The Mercedes-AMG GLS63 is the kind of vehicle nobody asked for, but Mercedes built it anyway because it can. The rationale for this thinking: Who needs another three-row luxury SUV from Mercedes when we already have the GLS450 and GLS580? Maybe the cool moms and dads who want sports car performance in a Clifford the Big Red Dog-size SUV. Or the millennial investor who is trying to impress his entourage by showing them what a nearly 3-ton sport utility can do on back roads.
In any case, we put a 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLS63 through our battery of track testing, drove it on the intense streets of Los Angeles, and had some fun with it on scenic roads in Santa Clarita and Pasadena for a complete evaluation. We wanted to know if the sleeper of luxury SUVs merits a $153,125 price tag and lives up to the AMG nameplate. Does it? Read on to find out.
Presence, Power, and Class
Underneath the hood is the crown jewel, a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 with mild hybrid technology that generates 603 hp and 627 lb-ft of torque. That power gets sent to all four wheels through an AMG-tuned nine-speed automatic. The combination shocks with its stupid-fast acceleration, which belies the GLS63’s docile appearance. Those who are not familiar with the AMG line also will be impressed by the agility and precise handling of this woolly mammoth of a 5,900-pound SUV.
Mercedes says the AMG GLS63 is good for a 0-60-mph time of 4.1 seconds. In our track test, however, we pulled it off in 3.7 seconds. That’s quicker than the Dodge Charger Hellcat Redeye and in the ballpark of the Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 PDK we recently tested. The big boss GLS63 also did the quarter-mile in 12.1 seconds at 115.7 mph.
The Mercedes-Benz Factor
Over the years, Mercedes-Benz has developed a successful formula to produce one of the most forward-thinking, luxurious, and stylish interiors. The result is an elegant design, advanced technology, premium materials, and the highest degree of comfort all rolled into one package that works well. The modern Mercedes-Benz cabin has become one aspect that defines the brand.
The GLS63 features we like include the Burmester sound system, ambient lighting, and seat massagers. The massive leather seats with diamond stitching are reminiscent of the reclining seats you’d find at a high-end movie theater. They are plush, provide plenty of support, and are fully power-adjustable. Someone of similar size to this 5-foot-1 author sinks right into them and feels safe and snug.
Tech and Safety
Mercedes offers an abundance of active safety systems as standard, including brake assist, lane keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, parking assist with a 360-degree surround-view camera, and LED headlamps with adaptive high-beams. Added interior options on our test vehicle consisted of the following packages: MBUX Technology, Acoustic Comfort, Energizing Plus, and Warmth and Comfort. The MBUX Technology package includes the augmented video for navigation and a head-up display; Acoustic Comfort increases insulation for a quieter ride experience; Energizing Plus adds the air balance package featuring a unique fragrance; Warmth and Comfort adds heating throughout the interior, including on the door panels and center console.
One point of contention in the GLS63 is the polarizing Mercedes-Benz User Experience system (MBUX). People either think it’s intuitive or find it a pain in the ass. MBUX combines the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and 12.3-inch touchscreen to form a skateboard-size display screen. Several of my colleagues detest it, but some, like myself, beg to differ. Having said that, I am sensitive to the idea that the in-your-face tech features could be a distraction while driving.
Chief among the complaints is the buried menus that seem more like an inconvenience than ingenuity. For example, you access the seat lumbar and side bolster adjustment controls via the seat comfort menu. Another grievance is the infotainment touchpad controller, which demands too much of the driver’s attention. One way to resolve this is by using the touchscreen directly. We also found the shortcut keys on the center console to be helpful for quick access.
Available passenger legroom in the second row should accommodate any person tall, short, or in between, but the same does not apply to the third row. Better to fold down the third row for additional cargo space or use it to put a rebellious teenager in timeout. In short, kids should be all right back there; adults will be cramped.
Performance and Handling
A word of caution about the Mercedes-AMG GLS63: Pay attention to your speed. It’s astonishing how little effort is required to reach 100 mph, and you will not notice until you look at the speedometer.
Considering its size and weight, the GLS63 has got to be the most exciting three-row SUV to drive fast. With the suspension set to Sport Plus, we gunned the throttle through turns on narrow roads, and the GLS63 did not flinch. The behemoth SUV lunges forward like a hungry cheetah and corners flat through every curve. A stiff suspension and active anti-roll bars powered by the EQ Boost system deliver potent stability even through corners that will have front passengers reaching for the grab handles on the center console. Transmission shifts are crisp, and the ride quality is largely smooth despite the 23-inch monoblock wheels.
The brakes are so responsive that you barely need to tap on the brake pedal to bring the GLS63 to a dead stop. At the dragstrip where we conduct our tests, it took 110 feet to brake from 60 to 0 mph. “Solid brake feel; 110 feet is impressive for this big brick,” road test editor Erick Ayapana said. The Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires, 285/40/ZR23 in the front and 325/35/ZR23 at the rear, provide a ludicrous amount of grip. On the skidpad, the GLS63 zipped through the figure-eight lap in 24.9 seconds at an average of 0.78 g.
In a class of its own, the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLS 63 starts at $133,150 and, provided a big, superfast SUV is on your wishlist, is worth every dollar. Drop off the kids at school, get your grocery shopping on, pick up the dry cleaning, and then reward yourself on your secret getaway road. The AMG GLS63 has your back. It lives up to its AMG lineage and delivers a unique driving experience, even if it’s a vehicle that nobody asked for.
|SPECIFICATIONS||2021 Mercedes-AMG GLS63 4Matic+|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$153,125|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 7-pass, 4-door SUV|
|ENGINE||4.0L/603-hp/627-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||5,900 lb (52/48%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||206.4 x 79.9 x 70.2 in|
|0-60 MPH||3.7 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||12.1 sec @ 115.7 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||110 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.92 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||24.9 sec @ 0.78 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||14/18/16 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||241/187 kWh/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||1.25 lb/mile|