Scaling new heights

If you want to show off your flagship sport-utility in appropriate surroundings, you can’t do better than station it somewhere high-end and somewhat exotic. The ski lifestyle ticks both of those boxes, so at year-end Daimler had us drive its big bruiser GLS up an Alp for the final stanza of the company’s Year of the SUV. Off the back of an unseasonably mild start to winter, snow was disappointingly sparse supplemented by machines on the slopes – but there was enough to provide an eye-opening demonstration of how technology makes the road less travelled much less of a problem.

Meandering to a mountaintop lookout, kept in good order by a chain-wearing Unimog snowplough, our convoy hardly broke a sweat despite some treacherous snowdrifts and slick, icy patches in the road’s switchbacks. At several points, our lead driver invited us to try out the multiplicity of modes offered by the extremely clever 9G-Tronic transmission and driver assistance systems. For the record, Sport mode isn’t necessarily the fastest way of getting to the top in these conditions. Another tip: if you engage Low Range by mistake as we did, you’ll struggle to keep up with the rest of the cars because a locked diff encourages understeer.

In accordance with Mercedes’ new nomenclature, the GLS replaces the GL and is aligned with the S-Class sedan in the SUV pecking order. It’s a full seven-seater premium model that will be available in 350, 500 and AMG 63 variants.
Up to six transmission modes are available via the Dynamic Select system. Besides the usual modes for road driving, Individual or Off-road can be engaged. The optional Off-Road Engineering package adds an Off-Road+ mode that incoporates a low-range gearbox and centre differential lock, in addition to extended air suspension offering ride height of up to 306 millimetres and a fording depth of up to 600 millimetres. Also optional (but standard on the GLS 63) are active anti-roll bars front and rear to reduce the roll angle during cornering.

On the safety side, standard-issue driver aids include Collision Prevention Assist Plus, Crosswind Assist and Attention Assist. The optional Driver Assistance package Plus adds Distronic Plus with Stop&Go Pilot and Pre-Safe Brake with pedestrian detection, among several others