2013 Mercedes-Benz G63, GL63, ML63 AMG First Tests
Impractical Magic: The State of Mercedes' AMG SUV Line
We freely admit that if you look at a master list of sensible, practical sport/utilities that efficiently do hard work, this trio would be near the bottom of the list. But let's face facts: The AMG line from Mercedes-Benz has nothing to do with practicality, responsibility, or rationality. In fact, in two of the three vehicles tested, off-road capability was reduced for the AMG versions. While that makes sense considering the buyers of AMG models (we're sure many would ask, "Who would take a $110,000-plus SUV on a trail?"), we weren't as thrilled about it. And, yes, the least expensive SUV in this story is a shocking $113,445. The smallest wheel size on this tro is 20 inches. All three use an electronic DirectSelect transmission shifter. This is fine, except that if yo u're backing in somewhere and want to open the door to make sure you've placed the vehicle where you want it to be, it automatically shifts into Park.
These vehicles are brash, fast, expensive fun. They are the kinds of vehicles we can't afford, so when Mercedes asked if we wanted to try out all three of these 2013 AMG-tuned SUVs at the same time, we jumped at the opportunity. While this isn't actually a comparison story, here are our opinions on the state of the AMG nation.
1st Place: 2013 Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG
We love how wonderfully illogical the G63 AMG is. This is a fast, 6000-pound vault, yet it has retained most of its off-road capability. Neither of the other two AMG-tuned SUVs can say the same. The G-Class is built like a tank, and hasn't changed that much philosophically since it was first made in 1979. It defies engineers' goals of improving aerodynamics to increase fuel economy. It offers incredibly good off-road capability, almost to the point of overkill. You want cupholders? There's just one up front, and it consists of a ring and a net. Yet the G-Wagen continues to be a strong seller for Mercedes. The strangest part is that the AMG version makes up more than 65 percent of G-Class sales.
The 2013 G63 AMG we sampled arrived in full intimidating matte-finish Magno Night Black. Lose the truck's chrome accents, and this could be a menacing part of any small army's motor pool. Yet ours was more suited to urban life, with low-slung side steps, 20-inch wheels with short sidewall tires, and side pipes peeking out from below the steps.
We climbed in and realized that, despite many of the old-school elements, the cabin is fairly modern. There are redundant steering wheel controls, Bluetooth, navigation, satellite radio, and seats covered in quilted black leather. We slammed this vault's door shut and felt sealed in. There is an unquestionable feeling of security and safety in that cabin. It's as if this vehicle could survive the apocalypse.
As we headed out, the door locks emitted a loud, solid "clack." Acceleration is brisk, and the engine gives out a low, guttural growl as you get to speed. The G63 sounds like an old-school V-8 hot rod, or as close as you can get with a German twin-turbo V-8. That feeling of speed was confirmed at the track, where the 536-hp SUV went 0-60 in 5.0 seconds flat, and got through the quarter mile in 13.4 seconds at 105.2 mph. That's faster than a (V-6) Mustang. Braking is equally confident -- thanks to the AMG's 1.5-inch-larger brakes (and 2.3 inches bigger in back), the G needed only 113 feet to come to a stop from 60 mph.
The G's on-road weaknesses are noise levels and handling. Both reflect the trucky nature of this beast. It's a bit on the noisy side inside. But, really, this is such a cool vehicle, so who cares? It is proudly a truck, and it handles like one. You figure that out pretty quickly, and it ensures that you won't enter a turn at too high a speed.
At Hungry Valley SVRA, our favorite local off-road destination, we went through the obstacle course and tried out a hill climb and a few trails. Of all the AMG SUVs we've driven, the G is the most off-road capable. It retains the G-Class' signature three independently locking differentials, but we needed to use only two of them. We paid special attention to rocks on the trail, as we had to make sure nothing pinched the low exhaust pipes, and were well aware that the tires weren't the right aspect ratio for off-roading. With all that in mind, the G easily traversed trail obstacles with tires and exhaust fully intact. Unlike newer four-wheel-drive systems, this one used more mechanical elements and fewer sensors. Its off-road prowess reinforced the feeling that this vehicle could survive anything.
We love that this off-road icon continues to be popular. It's odd that a big reason the G is still around is because of the high-performance AMG version. As far as we're concerned, though, it doesn't matter why people still love the G-Class, or how many actually take the vehicles off-road. We're just happy it's still being made.
