The S-Class of SUVs? Mercedes-Benz recently lifted the curtain on the new GLS, a replacement for the GL and the latest in Merc’s range of GL-somethings to hit local roads, after the GLE, GLE Coupé and GLC.
Three versions of the GLS are available, starting with the diesel GLS 350 d, progressing to the petrol GLS 500 and peaking with the bizarre, beguiling Mercedes-AMG GLS 63. The first two feature a 3-litre turbodiesel V6 engine (190kW and 620Nm) and 4.7-litre biturbo petrol V8 engine (335kW and 700Nm) respectively, both paired with a nine-speed automatic gearbox. The AMG gets a biturbo 5.5-litre petrol V8 and produces 430kW and 760Nm, and is paired with a seven-speed gearbox.
Now a full-sized, big-body Range Rover (not the Sport) is 4 999mm long, 2 220 wide, 1 835mm high, with a wheelbase of 2 922mm. It’s a big car. The GLS, though, is even bigger, which means it’s about the biggest SUV on the market. At 5 130mm long, 2 141 wide, 1 850mm high, with a wheelbase of 3 075mm, it is a 4×4 behemoth.
The crazy, impressive, hard-to-believe thing, though, is that the GLS doesn’t feel that big when you drive it. On the open road the size is no issue at all, and the car is composed and comfortable, that long wheelbase soaking up the road’s imperfections and the big V6 and V8 engines munching up the miles.
Offroad the GLS is deceptively easy to drive and, dare I say it, dangerously close to nimble. The turning circle is far tighter than you’d expect, the steering lighter, and the ground clearance of 306mm (at fully raised height on the air suspension, fitted as standard) negates the limitations of the long wheelbase. While all three GLS models come with 4MATIC, Merc’s four-wheel-drive system, you need to opt for the extra Off-Road+ package for true off-road capabilities, such as a low-range transfer case and a locking centre differential. With this package fitted, the GLS is Merc’s most capable off-road SUV bar the G-wagon.
Mercedes may bill the GLS as the S-Class of SUVs, but that’s pushing it a bit. It is Merc’s plushest SUV, but that doesn’t mean it lives up to the style and opulence of the S-Class. What it is is a cavernous, capable SUV, bigger and more capable than the GLE, more spacious and infinitely more comfortable than the Geländewagen, and one of the few SUVs on the market with seven usable seats.
If I had the option I’d go for the practical GLS 350d, but the GLS 500 is not far behind, thanks to its soundtrack and endless torque. As for the AMG GLS 63, you’d need to be a braver man than I am to choose to drive that on a daily basis…
Fact file: Mercedes-Benz GLS 350d 4MATIC
- Price: R1 283 900
- Engine: 3-litre V6, turbodiesel
- Power: 190 kW
- Torque: 620 Nm
- Claimed Fuel Consumption: 7.1ℓ/100km
- Transmission: 9-speed automatic
- Maintenance Plan: 6-year/100 000km PremiumDrive
Mercedes-Benz GLS price list
- GLS 350 d 4MATIC: R1 283 900
- GLS 500 4MATIC: R1 444 400
- Mercedes-AMG GLS 63 4MATIC: R2 469 900
Words: Stephen Smith