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Tame the wilderness while keeping your cola cold

S Muralidhar | Updated on January 18, 2018

Gentle behemoth The Mercedes-Benz GLS is a massive beast that belies its size with its performance and poise S MURALIDHAR

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Test_drive

If you are stuck in a sort of jurassic world, you’ll certainly want to be in a Merc GLS. Just remember to choose the one with the open-pore wood trim



Cars that are sold in India tend to look much smaller on American roads, as is the case vice versa – the cars that look compact in the US, seem massive and unmanageable on Indian roads. It is a version of the theory of relativity – you know it only seems logical, but it is also a warping of reality. They are the same dimensions, but set against the backdrop they morph from being midgets to giants.

We were being overwhelmed similarly by the sheer size of the new Mercedes-Benz GLS 350d. At hand for a test drive in Delhi, we were boxed in uncomfortably smack in the middle of peak hour traffic and the proximity sensor was going berserk. The GLS is the kind of size that will make Americans purr with delight. It has floor boards running along both sides and to get behind the wheel you have to really heave yourself in.

Design

The GLS follows the equally big footprint of the old GL Class and frankly still has a lot of the familiar straight lines of the older model. It follows Mercedes’ new naming convention and nomenclature with the GL identifying that it is a Merc Sports utility and the S at the end signifying that this is the top of the line, just like the S-Class amongst sedans. The SUV line up from Mercedes-Benz now includes the GLA at the bottom, the GLC and GLE in the middle and the GLS at the top. The G-Wagon is, of course, in a class of its own.

The 2016 GLS has a lot of similarities with the previous model, but subtle changes to the design make it look more exclusive and sporty. The two-slatted bonnet grille with the large three-pointed star logo – the signature trait of Merc SUVs – is bigger and bolder in the GLS 350d which we were driving. The LED headlamp with the colour changing trademark eye-brow style daytime running lights also borrows the rest of the layout from the new GLE and GLE coupé. Two power domes on the bonnet add to the look of strength at the front of the GLS.

Viewed from the side, the 2016 GLS shows off many of the same design elements which have been carried forward from the previous model. Fairly simple, straight lines frame the large SUV’s tall shoulders nicely, without making it look boxy. The squared-off wheel arches compliment the big SUV looks and boost the image of power delivered unequivocally by the massive 20-inch, 10-spoke alloy wheels. There are a number of chrome highlights around the GLS including the roof rails, the underbody protectors, beltline trim strips, boot handle and side sill trim. Hexagonal tailpipes with chrome finishers are paired with the chrome protectors. The tail-lights feature LED tubes in the signature Merc formation delivering the trademark night design of the brand.

Cabin

Heave yourself into the GLS’ cabin and you’ll be staring at a more refined interior design, and even more luxurious materials and trim than what the exteriors of the vehicle may have led you into expecting. The first point to note, of course, is that there are three rows of seats capable of seating a maximum of seven passengers in comfort. As is to be expected, there is dedicated air-conditioning for all three rows. The massive panoramic sunroof, the cooled/ heated cup holders and the 8-inch media display with touchpad are the first features that really grab your attention.

The dashboard itself features a simple, elegant layout with the typical Merc brand trademark design for the trim elements. There is the double stitched man-made leather panels and leather seats, and the Nappa leather wrapped steering wheel which is heated too. There are two trim theme options – light aluminium with longitudinal grain or open-pore brown ash wood.

There is more than enough space for the first two rows of seats, though the knee-room for the third row will be a bit of a squeeze for adults. The boot space is 680 litres with all seats in use and 2,300 litres with the second and third rows folded. There are some special bits thrown in including smartphone integration with Apple CarPlay, Adaptive Highbeam Assist in the intelligent headlamp package, brand logo projecting door mirrors and active parking assistance, but overall the 2016 GLS’ cabin is luxurious but doesn’t come across as being too special.

Performance

The GLS carries over the 3-litre V6 diesel engine from its predecessor, though the powertrain is a bit different with the special 9G-TRONIC Merc transmission. The auto gearbox has been further optimised for efficiency with reduced torque converter slip. The engine stays in the same state of tune with peak power delivered at 258hp and peak torque being 620Nm. Acceleration may seem a bit lazy at 7.8 seconds to 100kmph, but remember that this is an SUV weighing over two tonnes.

The Dynamic Select controller lets you choose the driving mode between Comfort, Sport, Slippery, Individual and Off-road. Turn it to Comfort and the GLS feels like a luxury cruise liner gliding on calm waters when you are on a clean stretch of straight tarmac. The steering is light and very manoeuvrable in city traffic, which is a blessing for such a large SUV. Shift into Sport and the AIRMATIC suspension with adaptive dampening ensures that the ride quality is stiffer and the gearbox character also changes to deliver a more agile performance.

Braking is progressive, but we thought it could do with more feel at the pedal. Manual gear selection is possible using the steering mounted paddles and this is the mode that actually makes you believe that this hulk can defy its heft and really move. The GLS features the 4MATIC permanent all-wheel drive system, and it also has the right dimensions to tackle extreme off-roading conditions.

Bottomline

Mercedes-Benz gets a big chunk of its sales from SUVs and India is the GLS’ tenth biggest market. So, this is a key model for the brand. At about ₹80 lakh (ex-showroom), the GLS is a lot of SUV for your money. We only hope Merc will make the GLS’ cabin a bit plusher next time around. It can then wear the ‘S’ badge with even more pride.

Published on July 28, 2016

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