When you picture exotic luxury SUVs, a few brands spring to mind: Bentley, Rolls-Royce, and maybe Land Rover. Even true brand loyalists admit that Mercedes’ cars sit below those ultra-luxury brands – unless they have a Maybach badge on them. As part of the updated GLS lineup, the 2024 Mercedes-Maybach GLS offers supreme rear-seat comfort at a price that seems reasonable when stacked up against the exorbitant stickers of its rivals.
The Maybach GLS starts at $170,000. Let’s be clear, though. The word “affordable” shouldn’t be written anywhere near it. But consider that both a Bentley Bentayga and top-spec Land Rover SV cost around $200,000 to start, and the Rolls-Royce Cullinan begins at $374,000 (getting closer to $500,000 with options). Suddenly, the Maybach sounds like a relatively good deal. After spending a week with the GLS 600, we learned that it’s not at all lacking in luxury compared to those aforementioned ultra-luxury powerhouses, and in many respects, the Maybach is actually more comfortable. This is an astonishingly premium, world-class SUV.
Exterior: Maybach Bling
Mercedes minimally revised the entire 2024 GLS family, including the Maybach version. The giant mesh grille is gone, replaced by patterned grille inserts with little Maybach logos in them that are the automotive equivalent of a Louis Vuitton bag. A Maybach-specific chrome grille with vertical slats calls attention to the front, and the Maybach gets the famous (but exceedingly rare) three-pointed star hood ornament. This is the most bling you can get on a GLS, but it still flies under the radar compared to a Bentayga or Cullinan.
This particular example came finished in a no-cost color called Polar White, which resembles the flat grays offered by Audi and Porsche. Those who don’t need to think about their budget can spend as much as $18,500 on one of five two-tone color schemes. Our tester rode on the optional 23-inch forged wheels, which add $5,500 to the price tag. Though they look great when clean, they get dirty very easily – they’re also not great for ride comfort. 22-inch wheels come standard and look just fine. Sadly, the epic Monoblock wheels from last year are no longer offered in the US.
Driving Impressions: Zero Turbulence
Power comes from a familiar 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V8 engine with a 48-volt mild-hybrid system. It delivers buttery smooth acceleration with 550 horsepower and 538 lb-ft of torque, enough to shoot the Maybach GLS up to 60 mph in just 4.8 seconds. A nine-speed automatic delivers nearly imperceptible gear changes.
The powertrain is excellent, but the Airmatic suspension with E-Active Body Control is the star of this show. Powered by the mild-hybrid system, the air suspension floats over bumps as if they weren’t there. The GLS uses cameras and sensors to scan the road ahead and prepare the suspension to take a bump. It feels like magic; it’s one of the things we feel Mercedes has perfected. A Curve Mode can prime the outside wheels during a turn, basically nullifying body lean. We gravitated towards the Maybach Mode, which is positioned below the default Comfort Mode. It starts the vehicle in second gear and minimizes gear changes only when truly necessary to deliver a smoother ride. This may not be the fastest way to drive about, but it sure is comfortable.
Also included in the drive modes is an Off-Road Mode. This might seem like a surprise addition for a Maybach vehicle, but it was designed to help get the vehicle out of sand in a market like California or Dubai. An individual wheel control function gives drivers the ability to raise or lower each corner of the car on demand. There is also a Free Driving Mode that literally bounces the car up and down to unbury itself from deep sand. We doubt it will often be used for that, but if you use it when pulling into a Cars & Coffee meet, all eyes (and cameras) will be on you.
We only have one complaint with the driving experience: those oversized wheels. While the Maybach GLS glides over large bumps, it’s flummoxed by small road imperfections. Torn up back roads cause odd vibrations that are felt through the cabin. It’s an issue we’ve noted in many German luxury vehicles with big wheels where they can isolate large impacts but transmit smaller ones.
Interior: A First Class Experience
Riding in the back seat of a Maybach GLS is not dissimilar from sitting in first class on a trans-continental flight. The GLS’s traditional seven-seat layout is dropped in favor of a less practical but more comfortable four-seat configuration with a center console splitting the rear seats. For no cost, a five-seat layout with a rear bench is also available. We’d highly recommend keeping the four-seat option; it sacrifices one seat but allows you to add pop-out tray tables (a $1,800 option), a refrigerator ($1,100), and storage for silver champagne flutes ($800). It’s worth noting that the refrigerator takes up around a sixth of the 18.4 cubic feet of trunk space.
That console also contains an ejectable Samsung tablet to control various functions of the car, as well as hosting heated and cooled cupholders, a wireless phone charger, and USB-C ports. Each seat comes with heating, ventilation, and massage functions, plus powered ottomans to rest your feet. There are only a few back seats on the market that compare to this.
Verdict: A Sub-Brand Tackles The Big Names
Maybach may no longer be a standalone brand like Bentley or Rolls-Royce, but this writer feels it deserves to be considered alongside those at the pinnacle of luxury. The 2024 Maybach GLS 600 is one of the most luxurious SUVs we’ve ever driven, with backseat comfort that puts some rivals to shame. Considering Mercedes’ impressive suite of technology and slightly more attainable price tag, the GLS 600 stands out as a bargain.
A Rolls-Royce Cullinan is still a more special driving and ownership experience, and it comes with way more shock factor, but aside from that, there are no SUVs we’d choose over the GLS for sheer comfort. If the GLS 600 wasn’t based on an SUV that starts under $90,000, Mercedes could probably charge a lot more than $170,000 for it, and it would still be worth the price.