In the American landscape where excess is often welcomed with open arms, large and powerful luxury SUVs seem to find their proper place, and Mercedes has been one to fill that need for many years with the AMG performance outfitted 3-row seating GLS 63. There’s just something special about feeling like you’re literally on top of the world piloting one of the most powerful large SUVs around. The beastly attitude of the AMG GLS 63, followed up by its menacing looks, often does the job to intimidate onlookers, but not to the point where you’ll start a fight. You’ll only let others know that you’ve arrived in life, and you want to make a little statement about it as you tote your family around in a 603 horsepower German land yacht.
In my previous run-in with the GLS 63 a couple of years ago, I was enamored with how stout and in-your-face the large SUV was. Never mind the 4.0-liter BiTurbo V8, the GLS 63 is poised with large-and-in-charge visual characteristics, starting with its massive front grille adorned with the Flava Flav-clock-sized three-prong Mercedes star encapsulating the adaptive cruise radar. Other aspects that captivate onlookers are the massive 23-inch wheels wrapped with 325-width rear and 285-width front Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S rubber. Out back you know the large SUV means business with the quad AMG squared-off exhaust tips that make a delightful rumble when you put it in Sport+ mode or individually toggle the exhaust function. Mercedes knows how to make a statement with their AMG vehicles!
The hand-built V8 BiTurbo engine is the latest to utilize a mild hybrid system from Mercedes that does well to help with efficiency, even if fuel consumption isn’t the goal of such a vehicle. The mild hybrid system aids in adding a bit of extra power when needed, adding as much as 21 extra horsepower. Still, the engine spinning is required for moving the vehicle even though it will often shut down when coasting to save fuel. Where the goal lies and it often scores big is with its power output, to the tune of 603 horsepower and 627 lb-ft of torque. That power is directed through a snappy-shifting 9-speed AMG Speedshift TCT (torque converter technology) automatic transmission. The transmission does its shifting duties almost as fast as a DCT (dual-clutch transmission) unit, which helps with the transition of power for the best performance out of what the turbo V8 can produce. In all, the powertrain and its 4MATIC+ all-wheel-drive system does well to move all 5,800 pounds of fine German engineering that seats 6.
While there’s ample power that will get the AMG GLS 63 up to 60 mph in just 3.6 seconds, the power seems tamed under most small to moderate throttle applications. What I mean here is that the throttle response seems a bit slower and lax than I remember, coupled with a bit of turbo lag in my test vehicle. Such a strange characteristic is a head-scratcher for such a powerful vehicle that often requires you to floor the accelerator to get things really moving. Otherwise, you find that in most drive modes the GLS 63 takes its time to react to your right foot, and that’s a shame because it makes for an unpleasant experience where you have to dial back your speed after overcompensating for the slow response, or you can find yourself in trouble – quickly.
Apart from the slight throttle fumble, the GLS 63 is a delight to drive, and often enough, your passengers get a literal kick out of the capabilities of such a large SUV out on the road. There’s an abundance of grip that you wouldn’t think is there because the GLS 63 tends to drive heavy. With that, you slowly work your way to pushing the GLS 63 harder and harder, where you never reach its limit. However, if you do reach the limit on local roads – you’ve done something seriously wrong, and you may pay for it in more ways than one.
Ride quality is decent with the adaptive dampers set to the Comfort and Sport mode, and handling is remarkable with the GLS 63 having active roll bars to keep body roll to a minimum. In the Sport mode, the air suspension will lower the vehicle a bit for a better center of gravity, as it does automatically at highway speeds in Comfort mode. In the Sport+ mode or setting the suspension into Sport+ through the Individual mode, the ride gets a bit too stiff for most but not overly jarring. Braking is good but often feels inconsistent as the forward safety system will sometimes take over to advance the braking sensitivity when it detects you approaching a vehicle in front of you.
Just as I have said before with such “excess” vehicles, if you must pay attention to the fuel consumption then you probably can’t foot the bill for this AMG machine. Those who buy such a vehicle won’t care much that it gets the EPA estimated 14 mpg city and 18 mpg highway figures in the real world. Thankfully, there’s a massive 23.8-gallon fuel tank to fill up on Premium unleaded and give you an “okay” range of just over 450 miles on the highway.
Mercedes doesn’t mess around when it comes to being forward-thinking in the area of technology and luxurious comfort. Despite the AMG side of the new GLS 63, there’s still plenty of luxury appeal inside, where you find an abundance of multi-color-customizable LED ambient lighting, comfy heated, ventilated, and massaging front seats, contrasted seat colors and materials, and plenty of soft-touch and accented-stitched surfaces.
There’s plentiful space throughout the cabin configured with power-adjustable second-row captain’s chairs and the two third-row seats. Oddly enough, accessing the third row is strange as you can only do it using the passenger-side rear door, as that side has the captain’s chair that can be power-adjusted forward to allow room to jump in the third row. I’m puzzled why Mercedes didn’t equip the driver’s side second-row seat with the same movement.
The MBUX infotainment system through the 12.3-inch touchscreen is excellent with just a slight learning curve. The voice activation works great but requires your patience in accessing many surprising voice-command vehicle functions. Wireless Apple CarPlay works seamlessly as I expect Android Auto integration to be also. There’s also a welcomed level of customization of the digital gauge cluster with pre-set information screens and the ability to view the navigation between gauges or taking up most of the cluster screen.
Cargo capacity, as with all other GLS SUVs, is generous, with just over 17 cubic feet with the third-row seats in place. Power-fold the second and third row seats backs, and you have nearly 85 cubic feet of storage. If you need more storage, you can always tow a trailer or other items, as the tow rating is as much as 7,700 pounds.
There’s a massive blanket of active safety features all included in the Mercedes-AMG GLS 63, including blind-spot monitors, active lane-keeping assist, lane departure warning, active emergency stop assist, pre-safe sound/frontal collision warning, emergency braking (front and rear), and adaptive cruise control. The 360-degree camera system is among the best in the business, with ultra-wide angles and a virtual walk-around view.
As you would expect, the Mercedes-AMG GLS 63 comes at a premium to the level of $153,000 for the price of my test vehicle, which includes a couple of fitting options like the 23-inch wheels and carbon fiber interior trim. While the GLS 63 doesn’t have much direct competition, such a price is on par with its notable large 3-row luxury-performance SUV competitors, the new Cadillac Escalade V and BMW X7 Alpina.