Road test: 2014 Mercedes-Benz GL 63 AMG

Taking Merc’s latest souped-up – and somewhat thirsty – SUV for a spin.

The GL 63 AMG combines more power than a Porsche 911 Turbo with the ability to transport significant quantities of luggage. Courtesy Mercedes-Benz
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I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: Mercedes-Benz has a bewildering array of different models on offer and I’d challenge anyone – even a high-level company executive – to name them all. Even its SUV range has me baffled when it comes to anything other than the good old G-Class, which has resolutely stood apart from all the other designs as a bastion of old-fashioned, brick-shaped hedonism. But at least when I see a Merc, no matter what its nomenclature, I can tell which company built it.

The same can be said for driving an AMG. There’s no ambiguity, no question mark, no uncertainty – an AMG, no matter which one, could never be confused with anything else, and the GL 63 AMG is as much of a beast as any other. In standard trim, the Merc GL won’t be causing the likes of Range Rover any sleepless nights – a bit soft, a bit pointless, it’s perhaps best viewed as a luxury car on stilts; uninvolving, not much use off-road and a bit anonymous. Mercedes-Benz calls it “mature”, I just think it’s “dull”. Why anyone would buy one over a new Rangie baffles me – you can’t even call it German, built as it is in the United States.

But the AMG? That’s another matter. Suddenly all that physical bulk can be hustled down a highway with a ferocity that makes you laugh out loud, while retaining the GL’s slightly anodyne looks and its unimpeachable practicality. This is a genuine people mover, in all sorts of ways.

Two turbochargers, eight cylinders, 5.5L, 557hp and 760Nm of twist? As the Americans might say, you do the math, but the result of combining all these numbers is incredibly entertaining. It’s more powerful than Porsche’s 911 Turbo S, which is, frankly, insane. Whenever I tackle a corner in the big AMG, I genuinely do laugh out loud (or LOL, if you’re 12), because it takes them with practically zero body roll. When any car weighs more than two-and-a-half tonnes, you expect it to corner like an ocean liner, especially with a high centre of gravity, as there is with this car. The sheer bloody-mindedness displayed by Merc’s engineers to get this thing to handle the way that it does is the stuff of wonder. It defies physics.

Its maker reckons that just two per cent of GLs sold worldwide will be AMGs, and that makes sense, because, to most people, this is a complete nonsense of a car. Apart from in countries such as ours, where practically every other car with a three-pointed star on its bonnet also sports those three magical letters. Yes, the UAE could probably support AMG’s existence, even if no other country procured a single car. This, then, could be a car specifically made for this region.

While it’s supremely entertaining as a straight-line rocket ship, it does have its faults. The steering, for instance, is overly light, and the only way to weight it up is to put the car into Sport Plus mode. Which is a bit like prodding a bad-tempered bull with a stick and expecting it to nonchalantly meander through narrow city streets. It’s too big and too powerful for that. It displays a prodigious thirst, too, and those with anything approaching an environmental conscience need not apply. The GL 63 AMG is consumption made manifest.

One of the many things that I love about Mercedes-Benz’s cars is the enormous sense of well-being that they engender from within, and the GL 63 is no exception. You feel like you’re strapped into a mobile fortress that happens to have been designed and upholstered by intelligent souls who have your best interests at heart. Everything looks, feels and moves premium – the lacquered wood, the stitched leather, the dials in the dash, the movement of the switchgear. All of it feels like it’s built to last forever, and while a Range Rover’s interior appointments and design might be a bit more adventurous, there’s nothing at all to complain about in the mighty Merc.

That engine, like almost any other hand-built by the geniuses at AMG, is a masterpiece. It sounds like rolling thunder; a distant and deep rumble is omnipresent whenever there’s petrol flowing through its veins, and when you flex your right foot to liberate those horses and give them some exercise, that rumble becomes a full-on baritone roar. It’s addictive, meaning that you end up driving like a hooligan just to get that sensory rush, and that’s another downside.

Because a car like this is designed to shift human beings and all their detritus. To transport furniture, plants, luggage and crisp packets. It’s not supposed to bait Lamborghinis at the lights or bend the space-time continuum. Yet the fact that it does, as ludicrous as that might seem, makes it a winner in my book. But could I live with myself for driving one every day, knowing about its appetite for consumption? No. Even I would have to acknowledge that its existence, while cause for celebration on one hand, does the planet no good on the other. But my goodness, it’s a whole load of fun.

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