Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class VS Mercedes-Benz G-Class
- Modest steering feel
- So-so warranty
- Pricey servicing
- Good ride and handling finally
- Not as roomy as you'd think
- Smallish cargo capacity
If you’re in the market for a full-size, seven-seat, luxury SUV you’re obviously living life large. Big family, lots of friends, dogs and cats, and heaps of activity - horses, boats, camping?
You’re aiming at a six-figure bullseye between $130,000 and around $150,000. On a three-year novated lease, somewhere around three grand a month.
Mercedes-Benz Australia invited us to experience the car on a launch drive across city, suburban and rural roads.
|Engine Type||3.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Hybrid with Premium Unleaded|
Just like smoking, base jumping and shooting rounds off in a firing range the Mercedes-AMG G63 really shouldn’t be allowed… but dammit it’s fun. Super capable over tough terrain and a bullet on the road this top-ranking G-Wagon is the rock star of the AMG line-up.
Now, you may think this new-generation G63 looks just like the old one, but it’s completely new and fun and expensive and ridiculous.
We piloted the G63 for the first time on Australian roads at its launch. So, what’s this tall, imposing SUV like to drive? Is the cabin as spacious as it may appear from the outside? And yes, it’s fast in a straight line, but what happens when you get to a corner?
|Engine Type||4.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
The Mercedes-AMG G63 shouldn't exist, but I'm glad it does. The previous generation was loud and fast, but had its flaws with poor ride and handling. This new gen G63 now rides comfortably and handles like a hero, while staying fast, loud and fun.
Is the G63 the ultimate SUV? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
As mentioned, the GLS is big; a step up from the already substantial model it replaces. Built with the US market in mind, in fact it’s produced in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, it’s more than five metres long, close to two metres wide, and over 1.8m tall. And there’s more than three metres between the axles, a 60mm wheelbase increase over the previous model.
And despite the size of the canvas, the Benz design team has managed to make the GLS look like a modern Merc. Signature elements include obvious ones like the slatted grille with a couple of three-pointed stars on the nose.
But there’s also, the carefully chiselled twin ‘power dome’ bonnet, scowling LED headlights and vents to aid front brake cooling and smooth aero performance around the front of the car.
The big beast’s off-road intent is highlighted by extensions around the wheelarches, with big optional 22-inch rims sitting underneath. The fact they look right-sized for the car speaks volumes about its scale.
The racy AMG Line package is standard, and a recess and pronounced character line, tightening the lower waistline is a familiar Merc treatment, plus alloy roof rails toughen the look while dialling up practicality.
The rear is relatively simple, borderline generic, with tapered tail-lights offering the only strong whiff of design personality. But believe it or not, thanks to careful detail sculpting of the body, and smoothing underneath the car it boasts a drag figure of Cd 0.32. Outstanding aero performance for a large SUV.
The driver and front passenger are presented with a sweeping dashboard dominated by twin 12.3-inch digital screens, one primarily covering the instruments, and the central screen managing the MBUX media system, including audio, nav, phone integration, car set-up, and more, plus ‘Hey Mercedes’ voice control.
The overall feel is simple, and restrained, yet massively confident, with a subtle colour palette, large squared-off elements defined by brushed metal finishes, and an obvious, intense attention to detail, from the haptic controls to the beautifully finished, multi-function steering wheel.
And the standard Burmester audio system includes a two-way in-car communication function that subtly amplifies the driver and front passenger’s voices for those in the third row, and vice versa. Sheer genius.
You know something looks interesting when people can't agree on whether it’s attractive or not. The CarsGuide office is divided on the new G63’s appearance with most saying it’s hot, but with a couple violently opposed to its looks.
Not that the new G63 looks different from the previous model, but that’s intentional. Mercedes-AMG knew the boxy personnel carrier-like shape was a massive part of this SUV’s appeal. The look has barely changed in 40 years. You could go back to the year 1979, push somebody into a time machine and when they fell out in the present day the first thing they’d say is: “Oh look, a G-Class”.
Despite the appearance that nothing has changed, almost everything has. The new G63 is longer, wider and taller than before at 4873mm end-to-end, 1984mm across, and 1966mm in height.
I’m 191cm tall and there aren’t many cars that I can’t stand beside and see over. Fortunately, if I even needed to wash the roof, I could hand off the side steps, which come standard and are as functional as they are good looking.
Also coming standard are the LED running lights which ring the outside of the headlight like a futuristic lining on an old-school design, so too are the LED tail-lights. The 'Panamericana' grille with its hat-tip to racing Benzes from the 1950s is also new part of standard kit. So is the tough looking side exhaust with two pipes poking out under the pronounced running boards on either side.
