First Look: 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLS 63 at the 2019 Los Angeles Auto Show
Large Mercedes SUV Gets a Racy Twin-Turbo V-8 and Brash New Styling
The Mercedes-Benz GLS, which was completely redesigned for the 2020 model year, is getting a high-performance variant. The 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLS 63, which was just revealed at the Los Angeles Auto Show, brings expected powertrain and suspension enhancements to the big SUV, which Mercedes calls "the S-Class of SUVs."
The previous-generation 2019 GLS 63 featured a larger engine than the 2021 model, but nevertheless, the new Mercedes-AMG makes great use of its 4.0L twin-turbocharged V-8. On its own, the engine makes 603 hp and 627 lb-ft, up 26 horses and 66 lb-ft from the 5.5L mill in the outgoing SUV. What's more, like all other GLS models, the Mercedes-AMG GLS 63 boasts EQ Boost 48V mild-hybrid technology, which uses an integrated starter-generator to add 21 hp and 184 lb-ft of motive force.
(One note: EQ Boost doesn't actually increase the engine's peak power or torque output at all. If it's like other mild-hybrid powertrains, it's used to get the GLS 63 rolling from a standstill—particularly if the engine is idle-stopped—or to smooth out gearchanges and moments of turbocharger lag.)
Paired to that engine is an AMG Speedshift nine-speed automatic transmission. Mercedes-AMG produces a faster-acting seven-speed dual-clutch transmission that we know mates to this engine, but we think the brand opted for a traditional torque-converter automatic owing to its better low-speed smoothness and similarity to the gearbox found in the non-AMG Mercedes GLS. Nevertheless, thanks to a whole lot of tinkering from the performance division, the Speedshift nine-speed should be plenty responsive, and AMG claims it can drop multiple ratios on kickdown (from Ninth to Fifth or from Fifth to Third in one smooth gearchange).
The net result of all that optimization? An AMG-claimed 0-60 mph time of 4.1 seconds and an electronically limited top speed of 174 mph. The best the old GLS 63 could achieve was 4.5 seconds and 168 mph.
Starch in Your Suspenders
A Mercedes-AMG GLS 63 can't just be fast, it also has to be composed and controllable. Helping it in that mission is the AMG-tuned Active Ride Control+ air suspension. That 48V electrical system also powers adaptive stabilizer bars that operate independently on each axle to counteract body roll and sway in hard driving, optimizing steering response and control. The interior's drive-mode selector offers three different settings—Comfort, Sport, and Sport+—to allow drivers to select how aggressive they want the active roll stabilization and adaptive dampers to operate.
Sport and Sport+ also lower the vehicle by 0.4-inch to reduce body roll, but even in Comfort mode, the GLS 63 hunkers a bit closer to the pavement at speeds above 75 mph to reduce wind resistance. Drivers can also raise the vehicle by 2.2 inches to improve ground clearance on poor surfaces or ramps.
While the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLS 63 is obviously very on-road-biased, the company also saw to include a few off-road goodies. AMG Dynamic Select has six driving modes—the aforementioned Comfort, Sport, and Sport+, alongside Trail, Sand, and customizable Individual). Trail and Sand both provide 2.2 inches more ground clearance at speeds up to 44 mph, and they adjust throttle, transmission, and suspension damping for better control in those particular situations.
AMG had its way with the 4Matic+ all-wheel drive found in the GLS 63 as well, giving it a performance-tuned electronic locking rear differential. Intelligent drivetrain controls allow for a variable torque split between 50:50 and 0:100 front and rear. This rearward bias should allow for nippy and sporty handling when heading into turns, then sending power forward should allow the GLS 63 to claw its way out.
Style and Space
Visual differences between the regular GLS and its Mercedes-AMG variant are myriad. The grille features AMG's now-signature vertically slatted grille features the same inward slant as on other vehicles in the brand's lineup, and massive air inlets on the front bumper allow the 4.0L turbo V-8 to breathe easily (on the AMG, Mercedes has mercifully toned down the blocked-off plastic faux mesh found on the chin of every other GLS variant). Standard dynamic LED headlamps sit above that new "jetwing" front bumper, giving the SUV a nice glower.
Body-color mirror caps, fender arch extensions, and side skirts give the GLS 63 a slick and aerodynamic appearance. An AMG-specific rear bumper incorporates an aggressive diffuser and rectangular quad exhaust outlets.
While high-gloss chrome and silver are the standard finishes for the window surrounds, tailpipes, grille slats, and front bumper trim, an available AMG Night package blacks the above out. The pack also includes high-gloss black mirror caps and is available with matte black alloy wheels.
Inside, the AMG GLS 63 benefits from more aggressive seat bolstering and model-specific upholstery, unique three-spoke AMG steering wheel, and aluminum shift paddles. The GLS 63 also includes a different design for the infotainment package, befitting its more aggressive personality, and there are additional functions such as a racing timer for closed-course shenanigans. A long list of standard equipment includes MBUX infotainment with the "Hey, Mercedes" electronic personal assistant, standard Distronic adaptive cruise control, and a suite of active collision avoidance features.
This or That?
The 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLS 63 joins a long list of modern, hyperactive family SUVs, including the BMW X5 M and X7 M50i, Porsche Cayenne Turbo S, and even the much less expensive Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk. Working in the Benz's favor are a combination of a habitable third-row seat, efficiency- and convenience-enhancing EQ Boost mild-hybrid system, and impressive claimed performance. But all of that will assuredly come at a high price when it arrives in dealerships next year. But for those that can stomach its estimated $130,000 base price, it should be a true world-beater.