Almost everyone I know loves hot rods. Almost everyone I know hates fast SUVs. But a fast SUV is the modern hot rod. It. Makes. No. Sense.
(Full Disclosure: Mercedes wanted me to drive the GL63 AMG so bad that they offered to let me take it on a road trip with friends through the Northwest of the USA and some place called "Canada." I also saw two dead people while in this "Canada.")
Just last week, friend of Jalopnik Doug DeMuro went on a bit of a tirade about how the drivers of performance SUVs are the most hated people on the roads. I used to totally agree with him. I saw absolutely no point to an SUV that uses enough gas to earn a trophy from OPEC and isn't necessarily better in any discernible way than a lower model.
In my old, perfect, world, every SUV would have a small diesel engine with mountains of torque and would be designed to be great off-road.
But then you think about hot rodding culture. Early hot rods made no sense and were hated by the mainstream. They were fast in a straight line and basically useless around a corner or for stopping. That description is the same for the new class of superpowered SUVs.
Like the GL63.
It has a huge engine where a diesel should be. It isn't a particularly well handling car. It doesn't stop that well. It isn't made to go off-road. It makes no logical sense. And that's what has appealed to car buyers for ages.
You start it up, and instead of a diesel shudder, you get the thunder of AMG's twin turbo 5.5-liter V8 and 550 horsepower. It's a wonderful sound. A sound you can get used to.
This thing is way faster than it should be with a 4.8 second sprint to 60. While it's fun to beat people off the line, you're basically dumping fuel straight out of the GL, much like a regular British car. We averaged less than 20 MPG for 1,000 miles. That's not good.
But on the highway run from Seattle to Vancouver, the GL was basically the perfect car. We cruised the highway at a [REDACTED] rate of speed, and the GL was Royal Carriage comfortable and when we needed to step on the gas, it just reacted like it didn't weigh the same as a large ship.
How about when it sees corners? Canada's Sea-To-Sky Highway is the sort of road where you want a Porsche 911. Not a big truck. It's a ribbon of tarmac laid by the road gods. And even though the GL was surprisingly good, it couldn't get close to keeping up with the Porsche 911 that passed me. Steering was vague and placing it where I wanted wasn't extraordinarily easy. It's kind of like trying to drive an apartment building fast.
Still, it handled far better than I thought it would thanks to some AMG work. But at the end of the day, you're still driving a huge truck.
I only had one chance to really try the brakes when I rounded a corner in Washington at [REDACTED] MPH and came across a bunch of deer that looked like they had been taking steroids. The GL reacted quickly and came down to a stop fast. Which is good, because I didn't plan on getting into a fight with 'roid raging deer.
So you're probably saying that it doesn't sound like the GL63 is useless. It has gobs of power for excellent highway cruising, handles semi-competently for an SUV, and stops before you start a war with the deer community.
It's a solid road trip vehicle. But there's still that perception from other drivers hating you for no reason. It's doubly true in the eco-conscious Northwest. There were situations we encountered where drivers treated the GL63 like it was the person who pushed them down stairs in elementary school.
In Northern Oregon at night, we had drivers get behind the truck and start flashing their highbeams at us, probably because they thought our highbeams were on, which they weren't. The truck is just tall. At a merge in Washington that everyone was doing far too soon, we had drivers pull out into our lane to block our merge, and then give a thumbs up to each other that they didn't let us in.
The SUV is the wagon of yesteryear. It's the do anything family hauler. The hot rod SUV is the new hot rod. It has different priorities than the hot rod, but the formula of big, powerful engne where it doesn't belong remains. These are built for a reason: People want them. And I totally get it.
In an SUV-crazed country, the amount of anti-SUV sentiment that we see is amazing. We buy SUVs because we like SUVs, not because we're forced. And we buy the fast versions of these trucks because we like to go fast. It's been the same with any car for ages. Americans love a good sleeper hot rod, and right now SUVs are our sleeper of choice. It's a counter culture that makes no sense to basically everyone, just like the original hot rods.
The first hot rods could go, but they couldn't turn or stop. These hot rod SUVs aren't really that different. But the ridiculousness of 550 horsepower in a three ton truck that gets 0 MPG cannot be ignored. It's a good thing.
Photo Credits: Seva Liokumovich