How far will manufacturers extend their obsessions with sport utility vehicles to possibly find an untapped market niche?
Mercedes seems to know its plans. With its various higher luxury brand relationships, the German-American stalwart is all in.
Who knew the combination of upscale, utility and performance was a thing? And who knew any manufacturer offering more than one $100,000-plus SUV was necessary?
Mercedes-Benz offers eight 2021 models SUVs. The high-performance subsidiary of Mercedes-Benz, AMG, has a fleet of SUVs, including the GLE 63. And now Maybach, the ultra-luxurious subsidiary of Mercedes, is back. Its ostentatious new beast is the 2021 GLS 600.
Except for the new Maybach, the AMG GLE 63 is about as far removed from the SUV stereotype as children haulers as feasible. It’s specifically geared toward performance-craved drivers who define better as more.
Mercedes makes upscale SUVs with AMG, Maybach
The GLE 63 is equipped with a 4.0-liter, twin-turbo V8. It produces 603 horsepower, 637 lb-ft of torque and can accelerate from zero-to-60 miles per hour in 4.1 seconds with the automaker’s 4Matic all-wheel-drive system.
Its top speed is electronically limited to 174 miles per hour. There’s also a 48-volt integrated motor assist, called the EQ boost. It’s a mild hybrid good for 21 horsepower and 184 lb-ft.
Luxury is omnipresent. The MSRP is $132,100, with options pushing the price to about $150,000. The standard features list defines the carmaker’s high standards. Its options move the GLE 63 into another category, and generate a question: Is it bold or overdone?
Consider the interior trim, engine cover and performance steering wheel, all in carbon fiber. How about the heated rear seats and massaging front seats? And who doesn’t need 23-inch Monoblock forged alloy wheels in matte black?
The GLE 63 is a powerful vehicle with a big presence. It’s slightly longer than 17 feet and 7 feet wide (mirror to mirror). It’s a sizable mass to negotiate through narrow roads and in ill-conceived parking lots.
Despite its girth, the AMG’s acceleration, road confidence and superior overall vision define its driving ease. Technology is state-of-the-art, including voice control with the cue “Hey Mercedes.”
It’s hard to imagine the GLE 63 wouldn’t be enough vehicle for any driver. But in the even more luxurious niche market, there’s the 2021 Mercedes-Maybach GLS 600.
It’s a polarizing SUV. Like the AMG, it’s 17-foot long. But it also weighs 6,000 pounds and manufactured in small quantities. It’s matched against the Bentley Bentayga and Rolls-Royce Cullinan.
Made in Alabama, the GLS 600 combines the technology of Mercedes, the performance of AMG and the extreme luxury of the Maybach, the sub-brand of Mercedes-Benz. The GLS 600 debuted in 2019 after the German company stopped making its own cars in 2013. The brand had years when less than 100 sold worldwide.
The Maybach is the most expensive SUV made in the United States. The starting price is $160,500. The GLS 600 mechanically is much the same as the AMG GLS 63. It offers 550 horsepower, advances from zero-to-60 mph in 4.6 seconds and operates with a nine-speed automatic transmission.
The Maybach’s eliteness is highlighted by a cabin fit for a centerfold of a high-end design magazine. Options are the off-the-hook variety: champagne refrigerator ($1,100), two accompanying champagne glasses ($800) and folding rear seat tables ($1,800). The wood-trimmed steering wheel is $600, a minor setback considering the most visible extra expenses. The 23-inch exterior multi-spoke wheel costs $5,500 and the two-tone exterior paint is $18,500.
Like the AMG, the new Maybach commands the road. The driving experience defines comfort and confidence.
Drop $150,000 on the AMG GLE 63 or $40,000 more on the Maybach GLS 600. The gas, insurance, maintenance costs and depreciation values won’t be fun. But if extravagance in an SUV is the goal, Mercedes and its rakish partners await.
Article Last Updated: March 12, 2021.
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A sports, travel and business journalist for more than 45 years, James has written the new car review column The Weekly Driver since 2004.
In addition to this site, James writes a Sunday automotive column for The San Jose Mercury and East Bay Times in Walnut Creek, Calif., and a monthly auto review column for Gulfshore Business, a magazine in Southwest Florida.
An author and contributor to many newspapers, magazines and online publications, James has co-hosted The Weekly Driver Podcast since 2017.