Jaco Van Der Merwe
When it comes to SUVs, the larger offerings often take a back seat to the booming trend towards compact and more affordable options in equal amounts of sales and popularity. But just because they sell more of the smaller versions doesn’t mean carmakers have neglected their bigger models. In fact, motorists blessed enough to afford one of the big daddies are more spoilt for choice than they have ever been.
One of these is the Mercedes-Benz GLS, a car the manufacturer refers to as “the S-Class of SUVs” for obvious reasons. It slots in above the GLE and is a genuine seven-seater that offers handy boot space of 355-litres with the seats in the third row in the upright position. Shortly after benefitting from an update last year, we thoroughly enjoyed our time spent behind the wheel of the range’s diesel derivative, the GLS 400d. This month we got to sample the GLS 580 petrol version in AMG Line guise.
Funnily enough, even though this particular car heads the “conventional” GLS line-up with a price tag of R2 118 460 to boot, it’s far from the most expensive SUV wearing a three-pointed star. You’ll roughly have to fork out another bar to own the performance version in AMG GLS63 guise, an iconic G-Wagon or the newly-launched Mercedes-Maybach GLS600.
But even affluent people have to draw the line somewhere and should that be below the GLS 580, good for them. As we’ve already covered the sheer size of the car, the space on offer, it’s versatility, refinement and multitude of technology in the very similarly-specced GLS 400d, we can skip straight to the drivetrain.
Under the bonnet is a familiar face in AMG models; an electrified 4.0-litre V8 petrol engine that produces 360 kW of power and 700 Nm of torque. Temporarily on tap via EQ Boost is an additional 16kW/250Nm, making this two-and-a-half ton monstrosity even quicker. All of this is sent to all four wheels via 9G Tronic automatic transmission.
Mercedes claims that the GLS 580 will reach 100 km/h from a standstill in 4.7 sec, a number we have no reason to doubt. That is more than a second-and-a-half faster than the GLS 400d’s 0 to 100 km/h time and it doesn’t matter how used you can get to it, a big car moving this fast is still pretty mind-boggling.
It does this in a very sophisticated manner in which it manages a very quiet cabin, unlike some of the beastier versions of the engine found in AMG models. And the thrill isn’t limited to a straight line either. The handling, aided by the Airmatic air suspension system with Adaptive Damping System Plus, and braking power are up to the task of getting the GLS 580 around the bend or back to a rapid standstill.
A number we do question, however, is the fuel consumption. It is claimed to be around 10L/100 km, but the best we managed on one very subdued trip was 14.8L/100 km. Over the course of the nearly 400 km we covered in the GLS 580, of which almost half was on the open road sticking to the national limit, the final number read 19.4L/100 km. A long way off the claim, but taken into account the size of the car and the engine, probably around par for the course. Not that big fuel bills should scare off anyone planning to spend over two bar on a car.
You can consider the hefty fuel bill a very generous trade-off for the ease at which GLS 580 accelerates, its superb handling despite its size and ride comfort. And more importantly, the fact that you children will never be late for school again.
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