‘You don’t buy an S-Class for its rolling acceleration figures or for its ability to set the Nurburgring track on fire – you buy one because it adds value to the quality of (your) life.’
It’s hard to argue with that statement, if you consider the sort of people who buy this car the world over includes everyone from the politically affiliated to those regularly hounded by the paparazzi.
So who is this new GLS for, then? It’s roughly one A-Class cheaper than the S. It can supposedly seat seven – that’s three more than you can squeeze into an S-Class – and because it comes from M-B’s Gelandewagen family, it is expected to ferry its occupants up mountain passes and the like in a plush, feature-rich and efficient manner. The GLS, then, is a new-age car for people who like to feel important and may have more than one example of what are known as ‘children’. In other words, it’s an S-Class that isn’t really one, for people who want one (or already own one), but don’t think of it as appropriate behaviour to pile children into a trunk.
Once you’re past the gates (it would be gross injustice to call them doors), you will be greeted by large, quilted leather seats with contrasting stitching, a seriously expensive feel to every tastefully selected texture and a glossy rich-definition screen positioned dead-centre on the dashboard. If you seat yourself in the driver’s seat, you will find an information-packed instrument binnacle, an array of buttons to play with, and a set of paddle-shifters. Seven airbags make up for the lack of under-seat life vests and the huge panoramic sunroof could host a Premier League football match on it.
Reach for the ignition button, and you can barely hear the GLS come to life. Given how far apart you sit from the engine bay, and insulation employed, it’s not surprising how quiet the cabin is at idle. It’s a rather simple 3.0-litre turbocharged diesel V6 powerplant that produces a rather modest 254 bhp at 3600 rpm. What’s not so modest is the 63 kgm of torque on offer, which is not only more than that of the Audi Q7 3.0 TDI but is also, to describe it briefly, a lot.
The GLS comes with Mercedes’ new 9-speed automatic transmission which is simply a terrific unit and a hugely welcome departure from the archaic 7G-TRONIC gearbox. In practical situations, it means the GLS can now go from standstill to 100 kph in under eight seconds. This also means the GLS is extremely enjoyable to drive on any kind of road and its engine, despite not being very powerful, is fast enough for the highway.
At this point, you should also hope that it handles decently well – it does, thankfully. Okay, so it’s not a patch on the Porsche Cayenne or even a BMW X6, but thanks to some good old engineering and a generous contact patch (can’t go wrong with that), the GLS offers tremendous grip at all times, and while the handling isn’t what you’d call ‘exciting’, it’ll do a fine job of keeping clear of pavements. That’s important for the rich and famous, as I’m sure you’re well aware of.
The one significant improvement (although I’m not sure if it is a recent development) in the GLS is the way it rides, which is a massive change from when the GL made its Indian debut in 2010. An Adaptive Damping System along with M-B’s proven AIRMATIC suspension system offers highly customisable suspension characteristics, all of which are extremely effective in all kinds of driving situations. Also new is the Dynamic Select driving mode feature, which lets you choose from between four modes – Sport, Comfort, Slippery and Individual – that alters throttle response, ESP and gearshifts, thus making the GLS close to perfect in terms of usability and practicality. Well done, Germans!
So, is the GLS the new S-Class? Is it an alternative, at least? I think I’ll go with the latter. For many, the S-Class lacks the outward flamboyance that is expected of a car of its price tag. It’s a bit too understated and discreet, and then there is the moral dilemma of leaving your kids behind when on holiday. The GLS, in that perspective, is ideal for those who want to compromise neither on luxury nor on practicality. It’s a genuinely impressive car on most aspects and with its Rs 80.3 lakh price tag, it also spells a lot of value for money. Sure, it won’t go around corners like a Porsche and it won’t out-accelerate your neighbour’s Beemer, but it does the one thing the S-Class is supposed to – add value to your life. I guess that motoring journalist I quoted at the beginning of this story might have been right, after all. How about you send him an S-Class on a long-term test, Mercedes?
MERCEDES-BENZ GLS 350 d
Displacement: 2987 cc, V6, turbo diesel
Max power: 254 bhp@3400 rpm
Max torque: 63.2 kgm@1600-2400 rpm
Transmission: 9-speed, auto
F/R: 275/50 R20
L/W/H (mm): 5120/2141/1849
Wheelbase: 3076 mm
Ground clearance: NA
Kerb weight: NA
Fuel capacity: 100 litres
PRICE: Rs 80.3 lakh (ex-showroom, Pune)