When asked ‘what is my all-time favourite movie’ one that nearly always springs to mind is Big. I won’t spoil it for those that haven’t seen it (do you live under a rock) but Tom Hanks assumes the body of an adult yet retains the mind and playfulness of a child, it’s funny and moving. Anyway, Mercedes-Benz New Zealand gave me the keys to something BIG, their 2020 GLS 400d. It too has matured but there’s a lot of fun to be had as well.
The GLS is the S-range of SUVs, by which I mean top of the Mercedes-Benz ladder and when it comes to this big SUV, I mean that quite literally. Its dimensions are mammoth, with a length of 5.13m and a height of 1.85m, it’s heavy too, with a kerb weight of 2,415kgs BUT (you notice that it’s a big but) proportionally it’s perfect.
The GLS’s grille is large enough for the characteristic bi-plane wings and propeller to look ‘meant to be’, the cosmetic lower air ducts suit the size of the lower apron and the matrix headlights are large enough to illuminate the way ahead.
23-inch, yes 23-inch feet (that’s almost two-feet) keep all four corners of the GLS firmly fixed to the ground, ably assisted by Mercedes 4Matic all-wheel-drive system and even the normally boring ‘boxy’ SUV silhouette seems to suit this size of vehicle. The running boards are ‘half a foot’ wide and the roof rails are sturdy enough to dangle off.
The rear is impressive too, its large kicker tailgate boasts a roofline spoiler, the taillights are LED and the chrome-effect exhaust tips make be fake, but top (or bottom) off the view well. Entry to the rear luggage area (which offers 355L the same as in an A-Class) can be dropped electrically to help you load things. Also, ALL five rear seats can be raised and lowered at a flick of a switch AND the same goes for the tow bar – after all, this is a luxury SUV.
Under the bonnet is a 3L straight-six diesel engine that offers 243kW of power and 700Nm of torque and is powerful enough to take this rather weighty, luxury-laden SUV from 0-100km/h in just 6.3 seconds.
On the subject of luxury, the GLS oozes it inside. Leather more or less everywhere you look, with piano blacks and chrome where expected. My review model came with large comfortable seats that not only heated and cooled my back but massaged it too – eight different ways.
The infotainment and instrument screens are (yes you guessed it) big and can be managed by the control pad in the console, by touch, by thumbs on the steering wheel or by voice (thanks to the intuitive MBUX system). Burmester provides the acoustics, which are exceptional as always and everything seems to be configurable and personalisable – even the head-up display which is huge, great for those of us with poor eyesight.
According to Star Trek, space is the final frontier, well you could get lost in space inside this GLS. Rear passengers (2nd row) can virtually lift their feet up at the knees and not touch the front seats, while those barely visible in the rear get USB-C connections and more space than some ‘compact SUVs’.
Yes, the new GLS is all grown up but as I said in the beginning, it’s fun too. I would have assumed that this BIG SUV would lollop around corners or dawdle up to 100km/h but the national speed limit arrives quicker than if you were in a sporty hatch and as for the bends, well, having eight-feet (two feet in each corner) on the ground, huge amounts of rubber and an enviable all-wheel-drive system, it dances around them like a teenager.
It’s quiet and soft when needs be, with barely a squeak from the diesel engine unless you decide to give it stick and then it just sounds like a V6. It dwarfs most other vehicles on the road and yet is easy to park in tight spots thanks to 360-degree camera visibility (it does beep a lot though).
In terms of safety and driving aids, it comes with everything you need and even has things you didn’t know you needed, however, most things (aside from lane keep assist in my case) are so very helpful.
Mercedes-Benz New Zealand’s 2020 GLS 400d is BIG, in fact bigger than ever but it’s better than ever too. It carries its size well and can be very mature and respectable when required BUT when no-one is looking (and when you want some playtime), it pulls up its socks and happily pokes its tongue out at so-called sportier cars (and probably have room for them in the boot). Tom Hanks will never want to be small again.