A really big, comfortable car that holds its own when travelling off-road, says Ben Samuelson
The Mercedes-Benz GLS is one of those cars that has sold fairly well globally but is virtually unknown in the UK. With the exception of a few black-with-black-glass-and-black-wheels AMG jobs that you occasionally see round the back of Harrods, I’m not sure I can really remember seeing one in the wild away from car shows and the like. However, if you go to the US, where they are built in Mercedes’s enormous Tuscaloosa plant in Alabama, they are way, way more common than Discoveries. The new GLS is the car that the Mercedes-Benz UK bosses hope is going to bring a bit of that success across the pond.
First impressions are that it is really, really big. And they aren’t misleading. This is a seriously gargantuan car, which is borne out by the amount of room that there is inside it. If you need something hugely comfortable for fully grown adults in all three rows, it really has to be one of these.
Actually, the back seats of this range-topping version are incredibly comfortable and it’s a very, very civilised place to be driven around in — or at least so my 14-year-old son said as he insisted on sitting there on his way back to school after exeat. Fold all those seats down and it takes a van-like 2,400 litres of kit. By comparison, a full-fat Range Rover takes 1,943 litres.
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The flip side is that it is not the most wieldy of machines. It’s a good thing we’re being told to make sure that we have empty parking spaces either side of us nowadays because there is no chance you’d be getting out any way other than through the sunroof if you squeezed a Mercedes-Benz GLS into a normal parking space. The new S-Class can be specced with four-wheel steering. It would really help its turning circle if this thing could be too.
That said, after dropping the boy off at school, I headed to Oxfordshire for some shooting the following day (serves him right for insisting on being chauffeured) and the GLS acquitted itself rather well. Despite coronavirus making no inter-bubble car-sharing possible, I really enjoyed picking my way round some fairly claggy fields in the big Mercedes. You can spec it with a £1,495 off-road package, which brings a low-range box and some extra electronic trickery, but I have to say that it made it everywhere the other cars did, even to the top of a long, slippery slope, despite being the only car there on standard road tyres.
Finally heading home at the end of the day, I was very grateful for its fine rolling refinement, outstanding navigation system and half-decent fuel consumption. It may not be quite as cossetting a ride as a Range Rover but the GLS really does live up to its off-road S-Class billing.
But will it sell in decent numbers? I’m not sure. This is a £90,000 car, which buys you a Range Rover with a much greater sense of occasion than this.
However, if you lease your car — and many of us do nowadays — they are likely to have some very competitive deals that make it quite a difficult thing to ignore, especially if you need seven seats, or the ability to transport something truly enormous. It may never be as ubiquitous in Oxford as it is Oxnard but, unlike a Range Rover, you can get it in dark green without spending thousands of pounds extra. I think we may be rather missing out…