Big, bigger, biggest! That’s what comes to mind when you first see the Mercedes-Benz GL 63 AMG. This car is insanity on wheels, made for the interstates and big cities of the US of A. But we get to test it on tiny b-roads and the famous autobahn in Germany and on a special off-road track near the factory in Tuscaloosa.

The Mercedes-Benz GL is the flagship of the Mercedes-Benz SUV line. With three rows of seats you can take up to 7 people. The GL was first launched in 2006 at the Detroit Motor Show and the second generation launched in 2012. Although the second generation is even bigger, weight is reduced by 100 kg compared to the first generation. The GL and GL 63 AMG are produced exclusively at the US plant in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

The Engine

Helping to make the Mercedes-Benz GL 63 AMG as impressive as it is, is its potent engine. It features a bi-turbo 5.5-liter V8 engine producing a total of 557 hp between 5,250 rpm and 5,750 rpm and maximum torque is rated at 760 Nm between 2,000 and 5,000 rpm. This engine tips the scales at 204 kg with a 98 mm bore and 90.5 mm stroke.

Some other key aspects of this powertrain include spray-guided direct injection, piezo injectors, an all-aluminium crankcase, four valves per cylinder complete with variable camshaft adjustment. While you may think of this 5.5-liter bi-turbo V8 as a petrol guzzling behemoth, it does actually feature a start-stop system and consumes just 12.3 litres per 100 km.

Performance

Despite its size, the Mercedes-Benz GL 63 AMG is a truly potent SUV in a straight line. When you pin the throttle, the GL 63 AMG forces you head into the headrests and the claimed performance times back up these feelings. It can sprint to 100 km/h in just 4.9 seconds and a top speed of 250 km/h.

Gearbox & Drivetrain

The engine is the mated to an AMG Speedshift Plus 7G-Tronic transmission. This smooth seven-speed gearbox features a host of different driving models. One of those modes is Controlled Efficiency which sees the start-stop system activated while also featuring a gentle throttle response with early gear changes to maximise efficiency.

Both the Sport and Manual modes see the ECO start/stop function turned off with the engine and transmission both becoming more agile. More specifically, shift times are reduced while the exhaust system opens up and provides a glorious burble under full throttle.

Suspension

For a car as heavy and as expensive as this, you would hope for a beautiful and supple ride and that is exactly what the latest GL 63 AMG provides. Unsurprisingly, it features Mercedes-Benz’s permanent 4MATIC all-wheel drive system with 40 per cent of the power being fed to the front wheels while the remaining power is sent through the rear wheels.

Coming standard on the Mercedes-Benz GL 63 AMG is the AMG Ride Control sports suspension complete with the Airmatic package. This setup includes air suspension, special damper struts, automatic level control and the Adaptive Damping System. Additionally, for active roll stabilisation, the GL 63 AMG also comes standard with the automaker’s Active Curve System. This system is specific to AMG and employs active anti-roll bars both at the front and at the rear to reduce body role when cornering.

To suit all driving situations, the suspension of the GL 63 AMG features three different settings. These are Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus. Whichever suspension is setting is chosen, the GL 63 AMG automatically lowers as you build up speed to minimise drag while also increasing stability at higher speeds.

Design


As with any AMG model, the Mercedes-Benz GL 63 AMG not only drives the part but is also looks the part. Featuring aggressively styled body panels all around, there is simply no mistaking the GL 63 AMG for a regular GL-Class. It features a blacked-out grille adding a little bit of extra aggression as well as completely redesigned front and rear bumpers. The new front bumper incorporates larger air intakes feeding the massive V8 engine.

Giving the Mercedes-Benz GL 63 AMG even more road presence are the massive 21-inch AMG light-alloy wheels wrapped in rubber measuring 295 mm across at all four corners. Additionally, it features widened fenders by 22 mm on each side, illuminated running boards with an eye-catching aluminium finish and the traditional AMG quad exhaust pipe setup.

Interior

Throughout the interior, it is clear that Mercedes-Benz has been meticulous in outfitting its range-topping SUV. As a result, all seven seats are covered in high-quality leather with the AMG sports seats featuring contrasting stitching as well as AMG badges on the front and rear seat backrests.

As with all performance oriented cars, a well shaped steering wheel is vital and the GL 63 AMG’s is truly world class. Featuring four-spokes with perforated leather,a flattened bottom section and aluminium shift padels, you always feel in control behind the wheel.

