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And then there’s one which claims to offer the best of both: the GLS. This is arguably the only super-luxury SUV that can comfortably seat seven fully-sized adults. And it’s certainly the only one that can do so whilst offering an acceptably dynamic drive on road as well as extreme capability off it. Plus, in GLS guise, this car is smarter, plusher, more sophisticated and even more appealing. Got a family? You’d like one.
Not everyone is going to feel comfortable piloting something of this size but provided you do, then GLS motoring is a pretty fabulous way to view your everyday world. There are, in theory, two models on offer, but given that one of them, the Mercedes-AMG 63 4MATIC, has a thirsty 5. 5-litre petrol V8 installed up-front, in practice almost all sales will be of the GLS 350d diesel variant. This derivative features improved ride quality and a smoother-shifting new 9G-TRONIC automatic ‘box that plays its part in slightly improved efficiency – expect 37. 2mpg on the combined cycle and 199g/km of CO2.
On the move, the GLS is easier to push along quickly than you might expect a car of this size to be, thanks to great all-round visibility and the cornering traction from the permanent 4MATIC 4WD system. Mate this to the optional ‘ACTIVE CURVE’ roll-stabilisation set-up and bodyroll is kept in check too. This works with an AIRMATIC air suspension and Adaptive Damping system you can tweak via five different ‘DYNAMIC SELECT’ driving modes that also adjust steering feel, throttle response and gearshift timings.
The GLS is big, just as its GL-Class predecessor was, as before, there’s more than three metres between the wheels and a total length of nearly 5. 2m that’s even longer than a Range Rover. In other words, you’ll need quite a sizeable garage. Having said all that, this time round the design is more effective in concealing its bulk, thanks to looks that are now quite sleek for something so huge and boxy.
As with previous models, attempts have been made to lighten this vehicle’s substantial footprint, with a car-like monocoque construction and extensive use of aluminium in the bonnet and wings: pretty unsuccessful attempts, it has to be said, given that this model remains 240kgs heavier than a rival Range Rover.
Still, what you get in return for that is what I’m going to focus on now – the thing that sets this car apart in its segment: namely, space you’ll find at the very back in the third row.
Once installed, there’s pretty much the same sort of space as you’d find in a large MPV. In short, at last we’ve a first class SUV that doesn’t demote third row passengers to third class travel.
Let’s switch to the middle row. This is also pretty roomy, though the middle seat occupant does have to contend with quite a high transmission tunnel. Still, there’s more shoulder room than you usually get in a car of this class.
Time to move up-front, an area that Mercedes prioritised in upgrading the old GL-Class to this GLS status. The beautiful quilted nappa leather trim of this plush ‘designo Line’ variant certainly feels very high end, as does the DINAMICA mirofibre material used on the roof lining and the sunvisors.
That leaves luggage space. Raise the huge powered tailgate and there’s actually a reasonable amount – 295-litres – even when you’ve got all seven seats upright. The total capacity you get with the boot in this form is the same as you’d find in a rival Audi Q7 but surprisingly, significantly less than would be offered by a Volvo XC90 in the same configuration.
Both Volvo and Audi also have an advantage when it comes to the amount of cargo room you can expect when these third row chairs are flattened into the floor, but neither of those cars have as neat a system for the retraction process: a touch of a button is all it takes here to free up 680-litres of space, about the same as you’d get in a Mercedes GLE.
If you go further and fold down the second row seats, the GLS re-asserts its advantage over all its rivals, with an enormous 2,300-litre capacity that’s around 350-litres more than you’d get in an XC90 or a Q7. There’s nothing that can match it.
There’s nothing quite like a Mercedes GLS and if you’re a wealthy American considering it against obvious US rivals like Cadillac’s Escalade or a Lincoln Navigator, then buying this Mercedes must seem like a no-brainer. This side of the Atlantic, it could also be seen as pretty simple choice, provided you’re in the unusual position of wanting a huge seven-seat super-luxury SUV that actually can properly seat seven adults - rather than five folk along with a couple of children. A car that, having done that, can then go on to climb the lower slopes of Snowdon, before stopping by Sainsburys on the way to an evening at the Ritz. If an SUV that can manage all that is somewhere on your wish list, then you won’t be disappointed with this one.