- I tested a $US153,000 Mercedes-AMG GLS 63, a high-performance luxury SUV that’s quite large and extremely powerful.
- The 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLS 63 has a 603-horsepower, twin-turbo V8 engine and can haul its impressive bulk to 60 mph in about four seconds.
- My test vehicle was outfitted like a limo, raising the question of whether anyone who employs a chauffeur really needs the AMG treatment for their SUV.
- I couldn’t answer that question, but the Mercedes-AMG GLS 63 captivated me with its power, grace, and style. It was among the most difficult vehicles to sum up that I’ve ever driven.
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Some vehicles defy description. The Mercedes-AMG GLS 63 is such a vehicle.
I spent days cycling through all the usual clichés one might muster to characterise the brute charm and blunt capabilities of an immense and powerful automobile. Fathomless wells of torque vied against a crashing wave of gigantic surf met with freight trains surging through empty western lands and dueled with battleships pivoting in storm-ravaged seas.
The GLS invalidated them all.
So I inferred, logically, that among many other things this overtly hulking haute-luxe SUV is a literary critic, contemptuous of cliché.
Some cars are cinematic, in an epic way. The Ford GT supercar, for example, with its dramatic 2016 win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, repeating “Ford vs. Ferrari” history from 1966. But the Mercedes-AMG GLS 63 is more like a novel: a massive, doorstop tome crammed with assorted subplots and the rise and fall of serial climaxes. The GLS is a character itself, but it contains multitudes.
I grappled for a week with the grand narrative that the GLS presented. Here’s how it went:
The 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLS 63 is a full-size, high-performance SUV. It’s the AMG-ized, SUV-ified version of the Mercedes flagship S-Class sedan. Base price was $US132,100, but as-tested, the GLS came in at $US153,035.
The Mercedes-AMG GLS 63 is a big boy. The SUV has been with us since 2006; the 2021 edition is a third-generation of the GLS-Class, which rolled out in 2020. My tester wore a “Selenite Grey Metallic” paint job.
Everything about the GLS is exaggerated, as suits a huge luxury SUV that tips the scales well north of 5,000 lbs. Big badge, big grille …
The $US750 “Night” package added front trim elements, including an aerodynamic splitter.
… And pretty big headlights? These are impressive, active-LED, look-around-corners units, but although they’re high-tech, they get lost in the GLS’s fascia.
Likewise the traditional Mercedes-Benz hood ornament.
Heck, even the AMG call-out is oddly wee for a vehicle so ginormoius. The slatted grille is an AMG special, however.
AMG is Mercedes-Benz’s go-fast division. It’s been applying mad-engineering to vehicles since 1967.
AMG is noted for engines. So let’s have a gander at the GLS’s.
Under the hood we find a 4.0-litre, twin-turbo V8, making 603 horsepower with 627 pound-feet of torque. The beef is augmented by a 48-volt mild-hybrid system, and the carbon-fibre engine cover costs $US1,500.
On the hybrid: it’s labelled “EQBoost” and it combines a starter-alternator motor and also provides a read-out on the instrument cluster, detailing the extra oomph its adding to the V8, which is a smaller-displacement motor than the previous iteration of this SUV. Smaller, but mightier, with total output bumped up from 577 hp and torque raised from 561 pound-feet.
The motor was hand-built by one Daniel Lange is Germany. Daniel did a darn good job, but more on that later.
In case you forget what’s powering your three-row SUV, Mercedes has cast the details in chrome. “Bi-Turbo” is Merc’s term for the two turbos. The GLS was also equipped with Mercedes’ 4Matic all-wheel-drive system.
The GLS does what it can with its scale and bulk. But there’s no evading the dimensions.
The front end looks marginally less immense that than rear, but even some character lines and that small, integrated spoiler can’t hide the GLS’s heft.
Those are indeed 23-inch AMG forged, matte-black wheels, five grand worth of ’em. Somehow, the GLS makes them look undersized.
My Mercedes-AMG GLS 63 wore sticky Michelin Pilot Sport 4 rubber, all the way around.
The brakes were AMG high-performance kit, and they did surprisingly well keeping the daunting physics of the GLS in check.
The integrated running board is unattractive, yet useful.
On balance, the back end of the GLS … isn’t bad. It’s large, but well designed to conceal that constant liability of SUVs.
The AMG badging here, in chrome, is more bold than it is up front.
But the trim level gets a little lost. The GLS63 actually went away from 2019-2020, so 2021 is the first time we’ve seen the new effort.
The quad exhaust pipes and low-key diffuser are clues that the Mercedes-AMG GLS 63 mean business.
My tester came with a set of roof rails, also part of the “Night” package. Awkward. But I suppose if you want to haul some extra gear while cranking out impressive 0-60 mph, it’s a worthy add-on.
Cargo capacity, of course, is mega. There’s power everything, and the GLS’s rear stance lowers for easier access. The 16 cubic feet with the third row of seats up isn’t that awesome …
… but it’s fine for grocery-store jaunts.
Use the controls to drop the second …
… And third rows, however …
… And capacity grows …
… maxing out at 94 cubic feet.
