AMG’s three-row SUV is better than ever
It’s lonely at the top of the huge-horsepower food chain. Think about the segment the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLS 63 competes in: over 600 horsepower, top-shelf, 3-row SUVs: There’s no other vehicle in it. BMW does not make an X7M, Audi does not build an RS Q7. The Porsche Cayenne Turbo has but two rows. Cullinan? Bentayga? Urus? 2-row, 2-row, only 2 rows. Cadillac doesn’t make an Escalade-V, nor does Lincoln sell a Navigator with over 600 horsepower, though Hennessey makes and sells the 600-hp Navigator HPE600. The Tesla Model X P100D is the closest competitor both in terms of power and price, but I’ve driven both SUVs and philosophically they are worlds apart. The GLS 63 stands apart from this crowd.
I remember the first time I drove the last-generation Mercedes-AMG GLS 63. Actually, at the time it was known as the Mercedes-Benz GL 63 AMG, but never mind that. I loved driving that thing. I mention this because I was expecting, frankly, nothing, and after two weeks scooting around Los Angeles, the big bruiser’s mixture of power, solidity, purpose, and presence left me smitten. A couple years later, the GL 63 became the GLS 63, horsepower increased from 550 to 577 hp, and my love for it grew. Again, big, three-row SUVs that you’d never take off-road aren’t normally my cup of artisanal coffee, but as Woody Allen weirdly, accurately said, “The heart wants what the heart wants.”
I also remember the first time I drove a Bentley Mulsanne, the now extinct, near enough to $400,000 ultra-luxury, ultra-British, hand-built super-saloon. I was wowed. It wasn’t love so much as it was fear mixed with admiration. What wowed me were two things. First, the Mulsanne felt as if it were carved out of a single walnut tree. Such a substantial hulk of a machine, a husky hunk of unshakeable mass. Even the then current seventh-generation Rolls-Royce Phantom felt like a gold-leafed marshmallow by comparison. The Brits now refer to objects of the Mulsanne’s sort as an “absolute unit.” Google it. The second part was the 752 lb-ft of torque being fired out from the Mulsanne’s “6 ¾ litre” twin-turbo V-8. Getting on the throttle was like surfing a lava flow. It felt as if nothing could stop you. Mostly because nothing could. This feeling was effectively doubled when a few years later Bentley launched the Mulsanne Speed that churned up 811 lb-ft of torque. I believe “impervious” is the word. You see where I’m going with this?
AMG’s Newest Mild Hybrid Is Pretty Wild
Meet the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLS 63. Yes, it feels like a Bentley edition of a Mercedes, as ludicrous as that sounds. Let me attempt to explain. Gone is the old 5.5-liter twin-turbo V-8. In its place is the now ubiquitous 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8, only this one runs a 48-volt electric system. Meaning not only does the beltless engine use both an electric water pump and air-conditioning compressor, but that the starter, alternator, and mild-hybrid system are now operated by a single motor called the ISG (integrated-starter motor). Yes, the new, smaller-displacement “inside hot V” V-8 makes more power than the previous GLS 63, but it’s not tons more. Horsepower rises from 577 to 603 hp, and torque grows from 561 to 627 lb-ft. That’s actually a pretty decent torque increase, but even that’s not what gives the new one that impervious feeling. The hybrid motor does.
The ISG adds an essentially meaningless 21 horsepower, but a very substantial 184 lb-ft of twist that acts as “torque-fill” for the laggy V-8. Real quick: Yes, Mercedes, BMW, and Audi locate both turbos within the V of the engine (“Inside hot V,” as Mercedes oddly insists on calling it) to reduce the exhaust runner length as much as possible to cut down on lag. Despite the shorty headers, if the engine is spinning under 2,000 rpm and you bury your right foot, you will experience turbo lag. However, the 184 lb-ft of torque that’s available the instant the ISG starts spinning happily fills in for the missing engine torque. Would it be more AMG-like if the ISG made 600 or so lb-ft of torque? Yes, and I’m sure that’s eventually coming. For now, though, the ISG is the same one found in the lesser Mercedes-Benz GLS 580. The boost (EQ Boost, as Mercedes terms it) is there for fuel economy more than performance. As it stands, the ISG’s torque fill is enough to make this nearly 3-ton truck run out of the hole, as opposed to launch from it.
AMG claims the Mercedes-AMG GLS 63 hits 60 mph in 4.1 seconds. We saw 4.3 seconds with the previous-gen GLS 63. I’ll bet the new one cracks into the 3s once we eventually test it. Top speed is 174 mph, which frankly seems low. The GLS 63’s 2-row sibling, the GLE 63 S, is much more suited to canyon carving, though fancy handling isn’t its forte, either. The smaller AMG is just better suited by virtue of being smaller and lighter. The GLE 63 S can also hit 190 mph. Back to the GLS 63, I did a standing start and hit 100+ mph much quicker than should be possible. Thankfully, the brakes both feel and are strong. SUVs that feel like trains shouldn’t be so quick. Or should they be?
