It’s a big Mercedes. But not an S-class.
Day one: The GLS is here. I know this because the sun has been blotted out causing trees to shed their leaves and birds to fall from the skies in confusion. From somewhere nearby, an owl hoots. It’s a big, big car. You might already know it as the GL. Now Merc has decided that its taller cars should mirror the saloon car range so we have the C-class based GLC, the M-class has become the GLE and, along with a facelift, here’s a name-change for this, to suggest that it’s like a high-riding S-class. Unfortunately, the name also makes it sound like an almost top-of-the-range Vauxhall Cavalier. Perhaps there’ll be a Maybach SUV called the CD. They’re majoring on the luxury angle with this car and to underline that point they’ve taken the interior and quilted the shit out of it. It’s actually quite nice. The whole interior has a feeling of being well-made and sensibly arranged in that Merc-ish sort of way. On the move, it feels hefty in a reassuring sort of way. It also seems quiet and relaxing. This gives you plenty of time to enjoy the quilting.
Day two: Given its size you might assume this Mercedes has seating for several hundred people. In fact there’s room for seven. Today I made a trip to the central regions of GLS and discovered that the three seats in the middle row are weirdly small. Or rather, the backrests look too short, which makes them seem undersized, cowering in the vast cavern of the interior. Another strange discovery is that legroom for people in these seats is not as generous as you might think. This seems to have been done to make the legroom in the very back better than expected. The rear and middle rows fold electrically which is quite amusing the first time you try it. I suspect your kids will continue to find it amusing and will play with the switches until they’re all full of crisp residue and snot, at which point something will short circuit and your youngest will become trapped in a terrifying scissor of quilting.
Day three: I have things to do at home. Although I suppose I could try doing them in the car. It’s almost certainly got more bedrooms. I just need to find the switch that unfolds them. Staring at the GLS through the living room window, I’ve decided it’s quite a handsome thing. This facelift has given it some nice touches, in particular a set of bladed alloys a bit like the ones you got on the McMerc SLR. The only bit of the design I can’t understand is the half-hearted way the windowline kinks upwards at the back. It’s like they designed it to be flat all the way along and then at the very last minute decided this was boring and hastily stuck an upward flick at the end without really working out the right angle for it.
Day four: Some journeying to do. The GLS is good at covering distance. It’s got air springs and the ride is, in general, very good. Although it’s sometimes caught out by ruts and cracks and the generally shit state of British roads. Get it onto smoother, German-style tarmac and it finds its form, lolloping along like a Range Rover while you look down on people whose cars aren’t big enough to be categorised as a place of worship. The only thing that spoils the atmos for the driver is an occasional and strange tizz through the steering wheel. Also, if you come to a roundabout on a dual carriageway the brakes aren’t quite as bitey as you’d like and you get a sudden reminder of how hard they’re working to prevent you clattering through the sponsorship sign from Cockflap’s Carpets. It’s much the same with the handling. For its size and weight, all 2455 kilos of it, the GLS does a reasonable job of keeping everything tidy but you’re frequently aware of the clever engineering that’s straining to keep the tyres on the road whilst a body the size and weight of a shopping centre does its best to overwhelm them. But it’s stupid to talk about handling in a car like this because no one’s going to rag the crap out of it now, are they? You just wouldn’t, and if you did it would only make your children ill and then your Google search history would contain the query, ‘how do you get sick out of quilting?’
Day five: Today is the first day I’ve got into the GLS after dark. It’s therefore the first time I’ve noticed that after sundown it has little lights in the door mirrors that project a Mercedes logo onto the ground in a way that is cool and vulgar all at the same time.
Day six: I hate to bang on about how massive the GLS is but today I parked it next to a Range Rover in the supermarket car park and it was noticeably longer. Don’t worry, the supermarket was a Waitrose, they’re used to this sort of thing. I was going to say the Merc is a bit less flash than the British car but there’s not much in it. The smoothness, serenity and quilted calm of the GLS work well in Britain but it does rather feel like one of those cars that would be more at home in Miami or Los Angeles or Dubai. In such places you can’t get this 350 diesel version but they will sell you a petrol one with a twin turbo V6 or a twin turbo V8. I bet those are quite nice. If you insist on petrol power in the UK, you’ll need the GLS63 AMG which has a 5.5-litre, 577 horsepower turbocharged V8 and sounds like it could be moderately frightening.
Goodbye: The GLS is going away. There’s much to like about it. It’s stout and practical and strangely relaxing. It’s also – brace yourselves – £78,000. Or, with the driving assist package and the off road package and the rear seat entertainment package of this test car, £84,270. Ouch. For that money you could have a pretty nice Range Rover. And that’s what I’d do. The GLS is good, but in a dark colour it looks like the kind of car they use to deliver a rock star to a venue. Whereas a Range Rover is what the rock star would drive on their own time.
The car talked about here is a Mercedes-Benz GLS350d 4Matic Designo Line. It has a 3-litre turbocharged V6 diesel engine making 255 horsepower. Mercedes says it can go from 0-62 in 7.8 seconds and on to 138mph. Without options it costs £78,095.