In addition to these luxuries, the GL 63 AMG features an audio and CD system complete with bluetooth and a USB interface. The car also features Keyless-Go as well as a large sliding sunroof. Completing the interior luxuries are a massage function and standard memory package for the two front seats.

Driving Experience

We pick up the GL 63 AMG for our test drive at the AMG factory in Affalterbach, Germany. This little village is located roughly twenty minutes North of Stuttgart and the ideal place to explore the rural German country side and enjoy a quick stint over some unlimited autobahn.

The GL 63 AMG combines a lot of components we are familiar with from other Mercedes-Benz models like the famous AMG V8 and Speedshift Plus 7G Tronic gearbox. The latest generation of the GL is also packed to the roof with gadgets, from lane keeping assist to Comand Online. In comparison to other AMG models the GL 63 excels especially in size and incredible interior space. This does however also have a downside in terms of weight and handling. Don’t expect anywhere near the same driving experience as you would get in a E63 AMG.

That said, once you familiarize yourself with the sheer size of the GL 63 AMG its a very pleasant car to drive. Over country lanes and b-roads you feel like the king of the road; towering over everything but the occasional tractor. The ride in the GL 63 AMG is a fair bit firmer than the regular GL, this is however not a bad thing at all. On bad roads small bumps might be felt stronger in the cabin, in the corners the tougher suspension is a blessing for the otherwise body rolling GL.

In character the GL 63 is fairly similar to its ML 63 AMG brother. Believe it or not but both also have excellent off-roading capabilities. During our visit to the Mercedes-Benz US factory in Tuscaloosa this January we experienced first hand what it is like to take the Mercedes-Benz GL off-road at the challenging factory off-road test track. Driving up a stairs? Not a problem. Descending down a 70% drop? Not a problem either. The majority of the GL owners have probably never taken their SUV further than a snow covered road to the ski resort which is a shame really.

Back in Germany we return to our test drive which is taking us from the well maintained b-roads to the German autobahn. North of Stuttgart the A81 offers some stretches of highway without a speed limit. Ideal to see how the GL 63 AMG does on the ultimate paved road. From standstill the 100 km/h passes in just under 5 seconds. Its only at a electronically limited top speed of 250 km/h that the V8 stops pushing us forward. Even on a highway in one of the economic centers of Europe with plenty of German luxury cars around us the GL 63 AMG gets some looks, some clearly smiling at the sound of the V8 and some (mostly Prius drivers) shaking their head at the sight of so much gas guzzling car next to them.

That brings us to the only true downside of the GL 63 AMG: its fuel consumption. Better feel comfortable around petrol stations as you will be there often, very often! Especially when you enjoy the sound and performance of the V8 as much as we do!

What to Spec?

Our bit of expert consumer advice, which extras should you get when you are in the market for a GL 63 AMG? Here are our tips:

Driver Assitance Package Plus – Includes adaptive cruise control, lane assist, Pre-Safe brakes and many more. Makes driving easier and safer.
Seat Cooling – Better than air-conditioning blowing in your face is cool air blowing through the seat.
Comand Online – Although we are not really impressed with the relatively small 7″ of the navigation and entertainment screen in the GL, Comand Online is still the thing to get on the GL 63 AMG.

Competition

This segment of XXL ultra luxury SUV’s has been dominated by Mercedes with the GL and Audi with the Q7. With the latest generation X5, BMW is also offering a 7-seater SUV. But the Audi Q7 nor the X5 come close to the performance of the GL 63 AMG.

A tiny bit smaller but very comparable to the GL 63 AMG is the new Range Rover Supercharged. 50hp shy of the GL 63’s output but capable nonetheless. Having driven both the Range Rover feels a bit more agile and more luxurious on the inside. But the touch screen and systems in the Range Rover are no match for the Mercedes-Benz infotainment and safety systems. Both offer amazing off-road capabilities although that’s hardly a consumer requirement in this segment. In the end a lot comes down to personal taste, the Benz’s AMG V8 sound winning our vote for the GL 63 AMG.

Conclusion

The 2014 Mercedes-Benz GL 63 AMG is a typical AMG powerhouse with a few not so typical features (7-seats + pro off-road capabilities). The ride is a lot softer than anything else that carries a badge from Affalterbach but the typical V8 sound and performance makes it unmistakably a true AMG. The Range Rover Supercharged is the only true competitor, besides their performance aspirations both share an unbelievable thirst for fuel as the only major downside.

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