Our test car was fitted with the 'Night Package' which darkens the brake lights and adds the black treatment to the spare wheel cover, the bumper and mirrors. The pack also swaps the standard 21-inch wheels for 22 AMG cross-spoke matt black rims.
The G63’s interior has also been completely overhauled and updated with a dash featuring two 12.3-inch screens, which almost look like one giant widescreen display for nav and instrument cluster. The 'Exclusive Interior Plus' package box had been ticked on our test car and that brings diamond quilted nappa leather upholstery (ours was red) everywhere.
While it’s a sumptuous, luxurious, decadent cabin it’s impossible to ignore how vertical and upright the structure of the interior is – the windscreen, the dashboard, the doors - and then you spot the giant grab hold handle mounted on the glove box and you’re reminded that you’re actually in a hardcore off-roader.
The G63 is built on a ladder-frame chassis. Again, intentional. Yes, it’s the same as the Flintstones used in their car, but it adds immense rigidity, making it a mountain-eating monster on tough terrain.
Space is obviously a critical factor here, and no surprise there’s copious amounts of it inside the GLS.
Front seat passengers enjoy plenty of breathing room, without feeling remote from one another, and there’s lots of storage in the shape of a large lidded box/armrest between the seats, a decent glove box, two big cupholders and jumbo door pockets with room for large bottles.
There’s one data-enabled USB port in the front, two charge-ports in the second row, and four in the third row. Shouldn’t be any complaints about powering mobiles, tablets or games.
The second row feels every millimetre the SUV limo. Simply getting in and out is made easier because an auto lowering function drops the car 25mm when one of the doors is opened.
I was able to sit behind the driver’s seat set for my 183cm position with heaps of head and legroom on offer. And there’s an extra 10cm of electrically adjustable travel to play with if those in the third row agree.
The fold-down centre armrest features a lidded storage tray and twin pop-out cupholders. There are netted pockets on the front seatbacks, and again, the door bins are big enough for large drink bottles.
Three adults across the rear is a breeze, there’s climate control ventilation, and a huge glass sunroof is standard. Rather than asking ‘Are we there yet?’ the kids will be disappointed when you arrive!
Then there’s what the Cleary family refers to as ‘the way back seat.’ A pair of third row seats for the lucky kids that get to inhabit their own little world. Getting in and out is relatively civilised thanks to electric slide and tilt for the second row seats, and space is generous. I could sit comfortably, so the kids will be all smiles.
With all seats upright cargo capacity is enough for a seven-person day trip (355L VDA). Press the button to fold the 50/50 split-fold third row down and your options expand substantially (890L). And with 40/20/40 split-folding second row lowered, transportation of a full, three-ring circus is on the cards (2400L). Overall, more space than the arch enemy BMW X7.
Plus, the ability to lower the car 50mm thanks to the standard air suspension makes life even easier. And one button lowers the second and third rows at the same time.
The spare is a collapsible space-saver, and towing capacity for a braked trailer is 3500kg, with a tow ball weight of up to 140kg. The ESP system also features a trailer stabilisation function that counters oscillation with “braking intervention.”
The G63 may not be as spacious as you think it is. While the ceiling is high, legroom can feel a bit restricted in the front and the back.
Riding shotgun I needed to have my front seat brought back almost to its limit so my legs didn’t feel cramped in the footwell. And while, at 191cm tall, I can sit behind my driving position with room to spare – it’s really thanks to the carved-out driver’s seat back.
There’s a 12-volt power outlet in the front, second row and cargo area, while there are two USB ports in the centre console bin and a charging USB port in the second row.
That centre console bin is enormous and the rest of the storage places are great through the cabin with large door pockets and cupholders in the front and second rows.
Price and features
Aside from the comprehensive suite of safety tech, covered in the Safety section below, the GLS equipment list includes, 21-inch alloy rims, adaptive high beam assist, air suspension, alloy roof rails, AMG body kit, a huge panoramic sliding glass sunroof, privacy glass from the B-pillar back, auto tailgate, keyless entry and start, rain-sensing wipers, cruise control, LED headlights, and power closing doors.
The power closing doors are a big plus for parents not wanting to disturb kids nodding off in the car, with the soft-touch function drawing the door in for the last few millimetres to an almost silent close.
Inside there’s ambient lighting (64 colours), strategically placed open pore oak wood trim, 13-speaker/590-watt Burmester surround sound audio, electric folding second and third row seats, a head-up display, ‘Mercedes-Benz’ branded illuminated sills, leather seat upholstery (‘Artico’ faux leather on the dash and doors), multi-adjustable electric seats in the front and second row (memory in the front), electrically adjustable steering column, leather-trimmed multi-function steering wheel, and five-zone climate control.
