Just when you thought the crossover market couldn’t get any more crowded
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£69,100 when new
What’s this? The ‘new’ GLS. Don’t be confused by Merc’s fresh naming scheme: this is basically the old GL with an ‘S’ tacked on the back and a new grille and headlights grafted on its nose. Very much a mid-life facelift, then, but if you’re not able to stretch to a Pullman Maybach S-Class, or can’t bear the thought of a V-Class, then this is the only way you’ll get more than five seats in something wearing a three-pointed star on its nose. Useful, then? Mercedes-Benz is touting the GLS as the SUV equivalent of the S-Class, and while it cannot quite live up to the S’s opulence, it’s not far off. It’ll get down and dirty in a way you’d never manage with an S either.
More so if you opt for the optional off-road pack, which for £1,985 adds a low-ratio transfer box, more buttons to press, a centre diff lock, the possibility of even higher riding air suspension and some under body protection. Few will, as Merc itself admits the majority of GLS sales go to US ‘soccer moms’ requiring the seven seats for their soccer infants. The UK only accounts for around 1,000 GLS sales a year, 90 per cent of which are this sensible 350d, the remaining 10 per cent the bonkers AMG with a biturbo 5.5-litre V8 with 585bhp and a 4.6 second 0-62mph time. Sounds silly… Those AMGs are, and will largely populate central London, everyone else opting for the 258hp 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel. It’s quick enough, taking 7.8 seconds to reach 62mph, and thanks to standard air suspension its actually handles pretty decently. Choose ‘Designo Line’ spec and the agility is aided by the Active Curve System, which reduces roll in the bends. Most will opt for AMG line specification, which brings some sporting looks and a comprehensive list of standard kit. Whichever one you chose, the revisions see the interior trading the cheaper bits of its predecessor for an altogether more appealing cabin, one befitting of the GLS’s £69,100 starting price (that AMG costing £102,330).
Anything else? Obviously with the facelift comes the promise of more efficiency and a list of electronics that rivals the stock list at Maplin. There are six drive modes – more if you choose that off-road pack – but we never found occasion where Comfort didn’t do everything ably, even when driving on the side of a snow-covered mountain. We got a go in a not-for-UK GLS 500 in the dunes in California recently, and it kept sand-rails and quad-bikers honest. So it’s capable, then? Very. The GLS might not get you as far off-road as a Unimog, but unless you count Alaskan logging among your weekend activities then you’re unlikely to be disappointed. It’s spacious, too, the seven-seat billing genuine, the rear (electrically operated) pews actually fitting adults in relative comfort. Fold them all and you could live in the rear space, while a 3.5-tonne towing capacity will haul weekend playthings like boats and race cars as if they’re not there. The GLS offers a lot, but then again it’s a lot of cash…