The laws of physics are absolute. There’s no getting around or bypassing them. If you want performance – real performance – then kerb weight and aerodynamic drag need to be compensated; in full. It doesn’t get simpler than that. And the way to do it is with bags and bags of power and torque.
AMG, Mercedes-Benz’ one-time independent, but now in-house, performance sub-brand knows this only too well. It has been squeezing oversized engines under the hoods of Merc’s finest for years. And the target has always been sportscar-busting performance. But how in God’s name is it going to get this bungalow-on-wheels to sprint?
Gazing at the spec sheet is not for the faint-hearted. And it’s certainly not for the green-tea swilling, card-carrying ‘environmentalist’, who loves to hate cars like these. Let’s start with its commercial vehicle-like kerb weight of 2580kg: that’s 2.6 tonnes of sheer mass. And that’s after Merc has thrown away the heavier four-wheel-drive system and replaced it with a lighter one on this model. Now getting 2.6 tonnes to move is no problem; it’s getting it to move quick that needs ‘specialised bits’. Enter AMG’s M197 twin-turbo V8, basically the same as used by the E63 AMG. Seriously potent, incredibly high-tech and very adaptable, this motor powers all AMG cars. Here it’s tuned to deliver a serious 550bhp and even more torque. What’s a bit more important, however, is that the 77.5kgm of torque comes in as early as 2000rpm. Just perfect for something this heavy. In addition, some tightly spaced gear ratios, an adaptable suspension system and active anti-roll bars, all help keep the considerable mass upright under load.
So the spec sheet seems impressive. Still, I’m not fully convinced. It looks just H-U-G-E in the flesh, dwarfing all manners of traffic, including XUV500s and Safaris, like a supertanker cruising past. More a piece of architecture than anything automotive, this gargantuan GL is XXXL-sized even by yankee standards.
Size apart, the differences from the regular GL are difficult to spot. AMG says the A-shaped inlet under the traditional grille, for extra cooling, is a dead giveaway; not so, it is difficult to spot. And its 21-inch wheels look only slightly larger than those on the regular car. The easiest way, by far, is to take a look at the rear, where the quadret of exhaust pipes in chrome stick out.
But now I’m itching to get behind the wheel and experience the pyrotechnic display first-hand, so we head out in the direction of the Mumbai-Pune expressway, where the GL 63 AMG will have a bit more room to expand its performance envelope.
First impressions, on the way out, aren’t too different from those of the regular GL. Yes, it feels as vast as an aircraft hangar on the inside, big comfy seats for seven passengers, and yes, the rear windscreen is truly a long, long way back. But the GL feels surprisingly manageable from behind the wheel. It isn’t nerve-wracking to place in traffic and in 10 minutes, you do actually get pretty comfortable. There’s a lovely rumble under a light load and the big wad of torque at 2000rpm makes surging ahead in traffic totally effortless. Passing other cars is dead easy. You drive, it overtakes, just like that. It’s only a bit of a pain when you need to rein it in.
Performance increases disproportionately when you give the accelerator a generous bootful. The motor, now well and truly in ‘explosive’ mode, delivers such a strong hit of power above 3500rpm, the GL rocks back gently on its rear wheels and leaps forward with an intensity that defies belief. Phenomenal elasticity and a solid shove in the back are what you get. It’s enough to get you chuckling inadvertently.
Longer stretches of ‘foot-down’ time need much more space, and luckily we find a few. Time to unleash AMG’s rumbling, snorting, fire-spitting physics experiment on wheels. I select Sport+ (yes, it has Sport+), pin the throttle and hold on as Bungalow No. 27 devours said long stretch in mere seconds, the blare and rumble of the exhausts adding to the drama. If you don’t pay attention, this massive SUV has the ability to take you to the wrong side of 200kph before you think it has got to 160kph. Here’s an SUV that thinks it’s a drag car.
How quick is it? The 0-100 comes up in just over five seconds, and by the time 18 seconds have elapsed, it’s knocking on the doors of 200. What’s also impressive is that stability around long corners is fantastic. The long wheelbase, wide stance and wide 300-section tyres give it masses of grip, and there’s almost no flip-flop or shifting around, even at really high speeds. The GL also has the ability to sit calmly on the road even with the speedo wound all the way around. And by calm, I mean calm – eerie calm. Seriously impressive.
So straight-line performance is fantastic for a car of this weight, and so is poise and grip. But how good can this car be in tighter stuff? We turn off the expressway and onto the sinuous Pali road. This recently surfaced road dips and bobs more than a bantamweight boxer and so, initially, I approach it with a fair amount of trepidation. Soon, however, I find myself attacking corners with more confidence. I start braking later and harder, and because the GL AMG has those active anti-roll bars, I find ‘leaning on it’ is not really a problem either. Of course, there’s no getting away from all that mass, especially when it comes to successive corners where you drive it with one part of your brain calculating the effect of all that mass moving around above and behind you, the brakes take a hammering too if you drive it hard for a considerable period of time, performance does begin to tail off slightly. So while this is no Porsche Cayenne GTS, it surprisingly still is a fun car to drive hard.
Of the three modes, Comfort, Sport and Sport+, it’s obviously Comfort that is the most useable.
The big 21-inch wheels don’t help, but the ride is so acceptable, you don’t really notice. There are a few thuds over the bigger stuff, but otherwise, the ride of this long-wheelbase monster is impressive.
The GL 63 AMG is unique. It has seven full-sized seats, delivers real luxury, genuine performance, loads of fun and thoroughbred driving manners, all wrapped up in one imposing package. Yes, it costs Rs 1.6 crore (ex-showroom, Mumbai) and the running costs of the petrol V8 will be huge, but if you want to have your cake and eat it too, this is the SUV for you. It’s easy, really; there literally is no competition.