SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH–Of all the places I’ve been to in the world to date, the state of Utah is the most interesting, primarily because of its stunning scenery — which is much different in the southern part than the north — but also because of its genealogy, which I will explain in a minute.
Down south, in Navajo country, the topography is spectacular; the ridges of rock (which might one time have been mountains, for all I know) are called hoodoos, and the erosion over the centuries has left them coloured red, white and orange. The middle of the state, if you will, is very hilly, but also where the famous Bonneville Salt Flats are located (where most of the world’s land-speed records are established). The Rocky Mountains pass through the northern part of the state, and the high hills up there are green, distinct from those in the middle that look like sandstone.
As I said, interesting.
Even more interesting is the genealogy. My mother, years ago, told me that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) had made a remarkable contribution to civilization by recording the births and deaths of everyone in the world. When we arrived here several weeks ago for the global drive of the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GSL SUV — and what a car that is, as I will explain later — I asked the fellow driving me to the launch site about what my mother had told me.
“See that mountain over there?” he said, pointing at a peak off to our right. “In that mountain is the Vault, where all of the records are kept. They have over three billion pages of records in there. The microfilm library, every year, adds more than 40,000 rolls of microfilm and microfiche. You want to search your family history, you can do it in there. You’re in there; I’m in there. It’s a wonderful place to be.”
I didn’t have time, this trip, to follow up. I was due at the Lodge at Blue Sky, where I would hear all about the all-new Mercedes GLS from various company executives and PR people and get to drive one around for two days, on road and off. I’m going back one day, though, to spend some time in the Vault, which is open to the public. No Ancestry.ca for me, boy. I’m a fan of the Real Thing, and searching family trees is right up there on my list of Things I Like To Do Myself.
Meanwhile, after checking in (I was shown to my room by senior guest manager Lane Stoltzner, a moguls specialist on the U.S. ski team), I sat down to listen to Matthias Lucke, the GLS product manager, who said, “You can have it all with the new GLS — more space, more comfort, more off-road capability, more innovative tech and more luxury. It is,” he said, “more than ever, the S-Class of the SUVs.”
I had to agree with him. Not because I was there specifically to review this car, but because everything he said turned out to be true. This luxury SUV is really something.
However, I do have a nit. As I have often said about many of the cars I’ve had the pleasure of driving in recent years, you have to wonder if some things are really necessary. I mean, just about every car and light truck on the market in 2019 has got a ton of gizmos to make driving the thing easier and safer. At some point, there just aren’t any more gizmos needed.
But that doesn’t stop (or hasn’t, to this point) the designers and engineers from trying. I can just see a bunch of them sitting around in a room, and one turns to another and says, “Hey, why don’t we …?” And everybody looks at everybody else and, as if on cue, they all burst out laughing. “Terrific!” they say. “Let’s do it!”
And in this case, they have come up with — are you ready? — a car wash mode. I’m not making this up. The Mercedes-Benz GLS car wash mode, at the touch of a button, increases the car’s ground clearance, folds in the side mirrors, closes the windows and sunroof, switches the climate control to air-recirculation mode and — most important — deactivates the rain sensor so that the windshield wipers don’t get carried away and become damaged in the process.
On the flip side, their new Downhill Speed Regulation (DSR) button is a brilliant idea and whoever thought it up should get a bonus. This is a gizmo well worth the money. You know how you can be cruising along at — say — the speed limit of 100 km/h and you come to a big valley and, unless you step on the brake, by the time you get to the bottom you’re going 20 km/h faster and you’re being waved over by a cop for speeding. Don’t laugh; I have seen this happen. With the DSR, this won’t happen. It will automatically brake for you and maintain your 100 km/h speed all the way down. As I said: brilliant.
Mercedes-Benz is doing something right when it comes to this vehicle. More than 550,000 have been sold since the launch of its predecessor, the GL, in 2006, and they have high hopes for this generation. And they should have. An older demographic, or a family with more than two children, will love this car because it is easy to enter and exit and the creature comforts inside leave little to desire.
