by Gabe Beita Kiser
Big, brash, bold, yet somehow still tasteful. These are the characteristics one can find by looking at Mercedes' most extreme vehicle, the AMG GLS 63. The GL in its name designates it as a Mercedes SUV, the S as the largest of the bunch, and the 63 as the most powerful and dynamic in the family. Now, saner heads may be wondering how a large luxury SUV with lots of horsepower can be "extreme" in any way outside of its size, weight, and horsepower figures, but that group should kindly be reminded that its much easier to make a small low sports coupe like the AMG GT fast and dynamic. It's much more extreme to do that with a luxury-lined GLS. But alas, Mercedes figured out a way to combine all of those attributes into one car…way back in 2013 when the 2nd-generation GLS first debuted, but the result is so good that it stuck around until now. And with the non-AMG versions of the 2020 GLS, the SUV's third generation, available to the masses and replacing the 2019 model we drove, it's only a matter of time before the AMG GLS 63 is overshadowed by the 3rd-generation GLS 63.
Mercedes-Benz has not made any major changes for 2019, and the GLS carries over the same specifications from last year. Mercedes have however added a Grand Edition Package that includes exclusive brown Nappa leather and Linden wood inserts, as well as multicolor ambient interior lighting and door sill lighting.
See trim levels and configurations:
|AMG GLS 63 4MATIC||
5.5L Twin-Turbo V8 Gas
The second-generation GLS has been on sale since 2012, and, despite a refresh or two, the last major one came into effect in 2017, the GLS retains its retro-cool boxy exterior styling. Whereas other manufacturers offer flowing lines and shapely body stales, Mercedes has had no issue in retaining their classic, and decidedly rugged square body styling for the AMG GLS 63. The Big Merc features a large grille with an even bigger Mercedes-Benz logo, LED lights and large front bumper intakes. New owners can choose between a set of 21-inch AMG cross-spoke, or 22-inch AMG multi-spoke wheels, both available in alloy or matte black. The GLS 63 comes standard with a panorama roof with third-row vent windows. The rear of the GLS is finished off with LED taillights and menacing dual exit exhaust pipes that let the traffic behind know that they shouldn't bother overtaking any time soon.
The GLS 63 is a proper seven-seater, and the dimensions follow suit. In order to accommodate the aggressive styling an AMG requires, Mercedes had to increase the length and wheelbase of the GLS model range, and the AMG 63 is even longer, measuring 203.2 inches; 1.2 inches longer than the GLS 450 and 550. The AMG GLS 63 is 72.8 inches tall, 76.1 inches wide, and rides on a lengthy 121.1-inch wheelbase, the latte matching the standard GLS derivatives. For those brave enough to even consider taking this $126,000 car off the beaten path, the AMG GLS has 8.5 inches of ground clearance, and a curb weight of 5,754 pounds, 137 more than the BMW X7 xDrive50i.
For 2019, the Mercedes-Benz AMG GLS 63 is available in nine different colors, none of which are mind-blowingly exciting. Instead, Mercedes gives you a choice of rather muted colors that match the seriousness of the intimidating GLS. The classic Iridium Silver and Selenite Gray are always popular choices for Mercedes' big SUVs, as is black, or the more exotic Obsidian black metallic. Other color options include Polar White, Brilliant Blue Metallic, Lunar Blue Metallic, Designo grand edition Cardinal Red and Diamond white. We suspect that most AMG GLS 63 cars will be sold in black, because, well, VIP.
Under the Arizona sun, our GLS' Polar White paint job did wonders to reflect the heat and keep the AMG looking cool, collected, but angry. Meanwhile, the AMG Night package alluded to the Mercedes' performance abilities with blacked-out mirror caps, beltline trim insert, twin tailpipes, roof racks, roof, and front fascia intake trim. Without the muted silver tones of a more modern AMG's Panamericana grille, the GLS' chrome teeth glimmered so that more subdued elements didn't have to. Subtle chrome touches were also left on the side steps, on the lip of each wheel, and on the shelf that sits over the rear bumper.
Despite its size and weight, the GLS 63 can sprint from zero to sixty in a rapid 4.3 seconds, thanks to a permanent AWD system coupled with a mountain of torque, and has a towing capacity of 7,500 pounds. It's all courtesy of a handcrafted 5.5-liter bi-turbo AMG V8 the last of the old guard as newer AMGs all switch to a 4.0-liter twin-turbo setup. 577 horsepower and 561 lb-ft of torque are healthily developed, enabling mammoth pace to be achieved by the large, luxurious family-hauler.
