Review: The 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLS AMG 63 Is the Platonic Ideal of the Dad Bus
It's a genuine sport car hiding in a grocery getter's clothing
I’ve long thought the Mercedes-Benz GLS AMG 63 to be the ultimate dad bus. It has seven seats, ample cargo space for whatever you need to bring along and 600+ horsepower. The ride is supple but sporty and it can be fitted with nearly every luxury option you can think of, from in-seat massagers to fragrance control. I put a bunch of miles on the previous version a few years back bombing around the A and B roads of Scotland, from Edinburgh to Fife and Glasgow through Loch Loman to Glen Coe and back again, but I’ve never experienced the GLS from beyond the steering wheel. Plus, I was driving that one alone. And a family hauler is meant for exactly that: schlepping your spouse and offspring to and from life’s obligations.
Since at least some of my co-habitants spend as much of their time in the car as I do, I thought it might be nice to query their input on whether or not a $130k bus for a brood was worth it. Of course most car reviews feature driver-focused perspective and information, because in the end they are the one behind the wheel. But anyone who has a family should look beyond the left-hand front seat, because you’re buying a vehicle with multiple doors for a reason: you won’t be traveling alone.
The 2021 update to the GLS AMG 63 is practically perfect from a nut, bolts and turbo perspective, and I’ll get back to those in a bit, because truth be told, while my family certainly enjoyed all the bells and whistles, the thing they liked the best was what I dug the most as well — the power.
Subverting my expectations, the wife and the kiddos would giggle with glee every time we accelerated down an on-ramp or punched it past slower moving traffic. “Whoa, that’s fast!” they giggled, egging me on to deliver this rocket-powered school bus every last bit of the throttle. Of course, I’ve got kids in the car, so pedal-to-the-metal is safe for only a few seconds or so.
I expected a few shrieks of terror and an admonishment or two (dozen), but it turns out my kids and even my wife are much cooler than I am.
On the outside
Back to the nuts and bolts. The redesigned GLS AMG 63 looks like the chase car from a Bond film that should be filled to the brim with Uzi-toting villains. The updated grille projects more aggression with a shift from a horizontal to a vertical orientation; it now looks like the “teeth of a monster,” according to my four-year old. Overall, the lines and stance of the 2021 version feel more assertive, maybe even intimidating depending on your color choice. This family whip comes standard with 21-inch wheels with optional 22- and 23-inch versions — the black matte 23” option is particularly fetching for those of us interested in menacing British spies and world domination.
As with all seven-passenger SUVs, the GLS is a large vehicle — 206.4 inches long, 84.9 inches wide with a wheelbase of 123.4 inches and a curb weight of 5,798 lbs. Like I said … it’s a bus.
On the inside
The short of it is that the GLS AMG 63 has all the posh luxury of a Mercedes S Class, their flagship. Quite honestly, in terms of opulence, the only thing it doesn’t have is a machine that feeds you peeled grapes. (Free idea, Mercedes-Benz!)
The massaging seat — dear god, the massaging seats — aren’t new, but they are almost a better sell than 603 horsepower. The wife loved them, and it is now a must have in our next car. Appointed in Napa leather, those seats are also heated and ventilated, with an available executive package that extends those features to the second row. Of course, if you’re transporting kids in car seats or boosters, that’s an option that doesn’t hold much value.
An option that does, however, are the heating/cooling cup holders in both the first and second rows, keeping your iced latte or a kiddie lemonade from wilting in the summer heat, and your coffee fresh come winter. I’d also tick the box for the Burmester High-End 3D surround-sound system, less for the heavy daily rotation of Music for Aardvarks than for after drop-off, when I could turn “Liquid Swords” all the way up to 11 without it falling upon little ears.
Another extra to keep in mind if you’re in the market for a high-end family SUV is the Air Balance package. Not only does this feature use a charcoal filtration coupled with an ionizer and an electrical charge to freshen the air, it also deploys a fragrance atomizer (read: perfume dispenser) to give the AMG your scent of choice, masking whatever cheese sticks or other old food might be rotting beneath the kids’ seats.
With seating for seven (though my family preferred a six-seat configuration, because no one really wants to sit between two car seats), you have the capacity to shuttle a couple extra folks along for the ride. While the leg room in the second row is spacious, the third row is a bit cramped for anyone with an adult frame, though perfectly serviceable for short trips. Another option I’d add are the power rear sunscreens. The kids quite enjoyed this feature, and you can control them — along with most of the other features the GLS offers — with “Hey Mercedes” voice commands.
In this dad wagon, the cargo capacity is obviously substantial. Even with the third row up, there is enough space for everything a family of four needs for a weekend away. And with those seats down, you could pack enough for a monthlong road trip.
No shock here, but the GLS AMG 63’s biturbo V-8 is a thirsty beast. But to ease the pace at which you have to stop and fill up, Mercedes uses cylinder deactivation and near-seamless start-stop tech. The company estimates fuel efficiency at 14mpg city and 18mpg on the highway, though we’d suspect they are being a touch conservative. I felt it was only consuming a bit more gas than my current daily driver, which is rated at 21-24 mpg.
The GLS class equips a bevy of systems to keep you and yours safe on the road. Much of it comes standard: active lane change and keeping assist, crosswind assist, evasive steering assist, emergency tensioning devices coupled to the seatbelts. If it senses an impending accident, the car braces for impact with Mercedes’s proprietary PRE-SAFE features, including one that plays a sound just before a crash to prevent hearing loss.
Optionally, we’d add second-row side impact airbags (for obvious reasons) plus adaptive cruise control and semi-autonomous driving, which really takes the drudgery out of more mundane driving situations.
Speed, Speed, Speed
When you’re ready for a more spirited bit of motoring, the GLS AMG 63 will light your hair on fire. Mercedes says it will get from 0-60 in 4.1 seconds, though Car and Driver reported a track time of 3.6, which is staggering for a nearly 6,000-lb. behemoth.
While it does possess sports car-like power and is nimble enough for a bit of fun, it’s still a seven-seater and won’t quite corner on rails, so be sure to account for the size and weight when and where you choose to deploy all that epic power.
Honestly, I’d forgotten how much kids like a bit of speed and noise. Thinking back to before I settled down, I would sometimes chauffeur a much younger cousin around in my uncle’s Subaru WRX, and without fail she would beg me to gun it down a gravel road that led to a 90-degree turn. It’s a fun little bit of road with next to no traffic, so I would oblige her every time, kicking up rocks and a beautiful rooster tail of dust and debris in our wake.
It must be a bit genetic. Every lane change on our trip in the GLS AMG 63 to grandma’s house was met with a chorus of “Go, dad! Gos!” Not that they really needed to ask me. The roughly 220-mile round trip usually comes with a couple stops along the Merritt Parkway, which offer a few more chances for the whole crew to enjoy the savage power and monstrous noise as we pull back on to the highway.
But two hours in the car are two hours in the car, even in the back of one this thrilling, and inevitably the restless peanut-and-pretzel gallery asks “Are we there yet?” To which I quietly reply, “I hope not,” before making the engine scream.
“We’ll get there when we get there,” I say. “Enjoy the ride.”
Suggested for you