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First drive: 2017 Mercedes-AMG GLS63

The 577 horsepower Mercedes-AMG GLS63 is a classy way to haul your kids and cargo

The GLS63 is so fast that its interior design is still catching up.

Fast SUVs are a bit of a conundrum for me. The idea of a seven-passenger, 5,800-pound behemoth that can match a Mustang GT’s 0 to 60 time has always seemed bizarre and unnecessary, but as I flew into Gateway, Colorado to drive the new Mercedes-AMG GLS63, I realized I was asking the wrong questions. I was asking why, when I should have been asking something much simpler — why not?

Buyers willing to plunk down $124,100 on transportation aren’t concerned with overindulgence or excessive splendor, in fact they crave it. That metric in mind, I slid into the driver’s seat and prepared to put the big boy through its paces.

Snap, crackle, pop

AMG vehicles have a habit of reinforcing bad behavior, and despite its family-friendly dimensions, the GLS63 is without a doubt an AMG car. Featuring a hand-built, 577-horsepower biturbo V8, the SUV accelerates like a sports car and rewards you with a symphony of exhaust snorts and burbles, sounds that pierce through the quiet cabin like the growls of a primordial beast. Flat out, the SUV will hit 60 mph in 4.5 seconds and top out at an electronically-limited 174 mph, but it feels much faster than that with this much real estate in tow. Taking the kids to soccer practice has never been this fun.

From the driver’s seat, it’s shockingly easy to forget just how hefty the GLS is. The vehicle’s adaptive Airmatic suspension keeps body roll and other Newtonian annoyances in check expertly, making the vehicle feel planted, stable, and much lighter than it actually is. And thanks to Mercedes’ Dynamic Select technology, ride quality and other handling characteristics can be tailored to your liking. Suspension stiffness, steering feel, and engine response can all be adjusted with the flip of a switch, so whether you want to blast through a canyon backroad like I did, stroll to the country club in leisure, or tow a 7,500-pound trailer, this capacious chariot can pretty much do it all.

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AMG’s aren’t meant for muddin’ though, and as such, the high-performance model doesn’t include an off-road mode like the rest of the GLS lineup. It does boast 7.8 inches of ground clearance however, and despite the rear-biased nature of the AMG all-wheel drive system, the SUV is more than capable of handling whatever most GLS63 drivers can throw at it.

A three-row S-Class?

If there’s a major shortcoming to the GLS63, it’s the interior design. I certainly wouldn’t call in an eyesore, but the piano black accents throughout the cabin and the old-school phone keypad on the dash make the whole array look a bit outdated, especially when you consider my test vehicle’s MSRP of $126,880. For the money, I expected something sexier and more modern, and no, putting carbon fiber in the speedometer doesn’t count. The GLS may be the “S-Class of SUVs,” but unfortunately it doesn’t really look the part, at least from the inside.

That said, the cabin is spacious and well-appointed, with luscious Nappa leather seats and other first-rate materials littering the cockpit. The best part, however, is arguably the third row. Generally an afterthought, the rear seats are actually useable for people old enough to drive, as my 5’11’’ frame fit decently enough with my knees just grazing the seat in front of me. I had plenty of headroom, though, and could move around without too much of a struggle. The third row comes standard on every GLS model and can be stowed with a single switch. Doing so gives you 49 cubic feet of rear cargo space.

Modern family essentials

The GLS falls a hair short of the S-Class in terms of interior aesthetics, but when it comes to technology, the SUV has something for every member of the family. For the driver, a full suite of semi-autonomous features like adaptive cruise control and lane keeping assist ensure a fatigue-free experience behind the wheel. Even with the worn road markings of rural Colorado, these systems worked fantastically most of the time, however the lane keep function lets you get a little too far out of position for my liking. There’s also a new eight-inch display up front that can be fitted with Apple CarPlay — Android Auto is coming in the next few months.

2017 Mercedes AMG GLS63
Andrew Hard/Digital Trends

The GLS’ ability to (mostly) pilot itself on the freeway will surely please the driver, but the rest of the passengers will appreciate the second row media screens, bumping Harman Kardon stereo, and three-shade ambient interior lighting option.

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Of course, since this is a family vehicle, the GLS63 is packed to the gills with safety tech, including Pre-Safe automatic braking, pedestrian detection, Blind Spot Assist, and even an Attention Assist system that learns your driving style and watches for signs of drowsiness. None of these features make the car though — that honor goes to the snarling V8 under the hood — but they’re certainly a nice cherry on top.

Conclusion

The GLS63 accelerates like a sports car.

The philosophies behind the GLS63 may seem odd to some folks, but for those who need to run their errands at light speed, the versatile yet thrilling AMG is exactly what the doctor ordered. There are quicker 4x4s out there — the Porsche Cayenne Turbo and the BMW X5M, for instance — but neither of them offer a usable third row. In that sense, the GLS is unique.

The interior design may be nearing its expiration date, but it’s a pleasant place to be and the performance more than makes up for it. Personally, I’d wait for the next refresh to bring the cabin up to S-Class standards, but if you just can’t wait, the AMG goodness is ready right now.

Highs

  • Effortless acceleration
  • Tantalizing exhaust note
  • Fantastic air suspension
  • Comfortable cabin

Lows

  • Interior design looks outdated