Mercedes-Benz GL 63 AMG: stealth rocket despite the weight
MERCEDES-BENZ GL 63 AMG
What exactly is it? The first AMG version of Mercedes-Benz’s GL Class seven-seater. All AMG models are built under a “one-man, one-engine” policy. For the record: our test car’s V8 engine was assembled by Michael Kubler.
Powertrain: 5.5-litre twin-turbo petrol V8 producing 410kW/760Nm. Seven-speed automatic, full-time four-wheel drive. Combined fuel consumption 12.3 litres per 100km, 0-100km/h 4.9 seconds.
Anything interesting in the equipment list? It’s engineering that turns an ordinary Mercedes-Benz into an AMG. But there has to be some garnish, too: the GL 63 AMG features unique exterior detailing, including flared wheel arches, 21-inch wheels, AMG-specific interior trim with a bespoke instrument cluster, sports seats, “Designo” leather upholstery and heated/ventilated seats.
German carmakers must agonise about how far they can go with their high-performance brands before they have crossed the line.
Not in terms of social acceptability. Try as they might, that’s never going to be top of the agenda. But in terms of credibility, yes. Mercedes-Benz AMG, BMW M, Audi RS: all are the product of motorsport heritage. All are highly desirable to buyers and very lucrative to their makers.
The balancing act is to capitalise on those brands as much as possible but without eroding the very thing that makes them so desirable: that credibility.
A high-performance sedan or coupe, sure. But how about a small hatchback? Or a sports utility vehicle? It would be so easy to stretch things to breaking point. But all three makers do keep pushing the boundaries.
I think these issues must weigh a little less on the minds of Mercedes-Benz AMG management than its rivals. AMG has always been about blending luxury with outrageous muscle and glorious noise.
Don’t forget that its first successful product in the late 1960s was a racing car based on the S Class luxury sedan, nicknamed the Red Sow. Its first properly developed road car was a 1986 version of the E Class popularly known as The Hammer.
It’s never been assumed that AMG machines have to be light and nimble. They can be very large and luxurious, as long as they are fast and loud.
Circa 2013, SUVs are the new luxury cars, which brings us to the new GL 63 AMG. The surprising thing is not that Mercedes-Benz has produced an AMG version of its largest, heaviest production model. Rather, it’s surprising that it hasn’t been done before.
The GL was launched back in 2006. But it has taken until this facelift version for the model to make it along to the AMG gym.
To the Three Pointed Star’s ultimate seven-seat family wagon, AMG adds a twin-turbo V8 with astonishing power and torque outputs, an exhaust system that makes an astonishing noise, special air suspension that virtually eliminates body roll and staggeringly effective brakes – as it must, for the GL 63 AMG weighs nearly 2.6 tonnes.
That vast kerb weight is no impediment to near-supercar acceleration. The GL 63 can hit 100km/h in 4.9 seconds, which is only a couple of tenths slower than the C 63 AMG estate. So it’s close enough not to matter. If you can count two-tenths of a second you may well have some kind of superpower yourself.
Like it or loathe it, the GL 63 AMG is an amazing vehicle, simply judged on the statistics.
Super utility vehicle
Mercedes-AMG could have played the GL 63 two ways: a stealth rocket or a comedy festival of large spoilers and squealing tyres.
AMG chose option one. It’s true that much of the GL 63’s driver appeal comes from the combination of an apartment-sized SUV that bellows from four fat tailpipes and demolishes HSVs away from the traffic lights. But for something so fundamentally over the top, it’s remarkably restrained – both visually and in terms of the driving experience.
In normal driving, which is probably the kind the GL will do most of the time, this is a mild-mannered wagon. The exhaust barks loudly when you start up and that rumble is ever present but it’s never intrusive. The GL 63 is much quieter than its M Class equivalent. More grown-up, if you like. Certainly easy to live with.
The most anti-social aspect of the GL 63 will usually be the person behind the wheel: the one who can’t resist full-throttle acceleration to hear an extra few decibels and the mad cackle of the AMG Speedshift transmission as it slams between ratios. Or blips the throttle as it comes back down through the gears.
Theoretically, this much power in a high-riding SUV should have the potential to overwhelm the chassis. That is not the case with the GL 63.
Whether it would be driveable at all without the assistance of military-grade electronics is a moot point but the combination of adaptive air suspension and something called Active Curve Control, which locks the anti-roll bars shut in fast cornering, means that this massive SUV simply drives around high-speed corners flat-out … and stays flat.
The GL 63’s air suspension has three settings: Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus. The remarkable thing is that all three provide a very comfortable ride, especially when you consider that it wears 21-inch wheels as standard. If they look quite small on this vehicle – well, that’s an indication of the sheer size of the GL.
Inside, too, the GL 63 blends just a little bling with the kind of subdued luxury you expect of a big Mercedes-Benz. Look past the 320km/h speedometer and this AMG version is trimmed in high-quality leather, boasts front seats that massage you upon request and rear chairs that fold away at the touch of a button (both rows). There can never be too much luxury in an AMG product.
So worry not about the credibility of the ridiculous, magnificent GL 63 AMG. It was pre-approved in 1967 when Aufrecht Melcher Grobaspach opened for business. It’s probably of more concern whether AMG can pull off its first hot hatch, the forthcoming A 45 AMG. But that’s a story for another day.
For now, here’s the thing: place an obstacle in the GL 63 AMG’s path, philosophical or physical, and it goes right over the top. In every possible way.
Yet to break through to small-medium segment
There is no shortage of large Mercedes-Benz sports utility vehicle (SUV) product on offer in New Zealand, from the M Class to the GL to the utilitarian G Glass. But the Three Pointed Star’s range is sorely lacking where all of the sales action is: the small-medium segment.
There is no quick fix for that, especially when the factory made a big mistake back in 2008 by engineering the mid-size GLK (its rival for the Audi Q5 and BMW X3) in left-hand drive only. The next-generation model will be manufactured in both left and right-hand drive, for global markets. But the new GLK won’t be launched here until 2015.
Before then, we’ll see an even smaller Mercedes-Benz SUV: the svelte GLA, which was revealed in concept form at last month’s Shanghai Motor Show. The GLA is based on the same platform as the latest A and B Class hatchbacks, so it’s more of a crossover than off-roader. Entry-level versions may even be front-drive.
The GLA concept is powered by the 2.0-litre turbo engine from the A 250 and B 250 models, with the same seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. It’s also rumoured that there’s an AMG version in development – which makes perfect sense, as an A 45 AMG with all-wheel drive already exists.
At 4380mm, the GLA is almost exactly the same length as the current B Class.