Mercedes doesn’t mess around with interiors. The carmaker has the best in the business, and the GLS lives up to that standard.
The grab-handles might seem like a bit much. Trust me, they aren’t.
Acres of high-end materials — Alcantara, Tartufo brown-and-black-Nappa leather, brushed-alloy trim, and “metal-weave” textures — add up to a completely gorgeous experience.
The metal weave is particularly swell — a bargain at $US550 extra.
Ambient lighting is a Merc thing, and they do it well. The colours can be customised to the tune of 64 choices.
The dash is dominated by the 12.3-inch digital cluster and 12.3-inch infotainment screen. That more than two feet of screen!
The special AMG steering wheel is $US600.
But you get what you pay for.
Drive modes are managed using this small wheel. Comfort mode keeps everything cruise-y and chill …
… While Sport mode peps up the party.
Sport + unleashes the savage spirit of this SUV.
Individual lets you play around with the setting, adjusting throttle response, steering feel, and so on.
These thumb switches let the driver tweak the dynamics on the fly.
The GLS’s power is piped through a nine-speed automatic transmission, with a manual mode and paddle shifters.
The front seats are well-bolstered, with a massaging function.
A touch more AMG-ness.
The seats are also heated and cooled.
The second row of my tester got the $US3,700 executive treatment.
Legroom was fantastic.
Plenty of room for executive time leg-stretching.
Even the third row provided a decent amount of space.
The cabin enjoys abundant natural light from the panorama roof.
The executive package basically translates into “use this GLS as a limo.” Yes, I too have always craved a 602-horsepower limousine. The rear seats are also heated and cooled …
… there’s a cupholder that also has heating and cooling options …
… and the centre armrest has a wireless charger.
It also has a tablet.
The MBUX device integrates with the GLS’s infotainment suite.
It’s nifty, but I’m not sure that rear-seat plutocrats would use it all that much.
The Burmester audio system is among the highest of the high-end options in the industry. It’s a $US4,550 add-on, and it sounds angelic.
Speakers are not inconspicuously positioned …
… around the cabin. This setup in one of the top two or three currently available in luxury cars and SUVs.
The MBUX infotainment system is controlled using this combination of trackpad …
… and buttons, with a helpful armrest. You can also use this console to adjust driving dynamics.
There’s a wireless charging option, pretty much a must-have on any current luxury vehicle.
The MBUX system is good. It’s not the most intuitive to operate, but the resolution is crisp and it does everything well. Bluetooth pairing is a snap, there are USB ports for devices, and you get …
… a SiriusXM subscription.
GPS navigation is excellent. Apple CarPlay and Android auto are also available.
So what’s the verdict?
Like many great novels – War and Peace? – the Mercedes-AMG GLS 63 has conflict and resolution at its core.
To be precise, the stonking V8 suggests a serious muscle-SUV, while the sumptuous interior does not. But maybe you want your chauffeur to stomp the accelerator from time to time, blasting from 0-60 mph in approximately four seconds. You’ll be quaking in your Ferragamos.
But you’ll tell Jeeves to do it again. And again. And again.
Fuel economy be damned. My tester didn’t come with those official specs, but figure on 20 mpg combined city/highway. Or less. On premium.
Normally, you’d think of a gargantuan SUV such as this in terms of straight-ahead velocity and leave the curves and corners to people who like to race bread trucks and battleships. But just like every other Mercedes I’ve tested of late, the AMG GLS 63 is staggeringly good at masking its vulnerability to the laws of physics.
Sure, I relished the flat-out freeway-destroying speed that the beast could command. But I took it up into the New Jersey backwoods for the twist and turns and ups and downs and galdurnit if the big guy didn’t handle it all with competence and grace. I wouldn’t call this SUV tossable, but I did toss it, and AMG Ride Control tech in the Sport or Sport + setting allowed for some aggressive driving with no worries about the GLS taking the laws of motion to any alarming Newtonian places. The Pilot Sport-4 tires certainly helped, as did the 4Matic AWD setup. The GLS 63 does lurch, but you have to be pushing it very hard.
If you do find yourself off the asphalt, offroad “trail” and “sand” modes can get you back on – or just keep you on trail or sand.
I wish I could have savoured the subplots delivered by the AMG-tuned exhaust, but an $US1,100 “Acoustic Comfort Package” took the edge off. A good thing, perhaps. The active driver-assist suite was also included with my tester, but the lane-keep feature continued a theme with Mercedes for me of being too stringent. It was almost troubling in its enthusiasm for disciplining even slight meanders from the path before it.
Yes, $US153,000 is a lot to pay for a luxury high-performance SUV (most of which, save that German-sourced, magnificent V8, is made in Mississippi) with literary depths. But it’s something special, by design. You could match it up against the Lincoln Navigator or the Cadillac Escalade, but those wouldn’t be fair fights.
So if you need massive power, massive torque, massive gentility, massive tech, and a really, really large Mercedes badge on the prow, crack open the heavy cover of the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLS 63 and get lost in the sprawling story.