The multi-talented SUV with horsepower for days

High-powered SUV might be a conundrum to some folks. Why put a twin-turbocharged V-8 in a vehicle that’s supposed to be for hauling kids and trailers, right? The way I see it – and likely most of you reading this – there is absolutely no problem with a 577-horsepower, three-row family machine with the ability to hit 60 mph in a scant 4.7 seconds.

That’s exactly what the 2017 Mercedes-AMG GLS63 is all about.

New for 2017, the AMG GLS63 builds off Mercedes’ updates with the GL-Class. The SUV now wears the GLS badge across its model range, denoting the changes brought for 2017. A refreshed exterior matches a reworked interior and are combined with carry-over powertrain options including the GL63 AMG’s V-8 powerhouse. Nevertheless, the S-iffided GL now looks more modern, has a flashier interior, and comes with all the bells and whistles you’d expect at this price point.

I recently spent a week with the Mercedes-AMG GLS63 loaded with many of the most popular options. It was by no means “fully loaded” will everything Mercedes offers, but it never left me wanting.

Continue reading for the full review.

  • 2017 Mercedes-AMG GLS63 – Driven
  • Year:
    2017
  • Make:
  • Model:
  • Engine:
    V8
  • Transmission:
    Seven-Speed Automatic
  • Horsepower @ RPM:
    577 @ 5500
  • MPG(Cty):
    13
  • MPG(Hwy):
    17
  • Torque @ RPM:
    561 @ 1750
  • Energy:
    Direct Injection
  • Displacement:
    5.5 L
  • 0-60 time:
    4.7 sec. (Est.)
  • Top Speed:
    155 mph
  • Layout:
    Front Engine, AWD
  • Price:
  • car segment:
  • size:
  • Purpose:
  • body style:
  • Overall:
    8.2/10

Video Review


Exterior

2017 Mercedes-AMG GLS63 – Driven High Resolution Exterior
- image 688584
2017 Mercedes-AMG GLS63 – Driven High Resolution Exterior
- image 688580
2017 Mercedes-AMG GLS63 – Driven High Resolution Exterior
- image 688582

Thanks to the updates for 2017, the GL turned GLS now wears a new front fascia that is more in line with Mercedes’ other products. Gone is the large center grille and smaller side intakes. Those are replaced with a swooping lower grille the mimics Mercedes’ sedans. The larger side intakes give the AMG GLS a more sinister and aggressive appearance.

The AMG GLS63 is a hunk of a SUV that drives far faster than its size lets on

Up top, the main grille now has redesigned slats that help accent the huge three-pointed star emblem. Jeweled LED headlights give the Benz an eagle-eye look, especially at night. The headlights are also active, meaning the follow the steering wheel to illuminate around corners.

The main portion of the GLS’ body hasn’t changed. The windshield, roofline, doors, and wide windows are all familiar from before. That’s not a bad thing – each surface still looks fresh. I especially like the bodylines that run aft of the front wheel well and terminate into the bulging rear haunch that curves over the rear wheel well. It give this big boy a more athletic appearance.

Mercedes designers did wonders with the rear of the GLS. Gone is the grille-filled rear bumper that looked more gaudy than anything. It’s replaced with a smooth, curvaceous bumper with a more modest lower valance and faux air diffuser between the quad, chrome-tipped exhaust pipes that are stamped with the AMG logo. The optional class-three trailer hitch receiver hides under the bumper and provides the capability of towing an impressive 7,500 pounds.

The rear also boasts new taillights with LED lighting. Chrome trim on the tailgate, rear bumper lip, side door handles, window bezel, running boards, and roof rack give the SUV a brighter appearance that would be even more evident with a darker body color.

The AMG GLS63 rides on trim-unique 14-spoke, 21-inch wheels with machined faces and painted pockets. They come wrapped in huge summer performance tires sized in 295/4021.

All told, the AMG GLS63 is a hunk of a SUV that drives far faster than its size lets on. But more of that in the drivetrain section.

Interior

2017 Mercedes-AMG GLS63 – Driven High Resolution Interior
- image 688627
2017 Mercedes-AMG GLS63 – Driven High Resolution Interior
- image 688605
2017 Mercedes-AMG GLS63 – Driven High Resolution Interior
- image 688602

It’s hard to dispute the exterior’s updates and how they bring new life to the GLS over the outgoing GL. Things inside the SUV, however, don’t seem so… modern. Mercedes brought several new features and styling cues to the GLS, but left others to stagnate.

The flat-bottomed steering wheel, for example, is a beautiful piece with leather wrappings, perforated leather at the sides, and wonderfully shaped chrome bits that dress things up. Then, directly to the right, the center stack features an old-school keypad that looks borrowed from an early 2000s C-Class. Honestly, it’s just the small, nit-picky stuff like that which makes the interior slightly less 2017-ish.

