At the recent launch of the Mercedes-Benz GLS we were presented with a proper breakdown of the current model line-up of every model. Mercedes also cleared up their new SUV naming strategy, which is fairly easy to understand. Every model gets a GL in front of the name, followed by a letter indicating which model line-up it represents. The only Mercedes model without a GL badge is the B-Class, but according to Mercedes, they are working on it.
In any case, this missive is about the GLS, which, as the name suggests, is Merc’s halo SUV. It’s properly large, expensive and luxurious. It’s not all new, however.
The GLS is basically a facelifted GL. An all-new GLS is still a few years away, but, for now, this will have to do. And it’s not a bad thing, because the GL is still a pukka SUV that can tango with the best of them – on or off road.
I have no idea why you’d ever risk taking a car like this off-road. The “entry-level” model starts at R1.3 million, while the AMG retails for a little over R2.3. Perhaps it’s just so the people buy them can take some comfort in knowing that you can do it, while never actually going as far as doing it. We did a few obstacles in the vehicles and I quickly came to the conclusion that you’d have to be a real chop to get stuck in one of these things, especially when it has been kitted with the optional off-road+ package, which includes low-range, a locking centre differential and advanced electronic driving aids. From behind the wheel it’s a case of pushing a few buttons and then simply pointing the GLS where you want it to go. Then you start worrying about the 20-inch alloy wheels, metallic paint and side steps that may not survive the off-road excursion. Does this fear go away when the car actually belongs to you? I’ve never seen an owner in any of the various off-road places I frequent, so the answer is probably no.
It would be much better to focus on how the GLS performs on tar and, oh boy, does it perform.
The range kicks of with what will likely be the “volume” seller. It’s called the 350d and it’s turbocharged diesel engine delivers enough torque to get you to 100km/h in roughly seven seconds. It’s also fairly frugal and the most fitting companion if off-roading happens to be your thing.
Next in line is the GLS 500. It comes with one of two biturbo V8s in the line-up. I didn’t get behind the wheel of this particular model, but if my colleagues are to be believed, it’s a monster performer on and off tar.
Then there’s the GLS 63. Its biturbo V8 kicks out a ridiculous 430kW and 760Nm of torque. That’s enough to get it to 100km/h in less than five seconds.
I spent most of my time behind the wheel of this particular model and I have to admit that I wasn’t particularly blown away by its performance right away. It weighs 2.5 tons and you can definitely feel the result of that magnificent engine struggling with that hefty body. I’ve driven all of Merc’s performance models and all of them leave your mouth hanging open when you push the loud pedal all the way into the carpet. Not so in the GLS 63. It’s fast, but it doesn’t give you that same ridiculous kick in the rear when you drive it like a loon. The cabin is too well insulated for that glorious bellow to intrude and the suspension is too comfortable to let the undercarriage communicate any sort of strain via the seat and the steering wheel. You only really notice the extra power when overtaking, which the GLS is very good at by the way. You need only the smallest gap, but that’s just one of the upshots of having 760Nm under your right foot.
Being rather underwhelmed by this 5.5-litre biturbo monster, I used the driving mode select dial and traded the sport mode for comfort. The idea was to drive the GLS at speeds I was comfortable with.
Thing is, the 63 is effortlessly and unobtrusively rapid. It’s no small wonder it carries the title of the fastest seven seater in the world. It feels like your barely cruising above the speed limit when you’re actually on your way to tripling it. In AMG guise, this SUV covers ground unlike anything I’ve ever driven before.
It’s a lot like a grand tourer in that regard – loads of luxury, leather and ridiculous amounts of performance.
But the GLS adds another benefit to the grand tourer package. In addition to also having the ability to go off-road, there’s also enough space to take six people with you. And six full size people, as the third row has enough space to accommodate people up to six foot tall.
As for the leather and luxury, it’s all there. The facelift has made the interior even better and it’s all very easy to understand. The full list of standard features is too long, but let’s just say that there are more than enough toys to keep everyone happy.
It’s an awesome vehicle; no matter what model you choose to go for. The only thing that gets even close is the evergreen Range Rover, but that only has five seats.
If you want a blistering, luxurious and spacious SUV, there’s nothing that gets even close to the GLS. It’s superb.
GLS 350 d 4MATIC R1 283 900
GLS 500 4MATIC R1 444 400
Mercedes-AMG GLS 63 4MATIC R2 469 900