Words by Nick Hendrix
Three second-hand Ted Baker suits. They weren’t even new. That’s what was stolen from my car at 1.40am Saturday 5th August, and that’s what led me to write this review. I wasn’t planning it or expecting it, but in some ways I’m glad the criminal with a penchant for used TV costumes came a-knocking on my (rear driver’s side) window.
As ever in life, everything happens at the wrong time – in this instance I had been landed with the conspicuous lack of a rear window at a time when I needed to drive a very long distance with a toddler in the back. Although Autoglass were surprisingly quick to arrange a replacement, I still had a problem: How does one drive out to the countryside to deposit said toddler with his grandparents so that his brow-beaten parents could eat/sleep/rest/repeat at the sumptuous Soho Farmhouse, when they don’t have a car?
Well, thankfully, as a TV Detective-cum-automotive journalist, I know a guy who knows a guy who works for a guy. My specific requirements were a car large enough to accommodate the possessions of an overly prepared family that also had some thrill, entertainment value and would feel at home at the country retreat of the rich and infamous. Enter the behemoth Mercedes Benz GLS 63 AMG. The car no one knew they needed until they used it. The car that makes a Range Rover look like a Fiat Panda. The car that I now desperately want to own.
The GLS is the lesser owned big brother of the already large GLE, packing a whopping 612hp and the, all familiar, AMG brand of raucous exhaust note, biturbo V8 and 4Matic 4-wheel drive system. All AMGs have the 4Matic, go anywhere proposition, but this German monster truck really makes you believe it – particularly with the added benefit of raised ride height for those particularly tricky rural lanes/aggressive Bond Street curbs (delete as appropriate.)
Upon collection I rushed to load the car up for our trip and felt a weight lifted from my shoulders as I packed the boot. With a cubic capacity of 890L I felt like I was throwing satsumas into the Royal Albert Hall – never before have I laid our (many many) possessions side by side. Usually packing resembles some kind of heinous Tetris game where Game Over is the reality of leaving either my bag or the pram at home – neither of which are in any way possible.
This spatial generosity extends to the rear legroom – not that my two-year-old needed it, of course, but footwells are usually utilised for extra paraphernalia storage, however, with the boot containing our entire life’s possessions, the footwells were free and breezy. I’m 6’1 and after having a little test I’d say that Michael Jordan could get comfy back there.
We all hopped aboard and set our sights on the childcare haven of my in-laws. The interior of the GLS is now updated to the most current Mercedes Benz infotainment system, which comes with every bell and proverbial whistle you can find. First seen in their little A Class ironically, the impressively thin touch screen and voice activated tech is practical, stylish and feels expensive. As it should, when this car, on the road, weighs in at over £140,000.
As we arrived at the above-mentioned haven my son was quick to learn a new combination of words. He’s previously said ‘Car’ quite happily for every vehicle he passed, but clearly so taken with the magnitude of the GLS he developed a new one: ‘Big Car’ I think that sums it up.
Toddler evacuated into the loving arms of his grandparents, Mummy and Daddy set sail for the Cotswolds. The lack of a sleeping youngster meant Sport + Mode could be fully enjoyed along with the riotous soundtrack that accompanies it. I know it seems juvenile, but a throaty exhaust note never gets old when you’re in control of it. (It tires almost instantly when you’re not.)
For all its aforementioned vastness, the GLS manages to disguise a fair amount of its bulk when pushed around a bit – of course it’s never going to feel like a Lotus Elise, but it doesn’t embarrass itself. I don’t think it’d ever be that fun to genuinely throw this around a track or a tight corner, but the country roads of Clarkson’s Farm were certainly curvy enough to enjoy the performance. And it’s really in the roaring straights that it shows its thrusting power – like a powerboat surging through the ocean this car ploughs the tarmac.
On arrival at the ever-impressive Farmhouse, the GLS felt at home amongst the high-end brands and posturing celebrities – automotively less Eddie Redmayne and a little more Vin Diesel though. We walked away towards the bicycle-only retreat leaving the GLS tucked up amongst the Cayenne’s, iX’s, X5’s and Range Rovers. No doubt the vehicular overnight chatter will have been over ‘who is the largest of them all’…I felt proud the mega-Merc would hold its own with ease.
After a child-free night of good food, good drinks and generally good times we returned to the collect our battering ram of transportation. The dramatic part of my imagination pictured returning to a chicken coop after a fox has had the run of the place – engine parts, body work and tyres, scattered around like proverbial feathers.
As we cycled through the length of the car park to reach check-out, I did have a sinking feeling – the car was nowhere to be seen. First thought was a quiet pride; a car thief has come to this collection of the good and great and chosen the GLS as the prize possession. Second thought was, is this a dream? I did drive here, didn’t I?! Third was the quick realisation that the service is such that they move your car to the exit, loading it full of your bags in the process. Fool.
Sat at check-out was the glistening SUV and I was quickly excited by our drive home. As a piece of automotive juxtaposition, next to us was a stunning Lancia Fulvia from the 70s. A beautiful piece of Italian car art – a top five classic car in any dream garage. Instead of making the GLS look grotesque and ungainly it conjured the image of a muscley bodyguard, not out of place and actually highlighting to me something important about the AMG.
There’s an honesty to beautiful cars, like the Lancia – a car made at a time of style over everything else. A time when car designers made the car they wanted to, and industry pressures weren’t what they are now. They were artists and they had an authenticity that global markets mean it’s hard to have now. What I learnt about the GLS was that often, car companies that now make large SUVs (see Porsche Cayenne, Ford MACH-E, Lambo Urus) try very hard to make them look and feel like the sports cars they also make. Or give them a ‘sporty look’. They try to disguise their size, shrink their bulk, with clever styling (not always with successfully) or adapt the interior to feel like a supercar.
The GLS does none of that. Much like its stocky uncle the G-Wagon which wears its squareness with the reticence of Liberace – the GLS has a similar authenticity. It says ‘yes I’m big, really big. Yes I’m strong. Yes I’m heavy and yes I’m powerful, really powerful’ with no apology. No explanation. It means as an owner (or borrower in my case) you don’t feel you need to apologise for it. You just drive in, park up and walk away in the knowledge that there’s no ambiguity about whether you intended to buy and use a large, petrol-guzzling monster SUV that will transport seven adults and their luggage with class, space and speed. And for that reason, I’m in.
I’m not looking forward to the next time I pack my own car. It won’t be satsumas into the Royal Albert Hall that’s for sure. And as for the Ted Baker suits – long forgotten and quietly thanked.
Power: 612hp (450kw)
Torque: 850 nm (627 lb-ft)
Engine: 4.0l V8 BiTurbo
Top Speed: 250 km/h (limited)
0-100km: 4.2 secs
Gearbox: 9-Speed Dual Clutch
For more information, visit mercedes-amg.com/en/vehicles/gls/suv.html