Powering the AMG GLS 63 is a handcrafted, twin-turbocharged and direct-injected 5.5-liter V8 that develops a bone-crushing 577 hp and 561 lb-ft of torque from only 1,750 rpm. In comparison, the BMW X7 xDrive50i, also powered by a twin-turbo V8, develops 456 hp and 479 lb-ft of torque from its 4.4-liters of capacity. Power is sent to all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission.
While Mercedes' new 4.0-liter twin-turbo has effectively replaced most other engines in the AMG lineup, the GLS 63's older 5.5-liter is no less impressive. It wakes itself with a growl when a driver releases the brake pedal at a red light, announcing that it's ready to either send the large luxury SUV forward tranquil or claw the pavement and attack the horizon. Mercedes' turbocharging prowess makes itself plain when attempting the latter trick while cruising at speed, because no matter where the engine is in the rev range, there is no pause between the time the throttle is mashed and when the power comes on. The engine simply feels hugely capable but also incredibly versatile and ready to serve. The 7-speed automatic transmission works similarly, dispensing quick, crisp shifts in sportier modes but doing its best not to advertise the fact it's doing its job through any medium other than the snort that comes out the exhaust upon gear changes.
Behind the wheel of the GLS 63, it's easy to be tricked into thinking one is driving a vehicle that's much smaller than this AMG really is. One feels low in the cabin thanks to the AMG Sport suspension, which can be raised or lowered to suit terrain and handling needs, but that (relatively) low-slung feeling is also coupled with a nimble ride that has just about all body roll ironed out of it. It's a marvel really, crank the wheel at high speed and the nose just darts in the chosen direction but stays flat against the horizon. The rest of the body follows through as flat as the nose, with the AMG Performance 4Matic all-wheel drive system allowing all four wheels to max out their grip budgets. Even the brakes, which usually reveal a "sport" SUV's weight if it has a suspension made of magic, are no help here because the AMG High-Performance stopping system features a pedal with a smooth athletic feel as well as large rotors and eager calipers that can erase the engine's most savage efforts without making much of a fuss. And then, just when you think there's no way to make an SUV feel more worthy of a track day, you get to the steering. A single turn is all it takes to reveal its natural athleticism and a strong sense of engagement. Steering is direct and quicker than that of a normal SUV, but weight is balanced perfectly as to make it so inputs have to be deliberate but don't require exertion. The GLS 63's on-center area is also larger than a sports car's but smaller than a normal SUV's, translating to easy maneuvering at low speeds and stability well into the triple digits.
That massive twin-turbocharged V8 needs a lot of fuel to move the near 6,000-pound AMG GLS 63 around. You can expect to get 13/18/15 mpg city/highway/combined. The estimates don't look too great but expect these numbers to drop even further for drivers with a heavy foot. The less powerful BMW X7 only barely manages to perform better than the AMG, returning 15/21/17 mpg. The fuel tank of the AMG GLS will hold 26.4 gallons of fuel, enough to give it an estimated range of around 400 miles.
With such a large and powerful engine and the kind of handling that coaxes a driver into thrashing this Mercedes, its 5.5-liter V8 averaged a skimpy 14.7 mpg during its time in our fleet, falling shy of its combined rating but not dropping below the EPA's city rating.
The expansive interior of the AMG GLS 63 is packed with premium comforts, luxurious materials, and enough driver conveniences to make you do a double-take to make sure you're not in a five-star hotel. This is about as good as it gets. The driver and front passenger get power and memory enabled seats, and they're ventilated and heated as well, as are the seats of second-row passengers. Seriously lush Nappa leather upholstery and a leather-clad performance steering wheel look and feel the part, but the opulent GLS' interior is beginning to look dated compared to recent efforts from Mercedes, with an abundance of buttons and an aging infotainment interface.
While the "S" in "GLS" is supposed to indicate that this vehicle is the SUV equivalent of the Mercedes S-Class, its interior follows a much different philosophy than its sedan relative. With upright seats and a somewhat cramped rear seat, the GLS manages decent interior dimensions that don't seem to translate to actual useable space. That means the GLS is not the limousine that the S-Class is. Up front, passengers get 40.3 inches of legroom while the rear seat makes do with 38.5 inches. The third row is less generous for large adults, with only 35 inches of legroom. Headroom is much more generous, never dropping below 38.9 inches at the very rear and boasting a maximum of 41.2 inches up front. The panoramic roof certainly helps make it feel like the ceiling is limitless, though.