That aside, the interior updates include a refreshed infotainment system with a new iPad-like screen mounted outside the dash. New air vents flank it on either side. A new controller for the infotainment system sits just forward of the armrest. It features a digital writing pad for inputting information and new buttons for ancillary tasks. Like before, a rotary knob does most of the controlling, acting as a mouse cursor for switching between menus. The screen itself is not touch sensitive.

Yep, the cup holders will keep your soda cold and your coffee hot.

Comfort controls are all within easy reach. The HVAC switches are simple to operate without taking eyes off the road. Heat and cool functions for the front seats are within the bank of chrome buttons on the center stack. Adjusting seat controls is done on the door panel. Both seats come with three-way memory settings. The front seats also offer massaging, which is accessed through the infotainment system.

But perhaps the most surprising feature is the optional heated and cooled front cup holders. Yep, the cup holders will keep your soda cold and your coffee hot.

In back, there is plenty of room for five passengers. Even the third row offers room enough for taller adults. I had a friend over six-foot five try it. He said headroom was great and foot room was surprising, though his knees were close to the second-row seatbacks. Sitting in the second row, he had plenty of room to spread out with ample legroom, tons of headroom, and a cushy center armrest. The outboard seats are also heated. Rear passengers are treated to air vents. Second row passengers have redundant HVAC controls.

When cargo needs to be hauled, the power-folding rear rows fall in place, offering an enormous amount of room. Buttons to control the third row can be found in the rear hatch area, as well as on the inside wheel well near the second row. Each seat also has easy-to-use LATCH points for car seats.

My only major functionality complaint is the 360-degree camera function doesn’t have an easily accessible button. It comes on automatically in reverse, but to access the camera when pulling forward into a parking space, the driver has to dig into menu screens. The GLS’ size certainly makes the 360-degree camera system worth its weight in gold, so being able to quickly access the overhead view at low speeds would be fantastic.

Drivetrain

2017 Mercedes-AMG GLS63 – Driven High Resolution Drivetrain
- image 688598

Behind that dinner plate-sized Mercedes emblem is the hand-built, 5.5-liter biturbo V-8. This all-aluminum engine makes an impressive 577 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 561 pound-feet of torque at only 1,750 rpm. Direct fuel injection, a multispark ignition system, and twin turbochargers give the engine its grunt. It comes mated to AMG’s seven-speed Speedshift Plus 7G-Tronic transmission. Paddle shifters on the steering wheel, along with Comfort and Sport settings, give the driver control over its behavior.

Power is sent to all four wheels via the AMG Performance 4Matic AWD system. The AMG-specific transfer case splits torque 40:60 to the front and rear, giving the SUV a rear-drive bias in its handling. When wheel slip is detected, the system spends power to whatever wheels do have traction, even if that’s only one wheel. Make no mistake, despite having 7.8 inches of ground clearance, the AMG GLS63 isn’t designed to tackle the Rubicon trail strewn with boulders and creeks. It will, however, be more than happy to run up a snow-covered mountain pass when fitted with a good set of winter tires.

Giving the GLS63 multiple personalities is the AMG Dynamic Select system. It offers four modes that change the handling and suspension characteristics. The modes include Comfort, Sport, Sport+, and Slippery. It works with the Airmatic air suspension, Adaptive dampers, and Active Curve system to control body roll and suspension stiffness.

The exhaust note is the cherry on top of every sporty feature found on this AMG

The air suspension and dampers give a soft, cushy ride when in Comfort mode, and tighten up with a stiffer feel in Sport and Sport+ modes. What’s more, the Active Curve system controls the electrohydraulically variable front and rear stabilizer bars. The bars keep the GLS upright in hard corners and relax during normal driving to help soften up the ride over rough roads.

The drive modes also control the engine, transmission, and exhaust calibrations. Set comfort, the GLS63 rides like a cloud with a soft throttle response and smooth shifting. The V-8’s exhaust rumbles quietly in the background. Put into Sport or Sport+ modes, and the engine awakens with all 577 horsepower ready to run, the transmission keeps itself in lower gears for quick acceleration, and the flaps inside the exhaust open up for a gnarly roar with burbles and splats on overrun. The exhaust note is the cherry on top of every sporty feature found on this AMG.

Pulling the GLS63 to a stop are massive AMG-specific brakes. The front rotors measure 15.4 inches in diameter and are squeezed with six-piston calipers. The rear discs are 14.2 inches in diameter and are capped with slightly smaller calipers. All four rotors are drilled and slotted.

All these performance goodies allow this 5,800-pound Mercedes hit 60 mph in 4.7 seconds on its way through the quarter mile in 12.8 seconds at 111 mph, as tested by Car & Driver. The top speed is estimated to be governed at 155 mph.

