Buckle up! With the new GLS in the Californian desert.
AIRMATIC: it's like driving on clouds.
A rural road 15 kilometres behind the small Californian desert town of Cahuilla Hills. Travelling at around 90 kilometres per hour, the GLS peacefully glides over the numerous potholes in the road’s surface as if they didn’t even exist. There’s no doubt about it, the AIRMATIC air suspension system is at work. It adjusts the suspension to suit the prevailing driving situation and the condition of the road by having the individual wheels regulate themselves automatically.
Thanks to this technology, the suspension serenely smooths out any unevenness in the road.
We turn off the State Route and head onto a small side street. The asphalt increasingly turns into sandy ground. On straight stretches of road, the driving experience initially remains as comfortable as it previously was, but a short time later we drive along a part of the road riddled with snaking bends, so we turn the DYNAMIC SELECT switch from 'Comfort' to 'Off-road'. The road is uneven and we're even more thankful for the ACTIVE CURVE SYSTEM. Even on the worst of roads, its active roll stabilisation ensures that cornering remains a comfortable experience.
And something else impresses us too: despite its stately dimensions, measuring in at more than five metres and weighing over 2,500 kilogrammes with driver and 60 litres of fuel, the GLS 500 4MATIC catapults us with ease out of the bends and up the hill without losing traction thanks to its eight-cylinder biturbo engine and all-wheel-drive system.
GLS 500 4MATIC:
Fuel consumption combined: 11.3–10.9 l/100 km;
combined CO₂ emissions: 264–255 g/km;
V8 power plant.
We carry on along the dusty track, passing a wind farm on the way which lies still in the wind-free air. We start climbing. The charge pressure of the two turbochargers rises. Accompanied by the imposing growl of the V8 engine, which boasts maximum torque of 700 newton metres between 1,800 and 4,000 rpm, and an output of 455 hp, we climb the mountain. On the way up, the 9G-TRONIC automatic transmission harmoniously shifts the gears.
Dust, sand and freedom.
The GLS feels like the S-Class just got handed a whole host of off-road capabilities. Easy terrain is conquered without having to use ESP once on this vehicle equipped with the 4MATIC all-wheel drive system. Those who prefer the challenges of extreme off-road terrain will particularly enjoy the optional Off-Road Engineering package. It offers up to 262 millimetres of ground clearance, whilst also featuring the additional “Off-road Plus” transmission mode. Using this optimises the drive system for driving on loose ground. Recommendable in off-road terrain is manual gearshifting: in “M” mode, the gears can be shifted to suit the climbs up ahead. Unfortunately, there’s no river in sight for miles around these parts, so we won’t be able to test out the 60-centimetre fording depth today – but crossing rivers is definitely a task we wouldn’t fear in the luxury off-roader.
A feeling of spaciousness.
The cloud of dust to the rear slowly settles as we turn off the engine for a short drinks break. Our eyes feast upon the generously dimensioned cockpit. Even here, it’s clear why the GL successor is seen as the S-Class among SUVs: even first-class demands are met by this interior. Every fine detail of the vehicle demonstrates top-quality craftsmanship: from the high-grip, high-quality multifunction sports steering wheel in nappa leather, to the leather-covered dashboard and comfortable leather seats. The crowning glory, however, is the eight-inch colour media display of the COMAND Online system, which remains clearly legible even if the sun is shining brightly into the vehicle. It adds to the feeling of spaciousness, comfort and luxury. Speaking of spaciousness, the GLS offers masses of it: its boot has some intelligent features like a cargo position for the rear seat backrests, which take its volume up to 680 litres –an impressive maximum of 2,300 litres is even possible.
You could easily turn the GLS into a comfortable camp for a night under the stars of the Californian desert.
Impressive in all disciplines.
We drive back to Desert Palms via Palm Springs. Despite the desert around us, there’s actually a surprising amount of greenery here. Innumerable golf courses adorn the region while water for the lush botany comes from the Colorado River. After a peaceful drive, we turn into a driveway shaded under the palms. Here, Active Parking Assist with PARKTRONIC proves itself to be a useful aid: precisely and autonomously, it steers the vehicle into the parking space, leaving us to only look after shifting, accelerating and braking. We turn off the engine. We’re left with a feeling of pure exaltation: the GLS is an S-Class, an SUV and a potent off-roader all rolled into one vehicle which serves so many demands whilst somehow managing to bring all of these disciplines together into perfect harmony.