IF ultimate refinement along with unbeatable practicality is your idea of SUV nirvana, then the Mercedes-Benz GLS is likely to be on your shortlist.
Eye-watering prices aside, the Rolls Royce Cullinan and Bentley Bentayga may offer even more refinement, but with the Mercedes boasting a full 7-seats, it ultimately takes the win. Only the BMW X7 comes close; but even that behemoth can’t quite match the Merc for sheer opulence.
Lauded by Mercedes-Benz as the S-Class of their SUV range, the GLS doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to impressive tech, impressive powertrain and impressive ride dynamics. It’s “wow”-factor is undiminished by the fact that it is a more practical family-lugger than the sublime S-Class saloon – although to some it may look a little more anonymous; a little less striking.
But not smaller. Oh, no, definitely not smaller – the GLS is huge in comparison and not a vehicle you would like to negotiate a multi-storey car park in. Not on a daily-basis, anyway.
However, with greater size comes greater space and practicality. The Mercedes GLS takes full advantage and not only provides unrivalled comfort for its centre-row passengers but also boasts 2 of the comfiest seats 6 & 7 you’ll ever find in an SUV. Access and egress to these rear-most seats is also much less of a faff with the clever use of power-folding centre seats and a decent space to ultimately step into.
The likes of the Volvo XC90 may have the seating numbers, but not the seating refinement. The GLS’s rear-most (heated) seats can accommodate 6-footers easily thanks to the high roofline. Even the huge panoramic roof doesn’t impinge.
Available from just over £75,000 the GLS definitely sits in the “Luxury” class of SUVs and is the ultimate Merc SUV – unless you take into account the 612 bhp AMG model at £136,000 or the ludicrously-appointed Maybach GLS 600 at £169,755.
I’ve been intimidating other road-users in the best-selling version of the GLS – the 400 d 4Matic AMG Line Premium Plus – although a quick look at the online configurator suggests this version is now the Night Edition Executive.
Either way, you’ll pay a tad over £94,000 for this “bells and whistles” luxury SUV that has a 6-cylinder, 4-litre diesel unit up-front that pumps out 330 bhp and will whisk you from 0-62 mph in just 6.3 seconds. Which isn’t bad for a vehicle weighing over 2.5 tonnes.
So, apart from oodles of space, what else do you get for your money with this model?
Well, ride comfort must be at the top of most people’s list when it comes to spending this amount – and the Merc certainly won’t let you down here.
AIRMATIC air-suspension is standard on the GLS and provides adaptative damping as well as automatically lowering and raising the vehicle when a door is opened. So, best ride comfort in all conditions as well as helping you in and out of the car.
Up front you’ll be impressed by the visually-striking dashboard that incorporates 2 large digital displays with the main dials being configurable to show as much – or as little – info as you need.
Much of your interaction with the infotainment can be done by just saying “Hey Mercedes” followed by any number of requests from changing the radio stations, to increasing the volume, lowering the temperature or even speaking a postcode or address for the Sat Nav to find. This MBUX (Mercedes Benz User Experience) system even understands regional accents and imprecise instructions, such as “Hey Mercedes, I feel a bit chilly” which will result in the temperature being increased. It’s all clever stuff and helps prevent distractions. I found it worked well and very quickly became very useful.
Of course, you still have touch inputs via the touchscreen, the touchpad on the centre console or the touch control buttons on the steering wheel. The touchpad even recognises handwriting should you wish to enter addresses or phone numbers silently. Wondering when the next service is due? Or how much further you can travel before filling up? Just ask MBUX and you’ll be told out loud.
Rear passengers will find a pop-out tablet in their centre-armrest that can also control everything from media selection to opening or closing the rear window-blinds, as well as search the web or change the ambient lighting. Although my model also had individual tablets mounted on the rear of the front seats. Brilliant for keeping business associates up to date – or more likely to keep the kids quiet.
It’s all these touches – and much more – that help justify the price of the Mercedes GLS 400d Night Edition Executive. If I were to list everything that Mercedes put into the GLS to make you feel pampered then I would be here all-day and you may lose consciousness halfway through the list.
The massaging seats (front and rear) would help here as well as the ENERGIZING function that’s designed to work with massage, aroma, audio and visual prompts to relax and energize you on those more challenging journeys. I tried it out on a trip up to the Highlands but found the myriad of options a little stress-inducing itself. However, if you own the car, I’m sure you’ll find the right balance quite quickly. I settled for just a simple massage in the end – and it worked surprisingly well.
The Burmester surround sound system is more than you’ll ever need, the head-up display is clear and adjustable and the rear-seat entertainment system should make your teenage kids love you all over again. All in all, you’re going to feel quite special – and so are your passengers.
You’ll all be kept safe too, because the Mercedes GLS features a plethora of driver aids and safety kit, including Multibeam LED headlamps that react to differing traffic situations and Ultra Range high beam that maximises the range.
There’s also the Driving Assistance Plus Package that takes the strain off when moving slowly in queuing traffic – a genuinely useful tool when stuck in traffic jams. It also helps with steering and braking as well as helping prevent collisions.
With a car of this size, you’ll find the 360-degree Parking Package useful. You can either manoeuvre yourself into a parking space using the ultra-clear birds eye view or just let the car choose a space and park itself. Simple.
For those who tow a trailer or caravan there is electronic help with coupling and manoeuvring which should prevent any embarrassment at the caravan park – or local tip.
So, how does the Mercedes GLS 400 d actually drive? Very, very well indeed is the unsurprising answer. Even on the larger 23in alloys.
The 9-speed (9G-Tronic) auto gearbox finds the correct gear without fuss and progress is made without histrionics. There are paddle-shifters if you want to spoil things though.
Dynamic Select gives a choice of Eco, Comfort, Sport and Individual driving modes which you play about with until settling on Comfort for virtually all your trips.
Sport mode does liven things up a little on the B-road twisties but the GLS never feels like a car you want to throw around anyway. Sure, it can feel a little weighty in the faster bends but it does hold its line very well for a 2.5 tonne SUV.
However, it’s simply more at home just swishing from corner to corner effortlessly. Motorway cruising is a breeze with external noise very well shielded with only some tyre noise being audible – if you take to trouble to listen for it.
Does it match the S-Class though? Difficult. It’s very close, but somehow not quite there. However, I do feel the S-Class is in a class of its own when it comes to comfortable cruising.
The GLS does feel very special though and I can’t imagine anyone being disappointed with any aspect of this premium SUV. If you’re in the market for a high-end 7-seater with a name to match the promise, then the Mercedes-Benz GLS has to be on the list.
AT A GLANCE:
Mercedes-Benz GLS 400 d 4Matic Night Edition Executive
OTR Price: £94,050
Engine: 3.0, 6-cylinder diesel
Power: 330 bhp
Transmission: 9-speed Automatic
0-62mph: 6.3 secs
Top Speed: 148 mph
Combined Economy: 30.4 mpg
C02: 246 g/km