You see them everywhere, chock full of car seats and errant Apple Jacks, screaming kids and harried parents: minivans. They’re actually fine, useful vehicles whether you have a young family or not, but it’s the giving up that the minivan implies, the assumption that life has somehow pointed you in a direction that precludes vehicular fun. The sliding door has claimed too many of us and shouldn’t be allowed to claim any more. Fortunately, there’s a remedy— one that just might let you sidestep the issue altogether: the 2017 Mercedes-AMG GLS63.
The hottest variant of the Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class lineup, the AMG GLS63 is most definitely not a minivan. Nor is it a supersized hot hatch along the lines of BMW’s X5 M and X6 M. Instead, it’s the closest thing you can get to a seven-seat S-Class über-wagon, raised a couple of inches and fed a diet of steroids and amphetamines. It’s also more of a cosseting, high-speed continent crosser than a canyon carver, but that doesn’t mean the AMG team didn’t try its best to make it fully capable in any situation.
Doing up an AMG version of, say, the C-Class is usually a lot less work for Affalterbach’s best— it’s an already taut, nimble sedan as delivered from the parent office. Turning a tall, soft, and semi-off-roadable three-row crossover/SUV such as the GLS into something suitably wicked is another matter entirely. But when AMG takes up a task, it sees it to completion, utilizing a mix of brains and brute force to beat the laws of physics into submission. It took plenty of both to properly develop the GLS63.
Under the hood of the GLS63 lies the heart of the AMG formula: big, smooth, sonorous power. A twin-turbocharged 5.5-liter V-8 engine rated at 577 hp and 561 lb-ft of torque drives all four wheels through an AMG-optimized seven-speed automatic transmission. A specially tuned, adjustable air suspension and a rear-biased power distribution deliver AMG-worthy dynamics while preserving the comfort and all-weather ability you’d expect from an S-Class wagon—err, large, luxurious crossover.
In fact, the AMG-ification of the GLS has been so successful it’s easy to forget you’re driving such a big vehicle. There are some trade-offs, however—namely when it comes to its all-terrain ability, or lack thereof. Non-AMG GLS models get a standard Off-Road mode and can be had with an Off-Road+ package featuring several significant updates designed to provide greater traction and clearance over broken terrain. The GLS63 doesn’t even offer the base Off-Road mode. Instead, it gets Sport+ mode, which sharpens throttle and transmission response and further tightens the suspension. Active anti-roll bars help limit body roll, as does Benz’s optional Active Curve System if the box is checked.
When dealing with crossovers and SUVs, “handling” is never the right word. Some can corner and brake with tremendous force at ludicrous speeds, sure. But none can really handle—there’s no joy of turn-in or mid-corner rotation, no ever-so-slight four-wheel drift to the exit. The GLS63 AMG is no exception, relying instead on its exceptional grip and tractive force. What it lacks in dynamic purity, though, it makes up in unflustered pace, striding like a Titan across the face of the globe—even when that face is raised in steep, rocky crags.
Driving from the remote Gateway Canyons Resort near the Colorado-Utah border to Arches National Park near Moab, Utah, might seem like a simple affair—it’s perhaps 40 miles as the crow flies. That crow would have to fly high, however, as the 12,329-foot Mount Waas and the La Sal mountain range lies between the two, and there is no direct road across. Instead, it’s a long, circuitous, sometimes tortuous route that seems, at first, better suited to a sports car than what some might call a glorified minivan.
Fortunately, the GLS63 is anything but a vehicular albatross; the amalgamation of AMG power and grip with Mercedes luxury and comfort make it a road-trip delight. The kids have almost burned through their videos already, soon to break the thrall of the rear-seat entertainment system? The S.O. is itching for the destination and a hot shower? Twist the dial to Sport+ and haul in the horizon—you can stack 50 percent on top of any posted speed limit or corner recommendation with no one the wiser—except, perhaps, the local constabulary.
But like any AMG, the GLS63 isn’t purely about ferocious speed or lithe grace. It’s also about marshaling all of Mercedes-Benz’s tremendous luxury and technology into a well-rounded whole. The GLS63 rises to S-Class levels—and prices—on both fronts.
In its top-of-the-range vehicles especially, Mercedes has become an unquestioned industry leader in interior style, materials, and fit and finish. The 2017 Mercedes-AMG GLS63 is no exception. Its dash and center stack are plied with glossy carbon fiber or sensuous open-pore wood. Leathers are supple and stout, plastics are robust, and carpets are soft and deep. It’s a vehicle that should leave no occupant wanting, even in the second row. And unlike in most of its competitors in the luxury crossover/SUV space, the third row of the GLS (its prime feature in some ways) is raised off the floor and adult-usable, not slammed down mere inches from the carpet. This translates to actual legroom—a full 10 inches more than the Cadillac Escalade’s third row and just 3.5 inches less than the GLS63’s own second row. And it achieves it all despite a wheelbase that’s just 5 inches longer than the Escalade.
If this sounds too good to be true, in a way it is. The 2017 Mercedes-AMG GLS63 is an unquestionably fast, surprisingly nimble, and comfortably luxurious machine. It’s also a very expensive one, priced like the S-Class wagon it very nearly is. Sticker prices on the models we tested in Colorado and Utah ranged from the $127,000 to $131,000 range—though as high as those numbers are, they’re still below the Mercedes-AMG S63 sedan’s base price of $144,175. Does that make the GLS63 a relative bargain, with its two extra seats, capacious cargo space, and mild off-road ability? Absolutely.
More important than value or even its capability is the GLS63’s symbolism. Yes, you have a family and responsibilities. Sure, maybe a sliding door or two would make more sense. Certainly, you could get better gas mileage. But you refuse give in to the melancholy of adulthood. You reject a joyless existence born of desperation, fear, or simple exhaustion. You choose style, fun, speed, and luxury, and most important, you have the cash to make that choice. You choose life lived over life suffered. You choose the not-minivan. You choose the AMG.
2017 Mercedes-AMG GLS63 Specifications
|Engine:||5.5L twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8/577 hp @ 5,500 rpm, 516 lb-ft @ 1,750-5,250 rpm|
|Layout:||4-door, 7-passenger, front-engine, AWD SUV|
|EPA Mileage:||13/17 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H:||203.2 x 84.3 x 72.8 in|
|Weight:||5,700 lb (est)|
|0-60 MPH:||4.5 sec|
|Top Speed:||174 mph (est)|