OK, here’s a lot of what else you’ll find out about the GLS when it arrives in Mercedes-Benz showrooms this fall (when they will also reveal how much it will cost):
The GLS 450 4MATIC is powered by a turbocharged in-line six-cyclinder engine, plus 48-volt technology. The integrated starter/alternator system is responsible for hybrid functions such as energy recuperation, which helps with fuel savings. Power output is 362 hp and 369 lb.-ft. of torque, but the EQ Boost (from energy recuperation) will add 21 hp and 184 lb.-ft. in short bursts, allowing the vehicle to go from zero to 100 km/h in 6.2 seconds.
Also available is the GLS 580 4MATIC, which is powered by a turbocharged V8 engine. It makes 48s hp and 516 lb-ft. of torque. Add the EQ Boost and you can go from zero to 100 km/h in 5.3 seconds. Whoosh!
The power from both engines is transmitted by a 9G-TRONIC automatic transmission, and there are eight driving modes: Eco, Comfort, Sport, Sport Plus, Individual, CURVE, Off Road and Off-Road Plus. Most are self-explanatory, but CURVE, for instance, allows you to tilt the car on particularly twisty roads.
(An aside: While driving down the side of a mountain on an interstate highway, I was extolling the virtues of the handling. “Wow,” I said, “if it handles this well in Eco mode, what will it be like in CURVE?” And my co-driver, Costa Mouzouris, who used to write for Toronto Star Wheels, looked at the settings and said: “It’s already in CURVE mode.” And that explained how easy it was for me to drive that car down that mountain. But I digress.)
I liked the AIRMATIC Air Suspension feature, which individually controls spring and damping forces at each wheel. Translation: it suppresses rolling, pitching and lifting movements. Sensor systems and algorithms constantly analyze driving conditions and make adjustments. For instance, if you’re belting right along, the system will automatically lower the chassis to improve the vehicle’s aerodynamics. That’s pretty cool.
It is a good-looking car on the outside. The upright radiator grille, the LED multibeam headlight design and two-piece tail light design, the chrome window surrounds and the 23-inch wheels (they start at 19-inch) all catch your eye. The two power domes on the hood say (or they say to me, anyway) that this is a powerful automobile.
Inside, standard features include a widescreen cockpit with a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and a 12.3-inch touchscreen media display. Ambient lighting illuminates the dashboard as well as the cockpit area. Handles on both sides of the raised centre console make accessing a touchscreen easier. And the steering wheel is heated.
The wheelbase is longer (3,135 mm — plus 60), and this makes sitting in the third row easier for taller people. Legroom for people in the second row has been increased by 87 mm. If you fold down all the seats, the cargo capacity is 2,400 litres, which will make going to Ikea a breeze. In short, this is a bigger car and a more comfortable car.
Here are some of the standard features that were previously optional: enhanced front and rear heated seats (I like that one); climate-controlled cupholders (really); panoramic sunroof; “Hey, Mercedes” function; wireless smartphone charging; blind-spot assist and exit warning; heated steering wheel and Sirius XM satellite radio.
There are still options, of course. Among them: second-row captain chairs, a premium rear seating package (seven-inch Android tablet), a second-row luxury centre armrest, five-zone automatic climate control, lumbar massage (my wife is a big fan of that one) and a compartment for additional USB ports.
I want to go back to that tablet. You can use it to control all the climate and infotainment functions — such as access to radio, TV and phone — and you can surf the web. Pretty impressive.
The Intelligent Drive Package contains the now-usual active distance assist, emergency stop assist and so-on. We are, every day, getting closer and closer to autonomous vehicles. We’re not there yet, but Mercedes is making it easier — and safer — to drive their vehicles. This package has nine different assists — all worth considering.
I mentioned the Off Road and Off-Road Plus modes earlier. The Off Road mode is for optimum all-wheel drive performance on light terrain (most cottage roads, other than the ones in Muskoka, where the hockey players live in the summer); the Off-Road Plus mode promises outstanding traction on difficult/steep terrain where the surface is rocky. We had to use the Off-Road Plus mode for an off-road exercise, and it performed flawlessly.
One of the modes I haven’t mentioned, but which I think is swell, is the rocking mode. Get stuck in the snow next winter and, instead of asking passing pedestrians and other motorists to give you a push, all you have to do is turn on the rocking mode and it will help you rock your way out.
I wish we’d had that feature in Abu Dhabi late last year when my co-driver and I got stuck in a sand dune while driving another automaker’s car. We could have rocked our way out before seven Arab gentlemen had to stop and rescue us. But that’s another story. I’ve finished this one.