The multi-media system is spectacular, incorporating the twin 12.3-inch digital screens, the central media unit managing nav, digital radio, mobile device connectivity, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, plus vehicle tracking. There are also remote vehicle status functions (door locking, valet parking, etc), global search (Amazon Alexa, Google Home, Yelp, and Trip Advisor), and a wireless device charging pad.
The basket of goodies can hold its head high in this part of the market, so the value equation stacks up well.
The new G63 lists for $247,700, before on road costs, which is about $12K more than the previous model, but you’re gaining a completely new SUV with improvements in the form of two 12.3-inch screens for your instrument cluster and media, there’s the Burmester 590w 15-speaker stereo, automatic parking, AMG sports exhaust, proximity key, nappa leather interior, sat nav, TV tuner, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, three-zone climate control, heated front seats and 21-inch alloy wheels.
The Edition 1 G63 will costs you another $19,500 on top of the list price but includes the 'Night Package' which brings the black elements along with the 'Exclusive Interior Plus' package and an interior which adds carbon-fibre trim.
Engine & trans
There are two engines on offer. The 3.0-litre (M256) in-line six-cylinder turbo-petrol GLS 450 4Matic, and the 2.9-litre (OM656) in-line six-cylinder turbo-diesel GLS 400 d 4Matic.
The all-alloy, twin-scroll single-turbo petrol engine delivers peak power of 270kW from 5500-6100rpm, and maximum torque of 500Nm across a broad plateau from 1600-4500rpm. It also features a 48-volt electrical system driving the ‘EQ Boost’ set-up, able to deliver an extra 16kW/250Nm for short periods. The integrated starter-generator also enables energy recuperation.
Although the all-alloy, twin-turbo diesel features variable valve lift it gives some ground on power, offering up 243kW between 3600-4000rpm, but torque is a solid whack, with 700Nm on tap from 1200-3000rpm. Worth noting, that to minimise emissions this engine features a “selective catalytic reduction converter” in the exhaust, which brings with it the use of an ‘AdBlue’ reducing agent. The separate AdBlue tank has a capacity of 31.6 litres.
The nine-speed auto transmission is the same in both versions, although the diesel has a slightly lower final drive ratio.
New engine, more grunt. Gone is the old 5.5-litre V8 turbo and in is the new twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 (the same engine used in the Mercedes-AMG GT) with stacks more torque and the same power, at a whopping 430kW and colossal 850Nm.
How fast is the new G63? First, can I point out it weighs 2.5 tonnes, so take that into consideration. Second, it can nail 0-100km/h in 4.5 seconds. That is incredible.
Shifting gears seamlessly is a nine-speed automatic transmission.
The G63 is four-wheel drive and has three 100 per cent differential locks and low-range gearing.
Claimed fuel economy for the combined (ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban) cycle for the GLS 450 is 9.2L/100km, the more frugal GLS 400 d trimming that to 7.7L/100km. The petrol 450 emits 210g/km of CO2 in the process, the diesel 400d dropping that slightly to 202g/km.
Stop-start is standard, you’re looking at premium unleaded for the 450 GLS, and you’ll need 90 litres of dinosaur juice to full the tank on both models.
Oh, come on, you don’t want to know this… skip to the next section.
You’re still here. Okay then, it’s 13.1L/100km over a combination of urban and open roads. That’s under ideal conditions, too. Our car was going through premium unleaded at about 16.0L/100km. Good thing is you have a 100-litre fuel tank.
Merc claims the GLS 450 will sprint from 0-100km/h in 6.2sec, and the 400 d in 6.3sec. Not hanging around for a 2.5 tonne mothership. But the standout is the 400 d’s torque. All 700Nm of it available from just 1200rpm to 3000rpm; right in the mid-range sweet spot.
The nine-speed auto transmission is smooth yet responsive, with paddles on the wheel for manual shifts when you want to pick the ratio. The combination of effortless grunt and the nine-speeder keeping things on the boil is an impressive one.
Suspension is by double wishbones at the front and multi-links at the rear, and while you can feel the weight in cornering, the standard Airmatic air suspension (which does away with steel springs) is superb in terms of ride comfort and body control.
We took a deep breath and pushed enthusiastically through a series of sweeping corners and the fat (285/45 fr - 325/40 rr) Continental ‘PremiumContact 6’ rubber wrapped around our car’s (optional) 22-inch rims gripped hard.
The ‘4Matic’ all-wheel drive system also seamlessly shuffles torque between the front and rear axles (theoretically up to 100 per cent in each direction).
Merc has put extra focus on body rigidity, the tuning of engine and suspension mounts, and sound absorption, and it shows. The GLS 400 d is beautifully refined on the highway. A neat touch is the car automatically lowering 15mm at motorway speeds or when ‘Sport’ mode is selected.