Unfortunately, the interior of the GLS is where the model's age starts to become very apparent. It can be seen in the lower quality of buttons, knobs, and even the steering wheel, all of which have made a big leap forward in more modern Mercedes. But that doesn't mean the cabin isn't a nice place to be. Nappa leather and black piano lacquer trim gave this GLS a dark and elegant look, while AMG carbon fiber trim asserted this machine's status as a performance machine. So did the DINAMICA suede-wrapped steering wheel for that matter, though the cheap-feeling plastic buttons placed as awkwardly as the air vents are features we would have liked to see done differently.
When utilizing all of the AMG's seating rows, you'll be left with a humble 16.2 cubic feet of cargo space, it's not gigantic, but it's enough for a decent grocery shopping run. The power-folding 50/50-split third-row seats are easily folded flat to create a more practical 49.4 cubic feet of space. That is enough room for some serious travel packing, or about four golf bags and their accompanying carts. With the second row of seats folded down, the GLS becomes a truly cavernous SUV. Space now increases to 93.8 cubic feet, just about as big as you're likely to find anywhere on the large SUV market. Personal storage space didn't blow us away, especially for an SUV of this size. The center console and glove compartment are big enough for personal effects only.
Sitting at the top of the GLS pile, the AMG 63 gets the bulk of features usually offered as optional extras on the lower models. On the outside, the AMG GLS gets LED head- and taillights, keyless start and remote locking, a power liftgate and 20-inch alloy cross-spoke wheels. Inside, the driver and front passenger can enjoy heated, ventilated and power-adjustable seats, while three-zone climate control keeps all occupants comfortable. Driver convenience features such as auto-dimming drivers side and rearview mirror, rain-sensing window wipers, and a surround-view camera system that makes the large AMG GLS a pleasure to pilot. The GLS shows off its premium status with the inclusion of small details such as soft closing doors, illuminated door sills, and an integrated garage door opener.
The absolute worst part about the GLS 63 we borrowed from Mercedes was its infotainment system, which, from the start, refused to work properly. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are available, but plugging in a smartphone and cueing up the connectivity menu caused the system to glitch until we unplugged the phone, barring us from getting to use any smartphone interface on the cramped 8-inch infotainment screen. Aside from that, our main gripes have to do with the infotainment system itself. It's an earlier version of Mercedes' COMMAND system, which is lightyears better in its later iterations, and is distracting, slow to respond, and almost impossibly frustrating. At one point, after spending 10 minutes trying to input a single address into the onboard navigation system and having the system either fail to register inputs or take us to confusing menus, we gave up and resorted to using a smartphone dash mount. At the very least, the Harman Kardon sound system could pipe crisp sounds into the cabin using Bluetooth audio.
The second-generation GLS has been recalled six times since 2016, for issues ranging from faulty door locks to failing suspension parts. Recalls of most importance included a 2016 recall for a faulty occupation classification system that could mistakenly deactivate the front passenger airbag. The year 2017 saw three recalls issued, the first for a safety threat caused by a center console unit that, during a crash could come loose and cause injury, the second was for weak seal on the power steering system that could cause steering issues, and the third was for a rear passenger door lock that would indicate a locked status when in fact it was still open. 2018 saw two recalls, the first was issued for cars fitted with the active curve sus[pension system which could leak oil out of the reservoir, the second was for a hydraulic brake system issue. Mercedes backs the AMG GLS 63 with a four-year/50,000 mile warranty which includes corrosion and drivetrain cover for the same amount of time or distance. Also included is a four-year/50,000 mile roadside assistance package.
Unfortunately, the NHTSA hasn't tested the GLS range, as they tend to avoid smashing up $100,000+ cars when possible. The IIHS has, however, tested the GLS, but only for LATCH anchor usage, where it scored best possible marks.
Although the AMG GLS 63 SUV has not been officially tested by any of the major US safety rating agencies, Mercedes-Benz has made sure to include almost every conceivable safety feature. Firstly, the 4matic AWD system keeps things stable, even in wet and slippery conditions, while active curve and active damping work together to moderate steering and road-holding performance. The braking system is assisted with emergency-sensing brake assist, automatic brake drying, predictive brake priming, and advanced tire pressure monitoring system. Due to the sheer size of the car, Mercedes have added crosswind stability and trailer stability safety tech. While driving the AMG GLS, you get blind spot and lane keep assistance and rear collision detection notifications. Parking is made safer thanks to a rear-view parking camera and semi-autonomous self-parking tech. The 2019 Mercedes AMG GLS 63 SUV comes with seven airbags.
