2024 Mercedes-AMG GLS63 Review: King of the Luxury Family SUV Brawlers

mercedes amg gls 63 2024 01 exterior front angle scaled jpg 2024 Mercedes-AMG GLS63 | Cars.com photo by Aaron Bragman
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Detroit Bureau Chief Aaron Bragman has had over 25 years of experience in the auto industry as a journalist, analyst, purchasing agent and program manager. Bragman grew up around his father’s classic Triumph sports cars (which were all sold and gone when he turned 16, much to his frustration) and comes from a Detroit family where cars put food on tables as much as smiles on faces. Today, he’s a member of the Automotive Press Association and the Midwest Automotive Media Association. His pronouns are he/him, but his adjectives are fat/sassy. Email Aaron Bragman

The verdict: Super quick, super loud, super expensive — and super cool. 

Versus the competition: The 2024 Mercedes-AMG GLS63 is bigger and cheaper than a Land Rover Range Rover SV, easier to live with than a BMW Alpina XB7 and more nimble than a Cadillac Escalade-V, but it’s just as quick, desirable and entertaining as any of them. 

Nobody does big, expensive, super-high-performance SUVs quite like the European luxury brands. That’s kind of odd when you think about it, given the mainstream passenger SUV is really an American invention, but aside from the rare appearance of an unusual example — like the Cadillac Escalade-V or Dodge Durango SRT — the Americans have largely left this segment alone. You’d think there would be more super-fast, expensive, overpowered examples of SUVs like the Lincoln Aviator or Cadillac XT6, but only the German brands regularly do this with their in-house tuning divisions. 

The Mercedes-AMG GLS63 is just that: A high-performance take on the luxury brand’s flagship three-row SUV. It competes in mission with the BMW Alpina XB7 and the Land Rover Range Rover SV (if not necessarily in price), but there isn’t really anything in an American, Japanese or Korean showroom that compares. Given just how crazy this GLS63 is, it’s probably a good thing there aren’t more of its type on the streets where you live.

Related: 2024 Mercedes-AMG GLE63 S Coupe: Will It Track? Should It Track?

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Doesn’t Look Too Different

First let’s decipher what this SUV’s name means. Technically, Mercedes-Benz labels it a Mercedes-AMG, not a Benz. That’s meant to denote that it’s been heavily revised by the automaker’s in-house AMG tuning division, turning it from a sleeper into a screamer. GLS is the model designation for Mercedes’ biggest SUV, which can carry six or seven people in three rows of seats depending on how you spec the second row (captain’s chairs or a bench). The 63 denotes that it’s powered by Mercedes’ hand-built, twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V-8 engine, which pumps out 603 horsepower and 627 pounds-feet of torque. 

That all established, what does this thing look like? One aspect of the expensive, high-performance luxury SUV class that seems to be universal is they don’t look too different from their normie versions, and that’s true of this big Benz. Looking at the thing, you’d barely know it was anything special. The most unusual thing about my Alpine Gray test vehicle was its unusual paint color, which left people trying very hard to understand why it looked so unusual. It’s just a light gray color, but it looks unusual because it’s nonmetallic. There’s no sparkle effect to it, which is odd after decades of increasingly bass-boat-like paint jobs on luxury cars. It looks a damn sight better than any matte finish, and it adds an unusual luster to the GLS63 that grabs your attention, even if you don’t know exactly why. My test car was supposed to be equipped with optional 23-inch monoblock wheels, which are dramatic to behold, but given it was wintertime in Michigan during my test, it came instead with smaller 22-inch multispoke wheels fitted with winter tires. Understandable, but a bummer for a few reasons I’ll discuss later. 

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The GLS received a mild styling update this year, but mild is the operative word here; it has slightly different lights, bumpers and other trim bits meant to keep it fresh, but Mercedes didn’t want to change its overall style much. The AMG Night Package on my test car brought blacked-out trim for the front splitter, various trims strips, window moldings, side mirror housings, roof rails and exhaust tips. It made for a truly slick color combination; I just wish that seemingly all Mercedes-AMG press vehicles weren’t finished this way these days (see my track drive of the 2024 GLE63 S Coupe). 

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The Right Stuff

Understated looks might be the norm for the segment, but underpowered engines are definitely not, and the GLS63 keeps right up with the competition in that department. It’s powered by a hand-built, twin-turbo 4.0-liter AMG V-8 that can rocket the big Q-ship from 0-60 mph in 4.1 seconds, according to Mercedes, which is blisteringly quick for a vehicle of this size and heft. Bringing it down to a stop again, using huge six-piston front calipers clenching 15.7-inch ventilated and perforated discs (14.6 inches in back), also happens with commendable quickness. You can actually get carbon-ceramic brakes for the GLS63 (they’re a $5,450 option), but that’s just nuts — those are meant for a track, and there’s no way this vehicle will never circle a racetrack in its life, except maybe as a pace car. 

The handling characteristics of the GLS63 are something I can’t fully comment on, as my test vehicle was fitted with those softer-compound winter tires in anticipation of a winter drive in Michigan. I commend Mercedes-Benz for fitting them to allow for year-round test-driving in my climate, but it actually hit the high 60s when I had the SUV. Sadly, the climate itself no longer cooperates with anyone, so the winter tires only made the GLS63’s steering feel a bit squishier and less responsive, lowered available grip in corners and provided slightly more compliant ride quality. 

That’s not, however, to say the GLS63’s ride quality is all that good, ‘cuz it’s not. Its electronically controlled AMG Ride Control+ air suspension is skewed more toward sport than comfort even in its Comfort drive mode; my mother-in-law even commented about how stiff the thing rode. She may not be a car reviewer by trade, but she certainly wasn’t wrong in this case. If you’re looking for a cushy-riding luxury Mercedes SUV, you’d be better off spending your nearly 200 kilodollars on a Mercedes-Maybach GLS600. 

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The selectable drive modes in the GLS63 do, however, change the vehicle’s character. Comfort is the norm, and there are also Sport and Sport+ modes, and even a Race track-oriented mode, which is daft. You get a track-capable mode in the smaller GLE63 SUV, which really makes only a little bit of sense given it, too, is a heavy family SUV with big, high-performance gear. The GLS, meanwhile, is not meant for track duty; it’s a backroad, drive-down-the-canyon-from-your-Malibu-Hills-mansion-to-dinner-at-Spago kind of ride. Or, alternately, it’s the kind of ride in which to blast from Frankfurt to Stuttgart via the Autobahn in perfect control and comfort. Just depends where you are in your GLS63. 

Comfy for Four, Not Really for More

The interior of the GLS63 is just as nice as other versions of the GLS. High-quality materials abound (far more than you’ll find in electric Mercedes vehicles like the EQS SUV), everything has a solid feel to it, and the stitching, patterns, knobs and controls exude expense. It’s a luxury vehicle that feels like a luxury vehicle on the inside, as the GLS still employs actual physical controls; it hasn’t gone the modern route of moving everything to the touchscreen, which is generally reviled as not being sufficiently luxurious at this price point. That will probably change with the next-generation model, but for now, we’ll celebrate the fact that this still feels like a luxury SUV inside. 

The AMG version of the GLS does bring some unique options and opportunities for interior decor, but my test car thankfully didn’t go too crazy with the options. Its tastefully done black Nappa leather scheme, with dark wood trim adorning the dash, doors and console, was more classy than some of the tuxedo-striped “flowing-lines” options, but less exciting than the more colorful leather choices. Still, understated speed is the message with this model, and the interior reinforces that. 

Front-seat comfort is excellent, but the second-row captain’s chairs feel a little small, and the third row is best for kids or brief trips with adults. The second row has a powered tumble-and-fold feature to allow for third-row access, but it still requires a contortion act to get back there; the BMW X7 feels a bit easier to use in this regard. 

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Lots of Tech, for Better and Worse

The GLS63 continues a trend a lot of German luxury automakers are following: confusing technology for luxury. The thinking seems to be that the more and crazier systems and functions they can provide, the better they will be perceived. The GLS hasn’t gone too far in that direction yet, but there are a few foibles to mention. It now has the latest MBUX multimedia system, and while it gets easier to use after living with it for some time, the learning curve on how to do even half the things it’s capable of is steep. Things like climate controls are now in the touchscreen (with a strip of controls still present as backup below the screen, so far), and while you can do a number of things using voice controls (even when you might not have meant to), sometimes you just don’t want to talk to your car. The Mercedes-Benz system is definitely easier to use than BMW’s totally confusing climate control system, so at least that’s in the Benz’ favor.

An unforgivable offense, however, is the AMG steering wheel’s touch-sensitive controls. They’re on the spokes of the wheel, and it takes three touches to get them to do what you actually want them to instead of just one, it seems. You must have a specific screen up to change a music track using your left thumb control, for example, and you have to swipe it JUST RIGHT or you’ll change the screen you’re on instead of the track you’re listening to. This steering wheel and its controls are hot garbage, and Mercedes-Benz would do well to dustbin the entire thing. Any steering wheel with areas you’re not allowed to touch — while driving spiritedly along the road — for fear of inadvertently changing something just seems like a bad idea. 

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Priced for the Select Few

All this hotness doesn’t come cheaply, nor should it. The base price of a GLS63 is an even $147,000, including delivery fee. My test vehicle was easy on the options (it didn’t really need much given how much more standard equipment was added for 2024), with only special paint, the big monoblock wheels, a package with heated panels for the doors and console, that infernal steering wheel and the AMG Night Package. It added up to a grand total of $156,350, which is pretty much spot on with the Alpina XB7, which is BMW’s equivalent high-po three-row SUV. It’s nearly a hundred thousand dollars less than a Range Rover SV Long Wheelbase, which is fairly mind-boggling. An Escalade-V now starts at the as-tested price of the GLS63, just short of $160,000, and provides a lot more interior room, but it doesn’t feel quite as luxurious as the Mercedes-AMG. The Cadillac is a lot more sorted in terms of its electronics, however; its displays are much easier to use, and its V-8 start-up roar will wake the neighbors (in another state). It’s just not quite as athletic in the twisties given its enormous size and pickup-truck origins. 

No, I’d say the best of the big, luxurious, high-performance SUVs has to be this one, the Mercedes-AMG GLS63. Its combination of unstoppable power, good looks, a lovely interior and not-yet-crazy touchscreen controls keeps it on top, dinged only by that maddening steering wheel. If Mercedes can get that sorted out, the GLS63 would be very hard to beat.

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