Steering is electromechanically assisted, and Merc says the front suspension geometry has been revised to minimise vibration through the wheel. And yes, feedback is minimal, but unfortunately so is road feel with only a general connection between your hands on the wheel and the front tyres on the bitumen.
When you’re steering a large beast like this, often with something substantial hitched to the back, you want to know braking performance is up to the task, and the GLS’s big ventilated discs all around deliver reassuringly strong stopping power, with nice, progressive pedal feel to boot.
The seats are adjustable six ways to Sunday, but beyond that they’re comfortable and supportive, even over long stints behind the wheel.
We stayed on the bitumen, because, let’s face it, that’s where this car will spend 99.9 per cent of its time, with the exceptions of the boat ramp, a ski weekend or pony club.
For those special occasions the optional ‘Off-road engineering package’ adds a low-range transfer case, inter-axle locking, hill descent control, and under body armour for more serious work.
Have you ever driven a G-Class before? Nope, well then have you ever ridden an elephant, then? Passed time hanging out on the roof of your house just drinking beer? Sat on somebody shoulder’s in a game of swimming pool volleyball?
Okay, well you feel very high up and the bonnet stretches out before you like the hood of Mack truck, and that’s when you realise those weird-looking indicators on the guards double as signposts letting you know where the edges are.
But even then, it doesn’t feel big to drive, even the cabin feels a bit tight up front.
What it does feel is fast. Very fast. Dab the accelerator and the nose rises up and you better be pointing in the direction you want to go, because hold the pedal down and the G63 will yank you down the road at warp speed.
Acceleration isn’t supercar brutal by any means, but how it gets there is roaring through that side exhaust like a Viking running into battle, after waking up on the wrong side of the bed. With the windows down its deafening, but in good way.
Complaints about the old G63 centred around steering, ride and handling or more specifically the absence of those three things. In this new generation G63 those pain points have been addressed by replacing articulating ball steering with electric power steer, swapping the live front axle for independent front suspension and revising the chassis rails.
Now, the G63 can go around corners – incredibly well. Our test track was Victoria's Great Ocean Road, and if we were in any other large SUV, they would have been fishing us out of Bass Strait.
Steering is now accurate and progressive; the front end feels pointable and light.
Comfort drive mode is too comfortable for me, giving the ride a wafty bounce. Sport mode firms the dampers for good handling but keeps the ride comfortable, which adding weight to the steering. Sport Plus firms the adaptive dampers further and combines great cornering without an unbearable ride.
The G63 isn’t a vicious animal unlike some big grunt sports cars, but you have to keep reminding yourself you can’t drive it like one. Not because it will bite you, but because it’s 2.0-metre tall, 2.5-tonne metal box. A hilariously fun one.
At the time of this launch drive the GLS hadn’t been safety assessed by ANCAP, but you could make a small wager, like every penny you have to your name, that it will score a maximum five stars.
The expected active features are there, including ABS, ASR, and ESP, with additional tech including ‘Active Blind-Spot Assist’, ‘Active Brake Assist' (Merc-speak for AEB), active lane keeping and lane change assist, ‘Adaptive Brake’, ‘Attention Assist’, ‘Evasive Steering Assist’, ‘Parktronic’ (active parking assist with 360-degre camera), rear cross-traffic alert, traffic sign assist, and a tyre pressure warning system.
Then, if all that isn’t enough to avoid an impact the GLS is equipped with nine airbags (front and pelvis side for driver and front passenger, side for outer rear seat occupants, full-length curtain, and a driver’s knee bag), an active bonnet to minimise pedestrian injuries, and the ‘Pre-Safe Plus’ (flashes rear hazards to warn drivers closing too quickly from behind, tightening the belts at the same time, and locking the brakes if the GLS is stationary with a rear impact imminent).
For child seats you’ll find three top tether points and two ISOFIX mounts across the second row.
Obviously, there’s a full-sized spare wheel. Don’t make me point it out.
The Mercedes-Benz range is covered by a three year/unlimited km warranty, which, like Audi and BMW continues to lag behind the mainstream market where the majority of players are now at five years/unlimited km, with some at seven years.
On the upside, Mercedes-Benz ‘Road Care’ roadside assistance is included in the deal for three years.
Service is scheduled for 12 months/25,000km (whichever comes first) with pricing available on an 'Up-front' or 'Pay-as-you-go' basis.
As a guide, service pricing for the outgoing GLS is set at $2600 per service (up-front) and $3250 (PAYG), a saving of $650 a pop. Fourth and fifth services are also available for pre-purchase ($3550 and $4900).