ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — When Mercedes-Benz seeks to create the ultimate version of any one of its many models, it turns to the engineers at its top-tier AMG division.
These folks don’t fool around. When they’re handed a project, they attack it with the exactitude and totality of a military operation.
This approach faced quite a challenge with Benz’s gargantuan, three-row GLS sport-utility. Fortunately, AMG has a deep well of performance parts it can dip into to provide all the necessary bits to transform the family transporter into a rip-roaring super SUV.
Start with the engine. To motivate nearly three tons of steel and leather requires plenty of power, and AMG has just the thing: a 5.5-liter, twin-turbo V-8. This high-tech powerhouse, bearing the signature of the single technician who crafts it by hand, spews out a massive 577 horsepower and 561 pound-feet of torque. That’s enough to rocket the big brute to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds, Mercedes says.
And not that any sane person would attempt it, but the leviathan’s top speed is listed at 165 mph!
That massive punch of power is delivered to all four wheels through an AMG-tweaked seven-speed automatic transmission. Power distribution is biased toward the rear wheels to provide more performance-prone handling attributes.
With impressive grip (assisted by kingsize, 22-inch tires mounted on optional flat-black AMG alloys), the surprisingly nimble wagon carves through curves with impressive aplomb, especially when the S or S+ drive mode is selected, which further battens down the suspension.
The GLS 63 does trade off a portion of off-road ability for greater on-road competence, but for those who dare attempt it in a $136,000 vehicle, it can still tackle rough dirt and gravel back roads at an unflustered pace.
AMG doesn’t simply concentrate on performance parameters. It also goes through the entire vehicle to provide the highest levels of luxury and amenities. The ultra-quiet cabin literally whispers class, with exquisitely supple leathers, top-grade plastics, thick carpeting, and techy carbon-fiber trim bits.
Heated and ventilated front-row buckets are multi-adjustable, providing perfect positioning for all-day comfort. Second-row passengers are not faced with after-thought accommodations, while third-row riders enjoy unexpected leg- and headroom. (opens in a new window)
It’s perhaps indecent attempting to find something to criticize in such an excellent product, but this did stand out: The rubber-studded aluminum running boards are stylish, but a bit too shallow to make them all that useful for entering and exiting the cabin.
And those who can afford such an expensive vehicle probably won’t care much about fuel economy, but just to be clear: The GLS 63 is a hard-core drinker, gulping down a gallon of premium-grade gasoline for every 13 city miles and 18 on the open road.
Still, the fortunate few who can justify such a vehicle will undoubtedly be beyond delighted with their selection.