The AMG GLS 63 is not just a good car, it's utterly fantastic. Sure, it's going stale, at least visually and technologically, but what will never go out of style is how much of a joy it is to drive. There is, however, one big and obvious catch: the fact Mercedes is on the cusp of replacing it with a model that will likely be just as good to drive and will remedy the gripes we have with its aged styling and infuriating technology. That alone makes it hard to justify our tester's $137,005 price including destination. There is, however, a counterargument to be made. That would be the 2020 GLS' change in focus. Rather than getting the "S" in its name by default because it's the largest Mercedes SUV available, the new GLS is larger and more comfort-focused than the one it leaves behind. That could have serious implications for the third-generation GLS 63' handling, which is the 2nd-generation's best attribute. At least if Mercedes does ruin the 3rd-generation AMG's handling, there's always a chance to snag the 2019 AMG model on the used market.
The 2019 Mercedes AMG GLS 63 SUV costs $126,150 (MSRP) excluding license registration and a destination fee of $995. The 2019 BMW X7 xDrive50i undercuts the Mercedes-Benz by $33,550, costing $92,600 and the top of the range Cadillac Escalade will still be nearly $30,000 cheaper at $97,295.
There's only the one model on offer, but that means you get all the features, including full LED headlights, a power liftgate, panoramic moonroof, heated and ventilated seats, Nappa leather interior with real wood inserts and a dual-screen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration to mention a few. Other premium features exclusive to the AMG GLS are the Harman Kardon Logic 7 sound system, heated second-row seats, and the active curve system package. The Mercedes-Benz GLS is also available in GLS 450 4Matic and GLS 550 4Matic guise.
The only optional package available for the AMG GLS is the Night package that adds Gloss black exterior accents. All other optional package features are already included in the AMG GLS list. There are a few Individual options for the AMG GLS; a trailer hitch, a power fold-down feature for the second row of seats, a heated steering wheel, an air purification system and even heated or cooled cupholders are available. If the standard wheels won't cut it, new owners can opt for the massive 22-inch AMG multispoke wheels which look the part but do however affect the ride slightly.
Like the S-Class, the GLS already comes loaded with most of the premium features a range-topping luxury car should have. That being said, there are still a few options that should be added. As with all Mercedes, the GLS 63 gets better as its price goes up (which is not something that can be said about all cars). That's why the ideal GLS 63 has 22-inch wheels for a more stylish look, the optional $500 AMG performance steering wheel that's wrapped in Nappa leather and DINAMICA suede, the $4,550 Bang & Olufsen premium sound system, power Easy-Entry feature for the second-row seats for $400, heated and cooled cupholders for $180, a $1,950 rear-seat entertainment system, 2nd-row window shades to enhance viewing pleasure for $380, and a $280 cabin air purification system to round it all out. All said and done, our optimal GLS 63 comes out to $136,000 excluding destination.
The Cadillac Escalade is one of the most well-loved big SUVs on the market, and also offers true seven-seater capacity. The 2019 Escalade sticks to a traditional naturally aspirated V8 that produces a high flying 420 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque. All that power is sent to all four corners via a ten-speed automatic transmission. The Escalade uses slightly less gas (14/21/18 mpg city/highway/combined) and provides more interior space than the GLS, but can't beat the German's build quality and choice of materials. Both cars offer similar levels of cargo space. The Cadillac costs $97,295, almost $30,000 cheaper than the Mercedes, but for good reason, the Mercedes is in a different class, both performance- and comfort-wise.
The 2019 BMW X7 is BMW's largest SUV offering and will seat seven passengers in premium comfort. Powering the BMW is a 4.4-liter twin-turbocharged V8 that kicks out 456 hp and 479 lb-ft of torque. Power is sent to all four wheels via a ZF eight-speed automatic transmission. The lighter and less powerful BMW gets 18 mpg on average, slightly better than the Mercedes. The BMW has a smaller interior and less cargo space than the AMG GLS. The BMW is on par with the GLS in terms of build quality and tech features and also drives superbly. The BMW X7 xDrive50i costs $92,600 and offers a lot of the same capabilities as the AMG GLS but at a much cheaper going rate. Newer and likely to stand the test of time better, we'd recommend the X7.
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