fenders aren’t simply a styling exercise – there’s some honest-to-goodness performance capability with this machine. And that exhaust note? It’s absolutely ludicrous in this type of vehicle.

In Pictures: 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE

One of the first mornings I had the GLE I started it up, then proceeded to walk around to the back of it to load a bag in cargo area.  Astern this luxurious family machine my brain could hardly believe what my ears were telling it. That gruff, loud, gravelly voice rumbling away is being emitted from those subtle tailpipes integrated into the rear valance. A sleek, mean-looking C 450 Coupe with this soundtrack is to be expected, but from this thing? Shocking.

Connect with Autos.ca