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2024 Mercedes-Maybach GLS 600 Road Test: Bounce this way

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — I’m not sure there’s another new vehicle out there that allows you to make an entrance comparable to the 2024 Mercedes-Maybach GLS 600. When ostentatiousness and an expression of wealth are king, absolutely nothing does the trick better than pulling up in the Maybach’s “Free Driving Assist” mode. For the uninitiated, that’s the bounce mode that uses the SUV’s advanced E-Active Body Control tech to quite literally bounce you up and down in quick order for a pre-determined amount of time.

Of course, there’s a slim-to-zero chance anybody uses this mode as originally intended: to free their Maybach from a wheels-deep sandy death. No, it’s best used for situations like, oh I don’t know, pulling up to the valet at a fancy wedding, your icy white mega SUV bouncing like a super ball, urging every last person in the general vicinity to look your way. Perhaps the parents of the bride are even sitting in the back seat, egging you on to do it. (I swear, it was totally their idea!) A Ferrari is neat; Aston Martins will grab plenty of onlookers, but can any of those cars drive and bounce at the same time? Yeah, I thought so.

This $201,400-as-tested Maybach is of course ideal for lots more than just peacocking up to your fancy wedding locale. I only arrived at the Historic Cavalier Hotel in Virginia Beach – the perfect old-money architectural pairing with a car as classily designed as this one – after a 12-hour jaunt from metro Detroit, which was more than enough time to get very well acquainted with this mega-luxury yacht.

Truly effortless driving is an element touted by some, but few embody it better than the most recent crop of Maybachs. Graceless climbs up to the back seat thrones are eliminated thanks to the illuminated, Maybach-logo-adorned auto-deploying running boards. The 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 starts with a quiet and luxurious hush from inside the noise-insulated cabin, but stand near enough to the pipes out back, and the proletariat will be informed of your V8’s might and power.

Flick the electronic column shifter down to Drive, and the magic carpet ride begins. The genteel nature of its primary controls is immediately striking and sets the Maybach apart from other luxury cars, including regular Mercedes models. There’s no mistaking that the throttle and brake pedal tuning were designed with smooth driving in mind – you don’t want to slosh the silver-plated champagne flutes of mom and dad in the back. You won’t find a more progressive or easy-to-modulate brake pedal in the business, and the throttle in “Maybach” mode may as well be called “Chauffeur” mode with how incredibly smooth and measured it is. You’ll only make a sudden movement if you really want to, and the E-Active Body Control suspension prioritizes rear passenger comfort in this mode, too. I was only lucky enough to experience the Maybach from the front seat, but I didn’t hear a single complaint from any of the many passengers I chauffeured around in my weekend of Virginia Beach wedding events.

Instead, the feedback was constant amazement at the car’s tech, the comfort of its individual rear captain’s chairs (pillows included), and lots of “oohs” and “ahhhs.” The tech absolutely killed during our Autoblog Technology of the Year award testing, too, as the Dolby Atmos-powered audio system won last year’s first prize. I spent literal hours traversing the Appalachian Mountain range listening to countless tracks in Dolby Atmos spatial audio on the 27-speaker Burmester audio system. I’m fairly certain it’s ruined every other car audio system in existence for me. So, audio snobs: Apply here.

There’s a lot of credit due to this Maybach solely on account of its ability to make 12 straight hours behind the wheel feel like a relaxing day. Mercedes-Benz knows how to make long-haul, ergonomic and body-supporting seats as well as anyone, and at the end of the day, I’m not the least bit sore or uncomfortable. The nigh-on endless adjustment and numerous massage programs can be thanked for this extreme comfort. I can legitimately say that I’ve tried every massage program from start to finish, and it’s a tie between “Hot Relaxing Back” and “Wave Massage” for the most rejuvenating and relaxing experiences. This Maybach’s heated are another beautiful feature that makes chilly drive days all the more cozy – it’s a real shame that more vehicles haven’t adopted such extra heated surfaces as optional add-ons.

Mercedes’ excellent driver assistance systems make long treks like mine less of a mental burden, too. It’s clear from the outset that the tuning is unique for the Maybach model, because even when the system gets a little confused at the lane markings or someone cuts you off, the programming and movements remain just as smooth and creamy as the ride. It’ll never panic-stab the brakes or jerk at the wheel when you edge up to a line marker. That said, you must remain an active participant in driving. Other, more advanced hands-off systems like Super Cruise from GM or BMW’s new hands-free highway assist are simply better for such long hauls, but I have a feeling Mercedes will catch the GLS up soon enough.

