There’s nothing really subtle about the 2021 Mercedes-Maybach GLS 600 4Matic, because subtle doesn’t get you far when you’re competing against the likes of the Range Rover SVAutobiography, Bentley Bentayga, and Rolls-Royce Cullinan. Bathed in pinstriped two-tone paint and festooned with chrome, gill-like vents, and pizza pie-sized wheels, this Alabama-built, 17-foot, three-ton super-luxury SUV certainly won’t be mistaken for anything but a Maybach. With Mercedes determined not to repeat its past Maybach mistakes, the new Mercedes-Maybach GLS 600 attempts to blend the best of Mercedes technology, AMG performance, and Maybach luxury as it takes on the British luxury heavyweights.
What’s the difference between the Maybach GLS and Mercedes GLS?
It’s pretty easy to dismiss the Maybach GLS 600 as just a gaudy, gussied-up Mercedes GLS. It’s OK—that’s initially what I did, too. Yet in person, it really doesn’t look like any other GLS. Shod in a Diamond White metallic top and Iridium Silver bottom that changes color depending on the light, “small” 22-inch multispoke wheels, Maybach badges on the D-pillar, and a proud Mercedes star hood ornament, this GLS is unmistakably “Maybach.” And that’s before you hop into the cabin.
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Inside, the design of the Maybach GLS ought to be familiar to Mercedes and AMG buyers, but the configuration is a bit different. Available in either five- or optional four-seat executive configurations, its third row is deleted in favor of moving the second row backward 4.7 inches to boost legroom for rear occupants. Behind the second row sits a beautifully furnished fixed wooden parcel shelf that takes the place of the deleted third row. Although it shares its basic layout and design with lesser GLS models, the Maybach distinguishes itself with three unique interior color schemes with rose gold piping, leather everywhere you look, and even its own scent (which Maybach describes as “white osmanthus blossom rounded off by a gentle leather note and spicy tea,” whatever that means).
Mechanically, Maybach owners will find the GLS 600 shares much with the Mercedes-AMG GLS 63. The Maybach version, like the AMG, gets power from a hand-built 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 and electric motor combo (though Maybach is quick to point out that unlike the pure AMG model, it isn’t of the “one man, one engine” variety). The GLS 600’s EQ Boost engine and motor combine to produce 550 hp and 538 lb-ft of torque. Power is routed through a nine-speed automatic to Mercedes’ 4Matic all-wheel-drive system, which is standard on the Maybach GLS. Mercedes’ E-Active Body Control is also standard; it combines electronic dampers, air springs, and stereo cameras to minimize both body roll and road impacts.
How does the Mercedes-Maybach GLS 600 drive?
Another feature unique to the Maybach GLS is its Maybach drive mode. Whereas the default Comfort drive program seeks to balance the needs of both front and rear occupants, the Maybach drive mode is all about those in back. Aside from flattening the accelerator curve, starting in second gear and reducing gearshifts, and turning off the stop/start system, it also uses E-Active Body control to subtly shift the SUV’s rest point toward the rear seat, reducing vibration for passengers.
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Truth be told, I spent an embarrassingly long time flipping back and forth between the default Comfort and Maybach drive modes and sussing out the changes. The differences are minor, but they’re there. In Maybach mode, throttle response seems a touch softer, and the transmission seems as if it’s doing what it can to keep the engine spinning quietly under a low rpm load. Steering feels slightly lighter, too. My gut says that if my trained butt isn’t noticing a major difference between Comfort and Maybach drive modes, most Maybach GLS buyers probably won’t, either. It’s a neat gimmick that speaks to how seriously Mercedes has taken this Maybach, though.
Outside of Maybach mode, the GLS 600 blends the best of the Mercedes and AMG GLS models into a new, more luxurious form factor. The AMG-built motor is just the kind of engine you’d want in a luxury SUV. It offers tons of torque, zero lag, and a quiet, muted, luxe-appropriate roar. The transmission tuning is similarly brilliant, with quick, smooth, and decisive shifts.
Its suspension tuning is even more impressive. E-Active Body Control so effectively reads and reacts to the road that the GLS 600 can bowl over potholes, drainage ditches, expansion joints, and speed bumps in much the same way something like a Ram 1500 TRX can. It’s weirdly so effective that the absence of big impacts almost serves to highlight the smaller ones. The GLS 600’s suspension is not only compliant but also allows the Maybach to hustle on a good winding road, mitigating body roll and brake dive and allowing you to focus on twirling the well-weighted leather-wrapped wheel in your hands.
What’s the interior of the Maybach GLS like?
The cabin of the Mercedes-Maybach GLS 600 is a nice place to spend some time, with its airline-style back seats the star of the show. Step up on the wide, power-retractable running board and into the rear of the four-seat GLS, and you’ll be welcomed into business class-style rear seats with a gorgeous wooden parcel shelf waterfalling into a center console between them. Maybach has done an incredible job of dressing up an already luxurious SUV with lots of wood, metal, and so much leather that the only way there could possibly be more would be to have been swallowed by a cow.
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Incredibly comfortable and supportive in all the right places, the rear seat are also soft, like your favorite reading chair. But despite the Maybach’s wheelbase stretch over the base GLS, I found myself short of foot room at just over 6 feet tall. Although it’s not quite as pinched as, say, business class on an Air France Airbus A380, it’s a minor annoyance that doesn’t occur in the new 2021 Mercedes-Maybach S-Class.
Speaking of, arguably the biggest flaw of the Maybach GLS is that the new Maybach S-Class—which I had the chance to poke around in after driving the GLS—exists. Although incredibly welcoming and luxurious, the cabin of the GLS is very clearly the past of Mercedes interior design while the S-Class is the future. The simple elegance of the Maybach S-Class’ flowing dashboard and yachtlike design cues make the Maybach GLS feel dated out of the gate. The saving grace is that its rivals, such as the recently updated 2021 Bentley Bentayga, haven’t moved the needle in the super-luxury SUV space in quite the same way that the new S-Class does in the sedan space.
How much is a Mercedes-Maybach GLS?
As you’d expect on this type of vehicle, the 2021 Mercedes-Maybach GLS 600 comes well-equipped from the factory; there’s a long list of standard features that we haven’t even touched on, including augmented reality navigation, a 27-speaker Burmester audio system, and Mercedes’ latest Level 2 semi-autonomous driver assist system. Maybach GLS 600 prices start at $161,550, putting it in the same ballpark as a new Bentayga and Range Rover SVAutobiography and making it significantly cheaper than a Cullinan, which starts well north of $300,000.
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Our tester was loaded with the few options Maybach actually offers on the GLS—those aforementioned smaller 22-inch wheels and the four-seat configuration (no charge for either), a $1,100 champagne fridge, $800 silver champagne glasses, $1,800 for folding rear tables to make the most of the four-seat package, $600 for a wood-rimmed steering wheel, and $18,500 for the must-have two-tone paint. Total sticker price for our tester was $185,995.
Expensive, sure, but for those not content blending in driving a Range Rover or Bentayga, the Maybach GLS finally offers an alternative that can stand out from the crowd.
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