28 June 2021
28 June 2021
It may be a normal day ‘at the office’ for Matt Taylor, professional stunt-car driver and an advanced driving instructor at the Mercedes-Benz Accelerate driving events, but manoeuvring a GLS 400d along the edge of a hilltop at what feels like a death-defying angle might just be one step too far out of this driver’s comfort zone.
“Go on,” laughs Taylor, “do it!” In response to my cautious pressure on the accelerator, the GLS purrs forward, gradually tilting so far onto its axis that it seems inevitable we’ll end up upside-down. But no, the vehicle forges ahead, as easily as if we’re cruising along a suburban street. Not shaken, but definitely stirred, we return to a horizontal position. If a car could roll its eyes and shrug – and with the technology in this impressive SUV, I wouldn’t be surprised – it’s what this GLS would be doing right now, as it nonchalantly navigates its way back down the hair-raisingly steep, rutted track to the race circuit at Sydney Motorsport Park.
Get lost in space
This seven-seater will comfortably (who are we kidding – luxuriously) transport a small army of people, pets and luggage in a number of configurations, thanks to its three rows of electric-powered seats, which can be folded separately, or all together with a touch of a button. When they’re all folded down, your luxury family SUV pretty much turns into a van, with a load capacity of up to 2,400 litres. That’s a lot of room for your camping gear, skis, golf clubs and luggage!
If you’re just loaded up with littlies, though, you won’t need to hear a peep from them as they amuse themselves with the MBUX Rear-seat Entertainment System, which has two touchscreens for them not to fight over. Add the Rear Comfort Package Plus, and you get a separate tablet integrated into the central armrest that will control everything, from air-flow to entertainment.
Off-road, on point
Gone are the days when going off the beaten track was a bone-rattling exercise in discomfort. The standard AIRMATIC air-suspension system ensures the GLS maintains the right ground clearance, whatever the load. It can also lower the car to enable ease of access for passengers or for loading the boot, and to create a more streamlined profile on the freeway to reduce fuel consumption.
Add the revolutionary optional E-Active Body Control system, and it enables you to control the spring and damping forces at each wheel to suppress rolling, pitching and lifting, whatever the terrain you’re tackling or load you’re lugging. As in the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, this system uses a camera and sensors in the body to monitor the road or terrain ahead – particularly handy when an incline or descent is too steep for the driver to get a clear view. It’s really no wonder the GLS was named ‘Best Upper Large Luxury SUV’ in Australia’s 2021 Drive Car of the Year Awards.
Breaking new ground – literally
The ability to adjust each wheel individually in Off-Road drive mode means that traversing the most rugged terrain results in an unbelievably comfortable, level ride for passengers. And, should you get stuck, you can raise or lower each wheel with a touch of the screen to help free the car. But that’s not all… The E-Active Body Control system also offers what some might treat like a fairground ride, but others might consider a life saver – the ground-breaking Rocking Mode.
Say you’ve gone and got yourself stuck in sand. The wheels are spinning, but the GLS isn’t going anywhere. Simply activate Rocking Mode on your touchscreen while you’re in Off-road drive mode, and the car will rock itself free by repeatedly raising and lowering the suspension levels, which in turn alternately increases and decreases the ground pressure of the tyres to improve traction. Onwards and upwards.
Home and hosed
So you’ve returned to the big smoke after hitting the highway for some off-road antics. The car looks just as you’d expect after some serious country miles – absolutely filthy. Now, this is a lot of car, and it’s going to take a lot of washing on a Sunday afternoon. This is why Mercedes-Benz added a smart new feature as standard – the carwash function. Select this, and the GLS will ready itself for your local automatic carwash by folding in its wing mirrors and raising the suspension to its highest position. This not only moves the wheels inwards slightly (helping to avoid the alloys getting scratched along any guard rails), but expands the space in the wheel wells to ensure any dirt trapped there can be removed more effectively. In this mode, too, anything else that might be affected by a carwash will be deactivated – including the automatic windscreen wipers, sensor alarms and sliding sunroof. As you leave the carwash, the system automatically switches back to normal once you’ve accelerated above 20km/hr. Just enough time to start planning that next off-road adventure…
Book a test drive to experience the Mercedes-Benz GLS on the road and off it.
By Sally Feldman