Mercedes-AMG GLS 63: Ride and Handling
Have I mentioned the wheels? Monoblocks, baby! Popular on early AMGs—most famously on the W210 E55—and brought back to life in 2018 on the GT 63 S, Schmiederäder im 5-Loch-Design (5-hole forged wheels) scream Affalterbach. On the big four-door sedan the monoblocks are 21-inchers. Here on the GLS 63, the optional monoblocks measure 23 inches. You read that right—23-inch wheels! Ridiculous, obviously, yet somehow also perfectly suited to this SUV. Other vehicles that come with (optional) 23-inch wheels are the Lamborghini Urus—and that’s it. Let me quickly point out that you can’t get monoblocks on the Urus. The black monoblocks on the white GLS 63 I rode around L.A. in for two days looked fabulous. What does $4,950 matter when you look so good? The other cool thing about monoblocks on dub-sized wheels is that they hide the (relatively) puny brake calipers. Nothing looks weaker than a Wrangler on 24s with 12-inch rotors shyly poking through.
Many people in my profession (and quite a few of my coworkers) are quick to point out that large wheels and low-profile tires ruin a vehicle’s ride. There is some truth (haters) to be found in that comment, but it’s absolutely not the case with GLS 63. Like that Mulsanne, great weight, heft, bulk, and ballast define the ride quality. Bigger feels better. Gigantic wheels serve to further isolate you from the world. Road feel? Pass. Antisocial? Yes ma’am, and that’s the entire point. My fortress of solitude is also my mobile command center is also my $134,090 superfluous performance SUV. Actually, the Imperial Stormtrooper–looking GLS 63 I drove with its lovely Designo Diamond White Metallic paint and carbon-fiber trim stickers at $149,160. That’s more than the base price of the iconic and boxy Mercedes-AMG G 63 ($148,495). I could make a case for either truck. One of the must-have GLS 63 options is the $1,100 Acoustic Comfort package, which packs in more sound deadening, keeping the unwashed masses that much farther out of mind.
Handling? Sure, the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLS 63 handles. The air suspension can be turned to Sport or Sport+, and the 48-volt system powers the active anti-roll bars, which use a planetary gear set to keep the monster truck (mostly) flat through corners. Plus, the grip from the massive 285/40/ZR23 front, 325/35/ZR23 rear Michelin Pilot Sport 4s is frankly ridiculous. Are three tons of off-roadable (there are both Trail and Sand modes), Alabama-built, German fun happy getting whipped around the backroads of Malibu? No, but the capability is there. Plus, knowing you can pass any Prius at any time over any double yellow, well, that’s a bit more than half the point, isn’t it? Put another way, the Mercedes-AMG GLS 63 feels like a classic AMG, much more like that E 55 than, say, a GT R. Power first, power foremost, power forever, baby. Handling is for Porsches.
Conclusion: Should You Get a Mercedes-AMG GLS 63?
I spent two days ballin’ around the fancy parts of L.A. in a $150K AMG truck that reminded me of a Bentley. I’m not sure I need to say anything beyond that. Sure, you can put lots of kids and car seats and dirty bags of soccer balls and ballet shoes and whatever else you want into the thing. The cavernous GLS 63 and its 123.4-inch wheelbase will swallow whatever you have. That’s not the point of this machine, though. The point occurred when I came upon the first of many cars effectively parked in the fast lane, going 60 mph in a 65-mph zone. One flick of the mode selector on the steering wheel from Comfort to Sport, one big stab of the throttle, one small tug of the wheel, and I quite quickly was past the rolling chicane. Living large and completely in charge. Sort of wish the speakers would mutter, “Peasant” as I passed on the right, but it’s safe and accurate to say the big AMG implies it as she flies by.
Think of the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLS 63 like this: You’re not supposed to smoke cigars. Most people think they’re gross, they’re bad for you, they’re overpriced, you’ll ash on your pants, and on and on. However, if you’re going to smoke cigars, smoke the good stuff. Double-banded Cubans and boutique U.S. brands like Tatuaje and Warped. Likewise, any minivan will do 90 to 95 percent of what 99 percent of GLS 63 owners will ever do, while saving about $100,000 for the kids’ college funds. But then you’d be caught dead in a minivan, as opposed to secretly smiling about how colossally, monumentally rad your SUV is. Plus, you can get monoblocks, big ones. Let’s change that “rad” to “impervious.”
- Available 23-inch monoblock wheels
- Handsome for a big SUV, especially on monoblocks
- Powerful engine, powerful hybrid motor
- Feels like a Bentley
- Costs as much as a (slightly used) Bentley
- Will never be mistaken for a track car
- You’ll never realize you ran people over
- 23-inch monoblocks aren’t standard, cost nearly $5,000
|2021 Mercedes-AMG GLS 63|
|LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 7-pass, 4-door SUV|
|ENGINE||4.0L/603-hp/627-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8, plus 21-hp/184-lb-ft electric motor|
|CURB WEIGHT||5,900 lb (est)|
|L x W x H||206.4 x 79.9 x 70.2 in|
|0-60 MPH||3.9 sec (MT est)|
|EPA FUEL ECON||14/22/19 mpg (est)|
|ON SALE||July 2020|