It is the S-Class of sports utility vehicles. The Mercedes-Benz S-Class is a series of full-size luxury sedans and limousines produced by the German automaker Mercedes-Benz, a division of German company Daimler AG. S stands for special. Now imagine there is a special class within the GL range. It is on its way to Zimbabwe. Zimoco, the only official dealership of Mercedes Benz in Zimbabwe, is already taking orders.
It competes with the BMW X7, Toyota Land Cruiser VX, Lexus LX 570, and Range Rover Sport, among others. The Mercedes gets the edge because of its stronger engines and nimbler handling.
The new range-topping 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS earns the luxury-focussed S in the GL range. The 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS450 shares all of the core structure and most of the trick dynamic componentry of the forthcoming Mercedes-Maybach GLS600 — a car you can bet will cost more than twice as much. It is however much better-looking than the Maybach.
The 450 uses a three-litre twin-turbocharged inline six that makes 270kW and 500Nm by itself, but which also incorporates a 48-volt “EQ Boost” mild hybrid system that can add up to 16kW and 250Nm of extra assistance for brief periods.
Drive goes through Merc’s nine-speed automatic gearbox and a centre coupling to all four corners. Mercedes claims a 6,2-second 0–100km/h time, which makes it only a tenth quicker than the 400d diesel over the benchmark, but still an entirely respectable number for something that weighs 2 410kg.
More impressive is the GLS’s ability to feel smaller than it actually is on the road. Physically, it is massive — at 5 213mm in overall length, it is 289mm longer than the already sizeable GLE, and only just over a centimetre shorter than a long-wheelbase S-Class.
There is huge space for both front- and second-row occupants, and even the pop-up third row is still big enough to accommodate adults without complaint — at least, none beyond that caused by having to scramble through a narrow gap to reach them. Zimbabwe might not get the 7 seater though because it comes with a biscuit wheel.
The GLS’s cabin has a 12,3-inch digital instrument pack. The materials feel plush enough to ensure the commonality does not feel like you are in a GLE.
The GLS drives with much more finesse and precision. The six-cylinder engine feels more than up to the task of motivating so much car, with solid low-down torque turning into forceful mid-range when you need acceleration. It sounds pretty good, too, in a distant way, and is more than happy to rev to the 6 500rpm redline.
Air springs are standard, and the GLS feels pliant and well damped, smoothing out urban bumps and also keeping the GLS’s body under tight control when dealing with higher-speed crests and compressions. The E-Active system adds both stereoscopic cameras to scan the approaching road surface up to 150m ahead to prepare the active dampers for imperfections, and also a clever anti-roll system that counteracts the tendency of the tall body to lean under hard loads by pumping hydraulic fluid to the top or bottom of each damper unit.
It is a different way of delivering the same outcome as the pure-electric system offered by Audi and Bentley. This seems to work impressively well, even on some of the roughest backroads in our rural areas. The softness of the base system gives impressive compliance: the E-Active allows quick reactions to counteract both pitch and roll.
In addition to the normal Comfort and Sport dynamic settings, E-Active brings what is called Curve mode, which does not just fight lateral G force, but actually leans the GLS’s body into a turn by up to three degrees, like a bike.
Initially this feels very odd, cancelling out much of the centripetal effect your neck muscles expect when turning. But after a few minutes you will get used to it.
E-Active brings another trick — one designed to help the GLS out in the seriously unlikely event of an owner driving it far enough into the wilderness to get stuck in soft ground.
The Free Driving Assist works by bouncing the car up and down at each corner to help free it.
The GLS feels quite like an SUV version of the S-Class. The link feels much closer than it did in previous generations. It is a majorly talented all-rounder, with enough substance to be a strong contender in our image-obsessed part of the market.
l Engine: 2 999cc inline six, twin-turbocharged, 48V mild hybrid
l Transmission: 9-speed auto, all-wheel drive
l Power: 270kW @ 5 500–6 100rpm (plus 16kW electric)
l Torque: 500Nm @ 1 600–4 000rpm (plus 250kW electric), 0–100km/h: 6,2sec
l Top speed: 238km/h
l Weight: 2 410kg