Flagship SUV remains large and firmly in charge

LAUNCH | 2024 Mercedes-Benz GLS is a luxurious road titan

Brenwin Naidu Motoring editor, reporter and presenter
Stylistic updates include a new grille and bumper design.
Stylistic updates include a new grille and bumper design.
Image: Supplied

Certain bragging rights accompany ownership of a Mercedes-Benz flagship model.

If you have the status befitting S-Class or GLS-Class ownership – as well as the means to do so – life is obviously treating you rather nicely indeed.

The S-Class ("Sonderklasse" in German, which means "special class" translated to English); was for decades the ultimate statement of luxury in the Mercedes-Benz portfolio.

But buyers' ever-increasing partiality towards the sport-utility vehicle genre has seen the larger GLS-Class model representing a greater degree of appeal, as it offers the typical standard of plushness but with the potential for overlanding.

And no matter if you have no plans to encounter more than a gravel road or wet grass. Fact is, you have the ground clearance, all-wheel drive capability and requisite heft, should the mood for bundu-bashing strike.

We kept things on asphalt at the national media introduction of the model last week though. And admittedly – despite the sheer size and tough air of the model – even driving through small muddy puddles had me wincing.

Can you blame a guy though? This is a vehicle with a base price starting at R2,323,337! That is how much you will pay for the 450d model. Add the AMG Line trim and you are in for R2,414,237.

If you have your heart set in the GLS 580 AMG Line, that will be R2,876,699.

The GLS packs significant presence, even in a subtle shade of white.
The GLS packs significant presence, even in a subtle shade of white.
Image: Supplied

Oh but wait, it gets even more extravagant. Remember that there are levels to this wealth thing, even at the extreme end. You can have the more exuberant Mercedes-AMG GLS 63 derivative at a cost of R4,243,127.

But if you really want to lord it over your peer group, then you must have the pinnacle of the line-up, the Mercedes-Maybach GLS 600. That will be a cool R4,536,434; please and thank you.

One example of this specimen was available for us to inspect, but not drive, at the event. With its massive chrome alloys, classical hood ornament and stately black paintwork, it commanded attention.

But there was another trick up its sleeve: the pneumatic suspension with its hopping functionality. Apparently, the feature is useful in Middle East markets where the bouncy up-down motion assists to free the vehicle should it get bogged in soft sand, while exploring dunes.

High level of digitisation complemented by rich finishes.
High level of digitisation complemented by rich finishes.
Image: Supplied

In our market though, the feature is best deployed to make occupants look like fixtures in a hip-hop music video.

Our time behind the wheel was exclusively with the GLS 450d AMG Line. All models in the range are equipped with the 4MATIC all-wheel drive system.

The 450d makes use of the proven in-line, six-cylinder 2,989cc turbocharged-diesel unit. It delivers a healthy 270kW and 750Nm. It gets better though because a mild hybrid system provides an additional, intermittent boost of 15kW/200Nm.

A resultant wave of creamy, stout acceleration is delivered, hustling from standstill to 100km/h in an urgent manner that feels true to the claim of 6.1 seconds. Transmission is dealt with by a nine-speed automatic, swapping cogs in rapid and unobtrusive fashion.

A massive 90l tank makes the GLS 450d a bona fide cross-country tourer. Should you match the quoted fuel consumption of 7.5l/100km, you could see a cruising range of 1,200km. My driving partner and I would have expressed no objections to covering such mileage on that day, comfortably ensconced in the two supportive front seats of the large Mercedes-Benz.

As expected, the interior is replete with the necessary trappings.
As expected, the interior is replete with the necessary trappings.
Image: Supplied

With the heated seats activated, palms confidently gripping the thick-rimmed AMG Line wheel, the GLS made for an effortless conveyance through provincial backwaters. Fellow road users (especially those who usually hog the right lane on the freeway); clearly noticed the frontal styling updates – given how hastily they made way.

The scope includes a revised radiator grille, restyled bumper and tougher-looking scuff plate insert. Fresh alloy designs are also part of the mix, so is a new illumination pattern for the rear lighting clusters, with three distinctive "blocks" inset. Of course, buyers at this level are going to want to spend even more on customisation, possibly ticking all the options on offer.

But in terms of standard kit, there seems to be no glaring omissions. A panoramic sunroof, 360-degree camera, adaptive air suspension and hands-free tailgate are among the highlights.

Now, the GLS packs serious presence and delivers the creamy experience matching its place in the range.

But even though shoppers in this price point have deep pockets, they are by no means ignorant when it comes to value.

It is interesting that the direct rival to the Mercedes-Benz, the BMW X7, comes in at R2,069,309 (xDrive40d Design Pure Excellence). Even the range-topping X7 M60i at R2,480,558 undercuts the equivalent GLS 580 AMG Line by a significant margin.

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