One Week With: 2017 Mercedes-AMG GLS63

An upraised middle finger to Sir Isaac Newton

Arthur St. Antoinewriter, photographer The Manufacturerphotographer

You're probably one of those people who'd take one look at an SUV that boasts a 577-horsepower twin-turbo V-8 and costs $131,470 and say, "absolutely ridiculous."

To which I'd reply … you're damn right it is.

The 2017 Mercedes-AMG GLS63 is one of those fantastic vehicles that really makes no sense at all but sets off every pleasure center in your body at the same time. I mean, just look at the thing: gaping front grilles filled with black mesh, bulging fenders framing 22-inch muted-black AMG wheels, quad stainless exhausts, dark-tinted rear windows, "V8 Biturbo" badges on each forward flank. Menacing? You'd scare people a whole lot less if you walked around with a schizophrenic Doberman on a frayed leash. Yeah, be afraid: we're talking about a seven-passenger, six-foot-tall, nearly three-ton monster that, Mercedes says, can reach 60 mph from a standstill in just 4.5 seconds. That sound you just heard was Sir Isaac Newton choking on his candy apple.

The sorcerers at AMG are the ones responsible for this magnificent guilty pleasure. Look closely enough, and you'll discern the outlines of a regular Mercedes GLS, the new-for-2016 seven-passenger luxury SUV (it replaced the GL) now commonly found crowding the pickup queues at private schools across the country. But little else about the GLS63 is "regular." Under the hood lies a 5.5-liter twin-turbo V-8, each one hand-built from start to finish by a single AMG technician (when finished, each engine is personally signed). Press the starter, and it thumps to life before settling into a threatening throb, like the warning tremor of a coming earthquake. Ease down on the throttle and the GLS63 charges off as if cut free from a tether, 561 pound-feet of torque coming on peak almost immediately and flowing through the rear-biased all-wheel-drive system, the rig's prodigious mass all but forgotten. My first passenger of the week, when I pressed the right pedal a little harder and the Benz launched up an entrance ramp, uttered just two words: "No way!"

Actually, more than a few times I found myself saying the exact same thing. Like the standard GLS models, the GLS63 wears a standard Airmatic suspension—but here it's been thoroughly revised for AMG duty. Clicking into Sport+ mode firms up the ride and quickens transmission response (on board is the proven seven-speed AMG Speedshift Plus automatic), making it possible to hustle the beast quickly enough that, in the twisties above Malibu, I actually found myself laughing. Briskly cornering a colossus like this is silly—but it's also crazy good fun (the summer performance tires on my tester helped, too). Incredibly, the brakes (nearly 15-inch discs up front) didn't even give up on me, though I didn't torment them unduly. This is, after all, first and foremost a three-row luxury chariot.

And, man, did my passengers love it. For most of the week I drove it, every seat in the GLS63 was filled (out of town friends had joined me in L.A. for some R&R). So there we were: seven people comfortably ensconced in a machine with more horsepower than a Kenworth, tunes playing on the standard Harmon/Kardon surround-sound system, second-row guests fiddling with the rear-seat entertainment screens ($1,950), the two in the third row inevitably yelling "hey cut that out!" if I dared punch up too much AMG thrust. We took the GLS63 to the beach in Malibu, I played tour guide through Beverly Hills and Hollywood, we hit Chinatown for noodles, we spent countless hours in the Benz while traipsing all over town. Nobody ever complained or yelled "shotgun" to stay out of the rear seats—there's actually really decent legroom back there (I tried the seats myself—while parked). And getting back there is easy, especially with the optional power-folding second row (at just $400, a must-have). Most of the time, in fact, what I heard were not complaints but oooohhs and aaaahhs whenever someone discovered yet another hidden feature ("Can you believe it, this thing has heated and cooled front cupholders!").

I must admit: from behind the wheel, I was enjoying myself thoroughly. In addition to the insane amount of power under my foot, there was surprisingly tactile steering feel. An outstanding driver's seat (heated and ventilated with power massage). A surround-view camera to assist with slipping into tight parking spaces. A fabulous AMG sport wheel wrapped in grippy Nappa leather. And all kinds of active assist systems—from blind-spot warnings to lane-keeping to a brake-assist system that, if the driver fails to notice a vehicle up ahead, can autonomously brake the GLS63 to a stop. The only system I wasn't impressed by was the COMAND nav/multimedia interface. Maybe with more time I'd get better at using it, but even after I week I found the touchpad overly sensitive and fussy (it would, say, change SiriusXM Radio channels when I was trying to access something else). I know: tough first-world problems.

Yeah, it costs crazy big to rewrite Sir Isaac's laws of motion. But there's no denying that the AMG GLS63 does it, to an astonishing degree and yet almost effortlessly. It's also absolutely gorgeous and pampering inside, even with every seat filled. At LAX airport on their way home, my friends all commented on how enjoyable and memorable their visit had been ("just awesome, Arthur," said one). At the time I thought they were referring to the many wonders of L.A., plus my obviously transcendent hospitality. But as I climbed back into the GLS63, fired up the burly V-8, and headed home, suddenly it hit me: "Geez, they were probably talking about the Benz."

2017 Mercedes-Benz AMG GLS63 Specifications

On Sale: Now
Price: $125,025/$131,470 (base/as-tested)
Engine: 5.5L turbocharged DOHC 24-valve V-8/577 hp @ 5,500 rpm, 561 lb-ft @ 1,750 rpm
Transmission: 7-speed automatic
Layout: 4-door, 7-passenger, front-engine, AWD SUV
EPA Mileage: 13/17 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H: 202.0 x 78.0 x 72.8 in
Wheelbase: 121.1 in
Weight: 5750 lb
0-60 MPH: 4.5 sec
Top Speed: 155 mph
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