2nd Place: 2013 Mercedes-Benz GL63 AMG
After the G-Class, the off-road capability of the AMG SUVs drops off dramatically. It isn't the fault of the GL-Class itself. With the regular GL, you can get a terrific On- and Off-Road package that includes a two-speed transfer case, skidplates, and six transmission modes. That isn't even an option in the GL63. In addition, there's a fairly low airdam in front, so if the lack of true four-wheel drive didn't stop you, the low ground clearance in front would.
However, if you don't need to go off-road, the GL63 has a lot to offer. Its 5.5-liter twin-turbo V-8 has 550 hp and 560 lb-ft. It has the most towing capacity of the trio, and is the only one with three-row seating. The exhaust practically growls when downshifting. Handling was impressive, considering the vehicle's size, and there isn't a lot of body roll. The ride is even nicer in the AMG GL than in the regular sport/utility.
At the track, the GL63 hit 60 mph in 4.7 seconds. Interestingly, the GL63 is less than 100 pounds lighter than the G, yet it's 0.3 second faster to 60. There was a much bigger difference in braking. While the G stopped in a relatively short 113 feet from 60 mph, the GL63 only needed 104.
For sheer luxury, the GL's interior is the nicest of the group. The GL had beautiful creamy vented white leather with black stitching and Piano Black accents throughout the cabin. It's probably better that this vehicle doesn't go off-road, as that leather would get dirty in 10 seconds on the trail. This isn't quite the icon that the G-Class is, but it is a great vehicle in its own right.
3rd Place: 2013 Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG
While it may be a coincidence that the as tested price went down from first to second to third place, it isn't a coincidence that the level of capability decreases. No offense to the M-Class, but it is the least capable of the three SUVs here. Unlike the G and the GL, there isn't an extensive off-road package available. (The off-road package consists of a front skidplate and air suspension.) The AMG comes with air suspension, but no low range. The M-Class also doesn't offer the same seating capacity or cargo volume as the GL -- it's on a much shorter wheelbase -- nor does it tow as much as the other two SUVs.
The V-8 puts out 518 hp, which translated into a 4.3-second 0-60 time. This is the lightest of the three SUVs, weighing in at 5243 pounds. That's more than 600 pounds less than the G and more than 500 less than the GL. Even though the horsepower and torque are lower, considering the M's lighter weight, we would've expected less than a 0.4-second difference between the M and the GL. Braking wasn't as good as the GL's, either. While it was close, the heavier three-row SUV stopped 2 feet shorter than the 106 feet the ML63 took. If a vehicle lacks capability, ideally it would make up for it in performance. This one didn't make up for it enough.
On paper, it has all of the right boxes checked: 5.5-liter twin-turbo V-8, seven-speed automatic, power everything, Designo leather interior, panorama sunroof. Yet when we drove the AMG M-Class, we felt it was not the most rewarding experience of the three sport/utilities here. It is definitely a competent vehicle, and is genuinely fast, but the M-Class didn't have the same growl, the same attitude, and the same performance feel as the rest of the trio.
|2013 Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG||2013 Mercedes-Benz GL63 AMG||2013 Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$144,305||$128,030||$113,445|
|LAYOUT||Front-engine, 4WD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV||Front-engine, AWD, 7-pass, 4-door SUV||Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV|
|ENGINE||5.5L/536-hp/561-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8||5.5L/550-hp/560-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8||5.5L/518-hp/516-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8|
|TRANSMISSION||7-speed automatic||7-speed automatic||7-speed automatic|
|WHEELBASE||112.2 in||121.1 in||114.8 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||187.5 x 80.9 x 76.3 in||202.6 x 84.3 x 72.8 in||189.1 x 75.8 x 70.7 in|
|CURB WEIGHT||5876 lb||5787 lb||5243 lb|
|GVWR||7055 lb||7165 lb||6724 lb|
|PAYLOAD CAPACITY||1179 lb||1378 lb||1481 lb|
|TOWING CAPACITY||7716 lb||7500 lb (est)||7200 lb|
|0-60 MPH||5.0 sec||4.7 sec||4.3 sec|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||113 ft||104 ft||106 ft|
|EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON||12/14 mpg||13/17 mpg||13/17 mpg|
|ON SALE IN U.S.||Currently||Currently||Currently|