Of course, performance comes at a cost to fuel efficiency. Driven by an old lady to Sunday School, the GLS63 is EPA-rated to achieve 13 mpg in the city, 17 mpg on the highway, and 14 mpg combined. I averaged 12.5 mpg over 208 miles of mixed yet spirited driving.

Driving Impressions

2017 Mercedes-AMG GLS63 – Driven High Resolution Exterior
- image 688591

Behind the wheel, the GLS63 is a rocket ship. Select Sport+ mode, slip the transmission into manual shifting mode, and this docile SUV turns into a burbling, quarter-mile destroying monster. The drive modes really do change the driving demeanor. Comfort mode does just that, making it rather smooth and compliant over rough roads yet not porky around turns. The steering is nicely weighted and only requires a few turns from lock to lock.

Selecting Sport+ mode wakes up the GLS’ AMG heritage. The steering tightens, the throttle response becomes more direct, the transmission shifts more quickly and keeps the revs high in the V-8’s power band, and the exhaust note becomes far more aggressive. Body roll is surprisingly well kept, even on twisty roads. Braking is powerful, with the six-piston calipers using every square inch of metal on the rotors.

All told, the Mercedes-AMG GLS63 is a surprisingly fun vehicle to drive.

Price

2017 Mercedes-AMG GLS63 – Driven High Resolution Exterior
- image 688583

Such performance doesn’t just cost in fuel economy – there’s also a healthy check to write before taking the AMG GLS63 home. Without options, the 2017 model costs $124,100.

My tester came equipped with several options that pushed the price northward. There’s the $795 Designo Diamond White Metallic pain, the $380 manually operated sunshades in the second row windows, the $180 heated and cooled front cup holders, the $575 trailer hitch, the $400 Power Easy-Entry system, the $170 pre-wiring for a rear seat entertainment system, the $150 wheel locking nuts, and the $925 destination and delivery fee.

All told, my tester stickers for $127,675.

Competition

2016 BMW X5 M

2015 BMW X5 M High Resolution Exterior
- image 575098

The BMW X5 might not have three rows of seats, but if you’re looking for a high performance SUV, the X5 M is impossible to ignore. It comes powered by a 4.4-liter twin-turbocharged V-8 kicking out 567 horsepower at 6,500 rpm and 553 pound-feet of torque at 2,200 rpm. It comes mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission that sends power to all four wheels though BMW xDrive AWD system. Meaty tires on 21-inch wheels give the X5 M all the grip it needs to hit 60 mph in 4.0 seconds and onto a top speed of 160 mph.

Pricing for the X5 M starts at $98,800 and grows to around $120,000 with all the option boxes checked.

Read more about the 2016 BMW X5 M here.

2016 Cadillac Escalade

2015 Cadillac Escalade High Resolution Exterior
- image 554443

If functionality is more important that outright performance, the Escalade might be the bester choice over the BMW. Three rows give room for up to eight people. A fine leather and wood interior offers a luxurious place to spend time. Cadillac’s CUE infotainment system gives the dash a unique look, but has warranted complaints from some on ease of use. And keep in mind, the Escalade is offered in two sizes, the standard length and the Escalade ESV. Both offer three rows, but the ESV has more luggage room behind that third row.

Power comes from General Motor’s 6.2-liter EcoTec3 V-8 that borrows many of its components from the Chevrolet Corvette. In this application, it makes 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque. That might not compete with Mercedes or BMW’s twin-turbocharged powerhouses, but it moves the Cadillac without hesitation. An eight-speed automatic transmission sends power to the rear wheels, or to all four wheels via a full-time 4WD system.

Pricing starts at $73,965 for the “base” Escalade. Opt for a fully loaded Escalade XL with 4WD, and the price increases to just over $100,000. That also makes it quite the bargain in this comparison.

Find out more about the 2016 Cadillac Escalade here.

Conclusion

2017 Mercedes-AMG GLS63 – Driven High Resolution Exterior
- image 688579

The 2017 Mercedes-AMG GLS63 is quite the vehicle. It goes fast, its interior is functional, it can tow 7,500 pounds, and it will most likely be parked out front by the valet. What’s not to love about that?

Sure, this SUV won’t be setting lap time records at the Nürburgring, but that’s not the point. This is the SUV for the dad who wants to drive a sports coupe to work, but has to pick up the kids from school. He has to haul little league equipment to practice on Saturday, before relaxing on the lake Sunday afternoon on a ski boat he towed in. The GLS63 is a jack-of-all-trades vehicle that combines the functionality of a SUV with the performance of a muscle car.

  • Leave it
    • * Interior updates could be more extensive
    • * Expensive and thirsty
What do you think?
Show Comments
Car Finder: