IAIN ROBERTSON 

Merc AMG GLS

Merc AMG GLS

It seems as though the high-end SUV market sector has no limits, states Iain Robertson, as Mercedes-Benz enters the fray with its latest, high-power, high-luxury semi-off-roader, providing seats for up to seven people and technology in abundance.

Ignorance used to be bliss. When we voted because our parents did; when we believed that meat was not murder; when fun was not an excuse for ‘me too’; when a parental slap was upbringing; when some jobs were a vocation…oh, yes, and when 4x4s were agricultural. While understanding the 4×4-alike movement, when everyone else is at the same ride height, seeing over hedgerows no longer has relevance.

Merc AMG GLS

Merc AMG GLS

The SUV/4×4 movement has helped some carmakers to survive against the odds. Yet, others have lucked onto it, given the consumer a degree of choice (allied to a heftier price tag and greater running costs) and turned a cute profit, when the alternative position might have been on the cards. However, it does not make the archetypal SUV any more satisfactory. While I have always been able to appreciate 4x4s for their true purpose in life, as working vehicles, more recently becoming more accepting of their roles in the leisure sector, I have never understood ownership of such a device but neither have most of their owners, as they venture nowhere near muddy fields, forestry tracks, or so far off the beaten track that they need its technology to return to the land of the living.

Making a statement is one of the SUV’s priorities and Merc is joining the ‘big gob’ club that seems to have grown the radiator grilles of the latest German newcomers (mainly from BMW) in the new Mercedes-AMG GLS 63 4MATIC+, which signposts the vibrant potency of the firm’s Performance model. Together with its heavily contoured bonnet and the LED matrix headlamp display, the AMG addenda include a front apron with an integrated front splitter, silver chrome highlights and sporty side air inlets, all of which would become dislodged and damaged with the car’s first off-road foray.

Merc AMG GLS

Merc AMG GLS

Flared wheel arches, side skirts and exterior mirror housings are painted in the high-gloss vehicle colour, while the window surrounds are in high-gloss chrome; perfect for parking outside the Dorchester, in central London. The newly designed, width-emphasising AMG rear apron, complete with a sporty diffuser, dominates the rear view in conjunction with the AMG exhaust system complete with twin rectangular, corrugated tailpipes. It is all a bit ‘teenagerish’ and slightly spotty really, not befitting of a high-price executive cruiser.

The GLS 63 is shod as standard with huge 21.0-inch diameter, 10-spoke light-alloy wheels finished in dark grey, with a high-sheen finish. For further personalisation, six optional wheel variants, with diameters of up to 23.0-inches are also available, as long as you possess deep pockets and bear in mind the replacement tyre cost implications, from which even a corporate expense account would shrink. Powered by a 4.0-litre V8 biturbo petrol engine that develops a mildly scary 612bhp but also integrates an EQ Boost starter-alternator, the two-tonner can accelerate raucously from 0-60mph in a faintly ridiculous 3.9s, topping out at 155mph (or around 170mph with the optional AMG Driver’s package). CO2 emissions are posted at a whopping 273g/km, which is a guarantee of a high taxation cost for the first five years.

Merc AMG GLS

Merc AMG GLS

Look, I know that Merc spends a fortune ensuring that each of its models, small, medium, large and extra-large, handles with aplomb, after all, it never wants to revisit the unfortunate elk position in which its A-Class found itself around 30 years ago. However, the prospect of driving a two-tonne-plus leviathan, even on a German motorway, at speeds in excess of 150mph fills me with dread; worse still, if an example is bearing down on me at similar speeds.

Anyway, continuing with the GLS, a 16kW (22bhp) ancillary electric unit supplies the 48-volt electrical system, with a boost function that provides extra engine assistance at low engine speeds (ideal for those momentary lapses of reason, when Sainsbury’s rose beds beckon owners for an off-road challenge). The big GLS 63 also meets higher dynamic expectations, thanks to its fully variable AMG Performance 4MATIC+ all-wheel drive system, the AMG Speedshift (twin-clutch, automated) 9-speed gearbox and the AMG air suspension with active ride and roll stabilisation. There are no less than six driving modes that cater for all terrains and most environmental conditions, although only the most curious will ever access them.

Merc AMG GLS

Merc AMG GLS

The cabin of the latest GLS is truly spacious, displays phenomenal build quality and has plenty of space for up to seven occupants. The AMG aspect is supported with foot-pedals in brushed stainless steel with non-slip rubber studs, illuminated door sill panels with ‘AMG’ lettering, black floor mats carrying the logo and adjustable ambient lighting. High-quality materials for the dashboard and door beltlines in faux leather, plus high-gloss, anthracite coloured, limewood trim elements, accentuate the high-end ambience. Taken as a moderately stable big estate car, the owner would expect nothing less, brandishing its hefty key-fob as a membership folly of a fully authorised high-end club.

A ‘panoramic’ digital instrument and multi-media display dominate the dashboard. Featuring ‘thin screen’ technology, complete with mobile-phone swipe and slide tactility, the entire structure is driver reconfigurable. The AMG instrument cluster also carries a ‘race timer’ and the start-up menu has a choice of four display styles: Modern Classic, Sport, Discreet and AMG-specific Supersport. Supremely comfortable AMG seats for the driver and front passenger provide optimised support and are finished in black AMG Nappa hide as standard, although seven further colour and material choices are available. The front seats also feature a climate control and memory package. The second-row seats are heated as standard, which is available optionally for the third row.

Conclusion:     Due in early-2020, when its high prices will be announced, Merc is unabashed in describing its latest GLS as an ‘S-Class for the rough road set’ but it is also a high performer in the typical AMG style. Never a big volume machine, it is sure to attract big buck buyers/users and, with a Maybach specified version also available, it is clear what Merc expects of its top drawer performer.