Driving the 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLS Full-Size SUV in the Austrian Alps
Rain is falling in the Austrian Alps, and for a moment the clouds clear, revealing a panoramic view of Innsbruck to the north and the Tuxer Alpen (or Tux Alps) to the southeast.
Here we climb into the Mercedes-Benz GLS, the new large SUV that replaces the outgoing GL. It doesn’t look drastically different on the outside, but the seven-passenger SUV has been reinvented as the S-Class of SUVs with an updated design, more technology, and a plush cabin.
In the United States, four variants of the GLS will go on sale in March, all with Mercedes-Benz’s 4Matic all-wheel-drive system, and each with a formidable tow rating of 7,500 pounds. The GLS450 is powered by a 362 hp, 3-liter biturbo V-6. The GLS550 gets a 449 hp, 4.7-liter biturbo V-8. A diesel option, the GLS350d, uses a turbocharged 3-liter V-6 good for 255 hp and a hefty 457 ft lbs of torque. The top-of-the-line AMG GLS63 uses AMG’s 5.5-liter biturbo V-8, tuned for 577 hp and 561 ft lbs of torque. All GLS models get a new 9-speed automatic transmission—except the AMG variant, which keeps the former GL’s 7-speed gearbox. Pricing has not yet been announced, but many expect only a slight increase over the outgoing GL, which could mean a starting price of about $70,000 for the base model and upwards of $125,000 for the AMG GLS63.
We spent our first day in the GLS550 driving from Innsbruck to Hochgurgl, the 449 hp V-8 effortlessly carrying two people and our luggage on a snowy voyage. The new gearbox is smooth and unobtrusive as we wind our way through mountains. Even though there is a light dusting of snow on the ground, we keep it in Sport mode, as the GLS’s other two standard driving modes—Comfort and Slippery—are a little too lackadaisical for our taste through the twisty bits. Fortunately, 4Matic all-wheel drive and the GLS’s optional snow tires give us plenty of traction.
For an SUV that strives to be like the cushy S-Class, the GLS achieves just the right balance. Steering and braking are easy and comfortable, but not overly numb. Standard air suspension helps us glide over various bumps and ruts, and cornering is stable with the help of the optional Active Curve System, which uses active antiroll bars on the front and rear to reduce body roll.
Our second stint included a jaunt up to nearby Timmelsjoch, a high Alpine pass on the Austro-Italian border. The roads were covered in sheets of ice from rain the night before, and here Slippery mode becomes the hero, offering just the right amount of compliance and stability around turns. At the summit, we turn around and retrace our path, driving more slowly as we head down the mountain. The antilock braking system intervenes often, chattering away around the corners, but we always feel safe and in control. For those who desire, an optional Off-Road package includes a low-range gearbox and locking center differential, and increases the ride height by up to 12.5 inches. Even without it, the GLS is perfectly capable of tackling on-road snow and slush.
Inside, the GLS boasts cleaner lines compared with its predecessor, along with a redesigned instrument panel—a large color display that now sits freely atop the central controls. Seats are substantial and supple, and are especially alluring when outfitted with optional diamond-patterned Designo napa leather.
When compared with other large luxury SUVs, the Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class offers a level of refinement difficult to match. With its S-Class–inspired design, comfort, and technology, it keeps driver and passengers ensconced in their own little cocoon, whether taking on the snow in the Austrian Alps or simply navigating the urban jungle. (mbusa.com)