Remember how we rushed to start up a conversation with our cars when Siri found her voice several years ago, and who would have thought that 12 months ago social distancing could have been a selling point with a new vehicle?

These both came to mind as I did the rounds of an MY2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS 400d 4Matic SUV recently. Both the above feature pointedly in the luxurious German wagon, Benz’s biggest.

Connectivity with the vehicle in the form of Mercedes’ own Apple-style personal assistant, the MBUX system, and space with its seven seats spread across the cavernous cabin of its five-metre-plus overall length.

Any use of the words ‘Hey, Mercedes’ by occupants has Ms. MBUX asking what she can do for you. Maybe change the radio station, adjust the temperature, or remind you that you usually phone Mum every day about now.

As for COVID-19, a glance in the rear-view mirror will pick out passengers in the far distant third row of seats happily taking advantage of ample personal space (hence social distancing) with 355 litres reserved for luggage behind.

Ostensibly up against the BMW X7 and Audi Q8, the GLS comes in two models powered by petrol or diesel engines. The GLS 450 4Matic petrol is priced at $144,600, plus on-road costs, while the GLS 400 d 4Matic diesel leaves rivals in the weeds when it comes to the price, $153,900, plus on-roads. But what’s $30K in super luxury transport terms?

On the outside the GLS 400d is unashamedly a Mercedes-Benz, with cues lifted from the GLC and GLE SUVs, plus a raft of AMG Line touches such as 21-inch AMG five twin-spoke alloy wheels.

An expansive panoramic sunroof, electric automatic tailgate and power locking doors and multi-beam LED headlamps complete the picture.

Customers can tailor their GLS, picking from 10 exterior paint jobs and three AMG alloy wheel designs, ranging from the standard 21 to 23 inches.

The family-friendly seven-seater has filled out all round, with overall length up by 77 mm, width 22 mm and wheelbase 60 mm. This is the architecture that comfortably takes three rows of electrically adjustable seats.

The tall interior and upright seating, Mercedes says, enable passengers up to two metres tall can be accommodated in the second row, while the back row has room for those up to 1.94m. The extended wheelbase also makes it easier to get in and out of the third row.

Cargo space opens up via a power operated tailgate to 2400 litres (100 litres over the previous model) when the rear seatbacks are dropped to the floor and the second row folded flat. The space for luggage is almost 2.22 metres long, more than 9 cm than before.

With all three rows of seating being used, luggage capacity is 355 litres (20 litres up on its predecessor) when loaded to the top of the backrest. Capacity goes up to 890 litres with the third row folded and whopping 1470 litres with all seats stowed. Taken to the roof, those figures swell to 470, 1350 and 2400 litres, respectively.

Three colours are on offer for the leather upholstery and there is a choice of two open-pore wood-trim finishes, while latest technological innovations include sports steering wheel incorporating smartphone-style touch-and-swipe controls, plus two 12.3-inch digital displays including a centre touchscreen.

Something to shout about is the Mercedes MBUX infotainment system with voice activated me Connect smartphone app enabling control of key vehicle functions and status monitoring.

Apple CarPlay or Android Auto can be integrated and there’s wireless phone charging and traffic sign assist showing the current speed limit on the windscreen head-up display. Ambient lighting boasts 64 colours.

The GLS 400d 4Matic includes a new 3-litre, inline six-cylinder turbo-diesel engine producing 243 kW of power and a prodigious 700 Nm of torque, the latter on tap from as low as 1200 revs.

This is mated with a 9G-Tronic automatic transmission and 4Matic all-wheel drive.

Comprehensive safety measures include nine airbags, Distronic Plus active cruise control, Parktronic active parking assist with 360-degree camera, lane-keeping and lane change assist, blind spot warning and rear cross traffic alert.

Sitting in the cabin the only indication of the diesel unit ahead is the restrained red line down low on the the tacho dial. Typical engine rattle is corralled under the bonnet and little noise escapes under any use of the pedal.

Fuel consumption is a claimed 7.7 litres per 100 kilometres on the combined urban / highway cycles, which with a 90 litre tank, means the GLS 400d is good for more than 1000 km of cruising.

On test the GLS 400d touched 15 litres per 100 kilometres at times in town travel but cut back decisively to 6.4 litres per 100 kilometres with motorway cruising.

The Benz’s bulk can test the agility on tight corners but get it on the open road and the GLS steps out with giant strides, and thanks to its standard air suspension, not to any discomfort of occupants.

Parking presents few problems thanks to warning sensors all round, plus a camera giving a 360-degree view of the vehicle.

The GLS 400d has a standard braked towing capacity of 3500 kg, while the optional towbar package ($1900) adds towbar fitment plus trailer stabilisation can detect sway at speeds above 65 km/h, applying braking compensation to individual wheels.

The Mercedes-Benz GLS 400d 4Matic make look old fashioned but can carry up to seven in rare genuine four-wheel drive wagon luxury with access to up-to-date automotive technology and high-tech connectivity. There is a price to pay, however.


Mercedes-Benz GLS 450 4Matic $144,600
Mercedes-Benz GLS 400 d 4Matic $153,900
Note: These prices do not include government or dealer delivery charges. Contact your local Mercedes-Benz dealer for drive-away prices.

SPECIFICATIONS (Mercedes-Benz GLS 400d 3-litre 6cyl turbocharged diesel, 9sp automatic, 4Matic, 5dr SUV)

Capacity: 2.925 litres
Configuration: Six cylinders inline
Maximum Power: 243 kW @ 3600-4000 rpm
Maximum Torque: 700 Nm @ 1200-3000 rpm
Fuel Type: Diesel
Combined Fuel Cycle (ADR 81/02): 7.7 L/100km

DRIVELINE: Nine-speed automatic, 4Matic

Length: 5214 mm
Wheelbase: 3135 mm
Width: 2006 mm
Height: 1823 mm
Turning Circle: 12.5 metres
Kerb Mass: 2724 kg
Fuel Tank Capacity: 90 litres

Front: Ventilated disc
Rear: Ventilated disc

Five years / unlimited kilometres

About Derek Ogden

On graduating with an honours degree in applied science in London, Derek Ogden worked for the BBC in local radio and several British newspapers as a production journalist and writer. Derek moved to Australia in 1975 and worked as a sub-editor with The Courier Mail and Sunday Mail in Brisbane, moving to the Gold Coast Bulletin in 1980 where he continued as a production journalist. He was the paper's motoring editor for more than 20 years, taking the weekly section from a few pages at the back of the book to a full-colour liftout of up to 36 pages. He left the publication in 2009.
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