I don’t think I can say anything about 2020 which has not been said yet – worst year ever, the pandemic ruined everything etc, you get the drift. Yes, it was a year where all plans went awry, but if you managed to stay free of the virus I think it is all good. The only point where I agree with the criticisms of 2020 is not getting to travel, but there is a silver lining in that too. Most people now want to go on road trips, instead of flying and that can only be a good thing, right? So for my first road trip after the lockdown and multiple unlock phases, I chose a car and destination which are both larger than life, ultra-luxurious and pretty much timeless.
I remember driving the previous generation GLS and it did not live up to the marketing spiel or burden Mercedes Benz put on it, of being the “S-class of SUV’s”. The S-class continues to be in a league of its own, even today, and for any other car to be in the same league, even if it is from the same maker, is a tough ask. Now the GLS has always been a big car, but with the new GLS it is not just the size but there is a tremendous road presence. It’s a full 77mm longer than the old car, 60mm of which has gone into the wheelbase, and it’s 22mm wider as well. The GLS is now more stylish and grown up, pun intended, with smaller headlamps and slimmer tail lamps and a lot more bling courtesy of the shiny front and rear skid plates and the big grille. 21-inch tyres complete the massive SUV look and the five-spoke alloy wheels look good too.
The interiors have been updated to match the family look of most new Mercedes’, but as it should be with the ‘S-class of SUV’s’ they are more luxurious. A tall, wide dashboard with a seamless glass panel housing two high-resolution 12.3-inch screens greets you as step inside. The two screens are functional, of course, but the way it’s all put together is what sets the GLS apart. Add the 13-speaker Burmester speaker and the super comfortable seats, and you have your own home theatre on wheels. The entire cabin is peppered with Artico faux leather, wood grain and cool brushed metal switchgear – all upping the luxe quotient of the GLS.
As expected the new GLS comes with an unending list of gadgets and features, and most of it all revolves around MBUX – Mercedes’ latest infotainment system, which is much improved. The new GLS is a connected car with the new Mercedes ME app that lets you keep tabs on the car, start and cool it, and operate the windows and sunroof remotely. Features like seats that adjust to your driving position based on your height and cabin lights that activate via motion sensors are uber cool. After all the cool stuff, I guess it is normal that the 360-degree cameras, 9 airbags, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, 11 Type-C ports (yes, 11) and auto parking assistant feel a bit regular.
The drive to Jaisalmer is about 750 km from Delhi and the roads, except the first 150 km, are at par with the best in India. These aren’t eight-lane highways, but after you cross Sikar it is pure motoring heaven. Smooth black tarmac with sparse traffic, the changing landscape and skies that put on a show. Driving a car with 3.0-litre, straight-six turbo petrol engine, which makes 362 bhp and 500Nm, and does 0-100 in about 7 seconds just makes the drive even more fun. The e-boost from the mild-hybrid system masks whatever turbo lag there is and the GLS pulls strongly, making you forget this is a big and heavy full-size SUV. The more I drive it, the more I am at ease with the size of the GLS. The steering is light and easy, the view from the driver’s seat is commanding and the brakes do a good job even at short notice.
If the luxury inside the GLS spoils you, then Suryagarh only takes it a couple of notches higher. This 42-acre property on the edge of Thar desert sits on top of a low hill and to call it a hotel would be a travesty. With its imposing entrance, fort like appearance, water bodies and arches, Suryagarh is royalty personified. Everything from the rooms to the havelis, corridors to courtyards, restaurants to the spa have been curated as an ode to tradition and luxury. Social distancing has been a part of the design much before it became mandatory if you exclude the elevators, and there are multiple places to spend your time in peace and luxury. You can start your day with the Halwai breakfast with peacocks wandering around the central courtyard, head to Taash (the cards and billiards room) for some relaxing game time or burn off some calories at Akhara (the gym). If this is too much activity, there is Neel (the pool) and Rait (the spa) to relax. The staff is extra attentive and all, reasonable, requests are fulfilled promptly with a smile.
Just like the GLS, the list of activities and experiences at Suryagarh is exhaustive. On a full moon night, you can go on a Chudail trail and if you are lucky, or unlucky, spot one. There is Dinner on the Dunes, with a folk singer and food prepared on site. You could opt to go on the Silk route trail, Suryagarh’s interpretation of the Silk route trade between the 16th-18th century. The Thar dinner is an homage to the culinary traditions of travellers who crossed the Thar, accompanied by live music from folk artistes who stay on the property. Every experience is meant to transport you to an era where luxury didn’t mean expensive brands, but quality time and attention to detail. It is pretty much the S-class of luxury properties, I would say.
Driving back to Delhi, I could not help compare the GLS and Suryagarh. Both are superlative. Both set standards in luxury and want you to experience it in the real sense. The GLS may not be the S-class and I kind of like it for not being one. In the pursuit of making it the S-class of SUV’s, Mercedes has improved the GLS tremendously. It is an excellent car – luxurious, practical, extremely comfortable, great for long distance trips and has a very good engine. Compare it to any other car in the segment and the GLS 450 would be my choice over the rest. Until the GLS 63 AMG comes along.
PHOTOS Aniruddh Kaushal