On the topic of feeling dated, though, we arrive at the GLS 600’s MBUX infotainment system. Mercedes updated the GLS-Class’s infotainment for 2024, but it’s still rocking the old widescreen format and touchpad as an alternative control to using the touchscreen. Swiping through the (admittedly pretty) Maybach-skinned MBUX system is trying at times, and using it makes Mercedes’ latest “Zero Layer” infotainment system feel that much more advanced. Similar complaints can be lodged about the Maybach’s removable tablet that controls most functions in the rear. It has an abnormally long warm-up period before you can switch on items like the massaging seats or play with the endless ambient lighting options. Such a high-dollar rolling palace deserves the most advanced technology, and I suspect it’s only a matter of time until the GLS gets redesigned with a similar setup to the current S-Class.

The rear seat’s excessive wood trim, reclining functionality, heated and cooled cupholders, fridge, fold-out tray tables and high-pile carpets definitely make it the place to be for a long journey like the one I undertook. However! I decided to take the mountainous scenic route on the return from Virginia Beach to Detroit to see if this 6,000-plus-pound SUV had any sort of dynamic prowess. And in typical Mercedes fashion, of course, it totally rules.

Mercedes claims a 0-60 mph time of just 4.8 seconds from the 550 horsepower and 538 pound-feet of torque this Maybach-specific powertrain puts out (that’s 40 horses more than the non-Maybach GLS 580), and it feels every bit that quick as I steamroll through steep uphill passes. “Strain” isn’t a word in the GLS 600’s vocabulary, because the whole point of the thing is to be excessive, in every sense of the word.

As my foot’s fully buried to the floor in the middle-of-nowhere West Virginia without a cell signal to be found for miles, I’m also glad to be in the GLS 600 and not the Maybach EQS 680 stressing about my next stop at what could very well be a dicey Electrify America station. Highway range is approximately 381 miles per the EPA’s figures, though I’m handily beating the somewhat sad 19-mpg highway fuel economy figure and pushing well past 400 miles on the long stretches between the Atlantic coast and the Midwest.

Sport mode doesn’t exactly live up to its billing, but it does eliminate roll and transforms the chassis into something that resembles a fun-to-drive SUV, letting me somewhat effortlessly keep up with some fellow sports car drivers out for a Sunday afternoon jaunt through the mountains. The rest of the time in Comfort or Maybach mode makes the existence of the 23-inch wheels no need for concern (though I was sad this test car didn’t come with the new-for-2024 monobloc forged wheels). Seriously, outside of a Maybach sedan, you’re not going to find another vehicle with the three-pointed star that rides and comports itself better than the GLS 600.

Funnily, I found a fellow GLS 600 owner on my journeys (photo directly above) and got to compare the pre-refresh design to the 2024 in person. Admittedly, the two-tone paint scheme chosen by this owner is far superior to my fittingly wedding-spec all-white Maybach, but the refresh’s toned-down bumper and Mercedes-Maybach logo-filled intakes are a step improvement in the right direction. That said, I wouldn’t exactly rush out to buy the updated model if you already have a GLS 600 in the garage. Its downsides – the trunk-shrinking fridge and aged infotainment – are the same as before. And in case you didn’t know, here’s your reminder that the Maybach version of the GLS is only a two-row due to the executive second-row design and massive bulkhead in place behind it that heavily chops down on cabin road noise. It’s a compromise in utility that I’d be happy to make every time considering how silent and refined the drive is. And for the record, everything needed for a week-long trip for two people fit in the cargo area, and we were able to keep our beverages and leftovers cold in the fridge to boot.

I float back into metro Detroit awash in the Maybach-specific fragrance eliminating the gnarly smells of industry that plague every southern entrance to the city, somehow feeling just as fresh as I did after the first 12-hour stint behind the wheel. I’d be happy to do it all over again the next day, too. The GLS 600 might be a bouncing, LED light show party trick when the occasion calls for it, but the substance behind its glittering pearlescent outsides is still setting ridiculously high standards for long-haul luxury motoring.

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