12 February 2021
12 February 2021
The laws of physics suggest that a tall, large box on wheels could not possibly be as agile as smaller, more low-slung and aerodynamic objects travelling at the same velocity.
So it comes as a surprise to find, on a first drive of the Mercedes-AMG GLS 63 4MATIC+, that a full-size, seven-seat SUV can not only offer handling to rival many sports cars but combine it with the ride and stability attributes of a luxury saloon.
On meandering country roads through the lush countryside of Victoria’s picturesque West Gippsland region, the latest GLS 63 eats up the kilometres with next to no fuss. Body roll is all but absent, even on choppy and occasionally off-camber surfaces.
This “magic carpet ride” effect is perhaps the most notable step forward from the previous generation, courtesy of the new AMG ACTIVE RIDE CONTROL roll stabilisation system that works in conjunction with the AMG RIDE CONTROL+ continuous adaptive damping system. The overall effect is that the GLS 63 seems to shrink around you, driving like a much smaller vehicle than its capacious footprint suggests.
Yet, when the road ahead turns twisty, this practical family hauler transforms from mild to wild. The bi-turbo V8 that was previously purring along on four cylinders suddenly barks to full attention with a flick of the AMG drive mode selector on the steering wheel face from Comfort mode across to Sport. Firmer damping and sharpened steering create the impression the GLS 63 has sunk talons into the tarmac and is poised to leap in any direction.
In fact, this is only a taster for what this Mercedes-AMG is capable of. A further click of the switch reveals Sport+ mode, further sharpening responsiveness and easing electronic intervention, while the full-bottle Race mode turns this genuinely full-sized SUV into a faux track day car with serious hot lap potential. That’s a drive experience for another day but on the face of it, it’s a genuinely astounding feat of engineering.
Back on the undulating, gently winding roads of West Gippsland, there’s time to consider some of the other attributes combining the elegance and luxury of a range-topping Mercedes-Benz vehicle with the sporty and technical prowess of a benchmark product from the Mercedes-AMG stable.
A highlight for the driver is the beautiful AMG Performance steering wheel, which has contours in all the right places, and is finished in Nappa leather and DINAMICA microfibre. The widescreen display panel featuring the MBUX infotainment system is large, crisp and clear, with an array of options for input including the standout ‘Hey Mercedes’ voice activation system. The ability to vocally issue commands such as “turn on seat ventilation” or “set climate control to 20 degrees” helps to keep the driver’s eyes firmly on the road.
Speaking of which, the GLS 63 is among the first vehicles in the range to receive the new augmented reality satellite navigation. In this application, helpful navigation information is overlaid in the central display with the forward camera view, using visual trickery that makes it appear part of the real world within the screen. Thus, on approach to a tricky road junction, the sat-nav might tell you to turn second-left but also show you, with an arrow pointing to the correct path that appears as though it was painted onto the view of the road surface in exactly the right position.
Importantly, too, this large and luxurious SUV succeeds in its core function as a legitimate carrier for large families. The generously equipped second and third rows ensure comfortable seating and adjustability for up to seven, including five-zone climate control and a 13-speaker Burmester surround-sound system.
The overall effect is one that combines the space and comfort of a family-friendly vehicle, with the ability to drive like a small sports car, and the ride and refinement of a luxurious saloon.
The Mercedes-AMG GLS 63 4MATIC+ is proof that performance, space and luxury really can co-exist in one very exceptional package.
By Steve Colquhoun