The sound of a brand-new $100,000-plus vehicle bottoming out on a boulder the size of a four-slice toaster is never music to the ears. Unless, of course, you’re into thrash metal. Come to think of it, thrash metal is exactly what we’re doing in the wilds of Utah aboard the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS 580.
We quickly determine that the boulder is an immovable object – but we also learn that the GLS is darn near an unstoppable force. The model in question is fitted with an optional off-road package, which includes an extra 30 mm of air-suspension ride height and a skid plate engineered for precisely this type of carnage. I’m left wondering if an extra millimetre to add to the 30 might have been a good idea. I’m also thankful that the skid plate has saved me from searching the wilds for fragments of a transfer case.
The rock-strewn climb is the most challenging aspect of a one-hour off-road drive. Earlier, we powered up a mountainside ATV trail and forded a stream. Then, things took a turn. The entire affair is designed to showcase the technologically advanced approach to off-roading espoused by Mercedes-Benz, and it’s an effective means of illustrating capability.
Side note: The GLS is not to be confused with the G-class, the former military vehicle that’s been converted into luxo-barge, rap-lyric legend. The GLS is the brand’s large, three-row SUV, now in its third generation and more of a competitor to the likes of Range Rover in terms of on- and off-road street cred. (Drake won’t be laying down sick GLS beats any time soon, but maybe he should.)
Just before banking off that boulder, I was holding my own in relation to the vehicle’s off-road score app. The app is not likely to get used too often by very many GLS owners, but it’s a fun feature for those who may be so inclined. Similar in concept to a data acquisition system on a race car, this feature instead measures how smooth a driver is when tackling off-road challenges such as steep climbs and descents.
On the central screen, the score reads 36. Then: ka-clang! Just like that, the score drops to 32.
It’s a sickening sound, but the Mercedes technician who rides shotgun is unperturbed. My guess? He was either directly involved in developing and testing the GLS, or he heard the stories around the water cooler in Stuttgart. He understands that, given the circumstances, the boulder is nothing more than a glorified speed bump; applying a bit more gas sees the back wheel easily dig up and over the thing before moving onwards and upwards.
If anything, the GLS helps to better illustrate why SUVs are so popular these days. This vehicle gives away nothing in terms of sheer luxury, comfort and quietness when compared to a similarly priced sedan, has space for up to seven passengers, and conquers off-road challenges like a mountain goat. What’s not to like?
The 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS arrives in dealerships across Canada later this year. At launch, there will be two versions available: the GLS 580 mentioned here and the GLS 450, powered by a turbocharged inline 3.0-litre 6-cylinder. If patterns hold true, a high-performance AMG variant will follow, and a more exclusive version bearing the Maybach badge could be on its way.
- Base price: TBD
- Engine: Turbocharged 4.0-litre V8
- Transmission / drive: 9-speed automatic / All-wheel drive
- Fuel economy (litres/100 km; combined): TBD
- Alternatives: Audi Q7, BMW X7, Infiniti QX80, Land Rover Discovery, Lexus LX 570, Range Rover, Volvo XC90
There’s not much wiggle room when sketching out a seven-seat SUV, but the new GLS is as handsome as it gets in this segment. It’s long and tall and wide, of course, but the proportions created by Gorden Wagener and his team have been masterfully executed.
The new GLS is 22 mm wider than the previous model and has a wheelbase 60 mm longer, which translates into more space for all passengers. The second-row seat now slides forward and back by 100 mm, while the third row can fit passengers up to 6-foot-4. With the second and third rows folded flat, cargo space is now 2,400 litres, an increase of 100 litres. The driving environment now features two 12.3-inch screens behind a single glass panel, one for the instrument panel and the other for the majority of vehicle controls. The standard panoramic sunroof gives new meaning to the word “panoramic.”
Out on the freeway, the GLS 580 boasts effortless performance. The twin-turbo 4.0-litre V-8 (483 hp; 513 lb-ft) is augmented by a 48-volt electrical system/generator that provides added power and torque for brief bursts. The system, dubbed EQ Boost, is also designed to recover kinetic energy and help improve overall engine efficiency. When we hit the trails, the all-wheel drive system proves adept at sending torque to the wheels with the most traction time and again.
When you have a vehicle that’s labelled “the S-class of SUVs,” you should expect plenty of high-tech luxury amenities. The GLS has this covered with an upscale interior that can be fitted with massage seats for the two front rows, a rear-seat entertainment system with tablets and up to five climate zones spanning all three rows. Factor in the central touchscreen, a touchpad set just below that, wireless phone-charging and an on-board “Alexa-like” voice-activated assistant, and you’ve got a real central processing unit.
The verdict: 9.0
There’s little to dislike about the new GLS – but the price won’t be little, either.
The writer was a guest of the auto maker. Content was not subject to approval.
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