Photography & Text: Marcus Hoffmann
There are good choices and there are bad choices. And whenever you are not able to tell which one you’ve made, you’re probably in category three: odd choices. At least until your mind is finally set. Choosing a 2,5 tonne Mercedes GLS 500 with a petrol V8 for a 3309km (2056 miles) road trip is definitely an odd choice at first glance.
Driving in Germany with this 455 hp SUV is surprisingly fast. Unrestraint Autobahn allows you to travel with 265 km/h (165 mph) – or more relaxed: let cruise control keep the car rolling at 240 km/h (150 mph). Regardless of the weather. I’ve never driven a car which keeps the outside world so far in distance from the driver. The windows are nearly as thick as in armed cars. The lovely S-Class-like wood and leather trim allows you not to get your mood drizzled when driving through unpleasant areas. This car refuses to be influenced in any way by the element of wind, if you ask its air suspension to work in “Sport”. Which is very impressive if you are overtaking other cars and lorries in windy rainy weather at the mentioned speeds. You really don’t feel a thing. Totally unlike the people in the cars you overtake, with at least twice the speed and a wake turbulence of a medium airplane. And obviously since Mercedes’ goal was set to build the most luxurious SUV you don’t hear anything ever which happens outside of the car. At any speeds.
Getting from Munich to Milano turned out to be astoundingly relaxed. The GLS thundered through the swiss alps way faster than sat nav predicted… which - in terms of not-getting-jailed by mountain trolls - is bad news but was great fun nevertheless. Even driving through Milano was mindboggling easy. Don’t get me wrong: I absolutely hate driving in cities. I rarely ever drive through Munich by car, but try to get around by walking and public transport. I’m not eager to kill any of the many loony cyclists (with a vehicle I’m responsible for). Driving through Milano is normally very confusing due to its narrow old one way street network in its inner-city centre. And, due its inhabitants who aren’t well known for being calm and peaceful drivers. All these little dented cars swirl around like bumper cars. So, I was expecting true terror by driving with the biggest Mercedes (which isn’t an AMG) available into the heart of Milano.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. It was an absolutely unreal experience driving in total peace with that huge car through the city. In situations when it got tight (basically the whole time) other drivers realised that I was a problem they had to deal with. And they did. I was able to drive wherever I wanted to and the traffic around me adjusted hysterically their ‘DRIVE-EVERYWHERE’-system to the degree of ‘let’s-not-crash-into-the-huge-Merc’.
With a car, which makes driving so pleasantly you tend to drive as much as you can. I stayed with my team an hour out of Milano – in a Castello directly at Lago Maggiore. Which was probably one of the smartest decisions I’ve ever made. Let’s be honest: a commute of one hour in true big cities (London, Paris, New York…) is quite normal on a day-to-day basis for most people. Applying the same level of time consuming travel to the area of Milano transformed my business trip into an unforgettable joyful experience. By also saving money! Even eating in the adjoined Gault-Michelin-mentioned restaurant could not produce higher accommodation costs than a dull business hotel in Milano during Fashionweek. The joy I found in this pleasantly sleeping arrangement gave me an even more brilliant idea: skip a day of Fashionweek Paris and take a detour over the highest pass route in the Alps: Col de l’Iseran.
Again: I consulted the nifty Restaurant guide from the tire manufacturer, to find a place with an attached Hotel. I assume that once this sort of usage was the initial idea behind the Michelin Guide: a motorist’s guide to accommodation. After few minutes, I found one close to Lyon with a jolly star attached, set its address as goal for the sat nav and even used the “interim destination” function for the first time – set with the GPS coordinates of the highest peak of Col de l’Iseran. And it worked simply marvellous.
It wasn’t just the sat nav which did everything as I hoped for, it was the entire car which did more than I could have imagined to be possible. Yes, it does have a lot of Power – equal to 455 horses. There are numbers which incline that it takes 5,3sek from 0-100 km/h (0-62 mp/h). But you can’t be prepared for the moment when you push the pedal to the metal. The 4,6-litre petrol V8 might have two turbo chargers – but there is no turbo-lag. It instantaneously gets fast at any time on any surface. At any decline. Which is good news, when you are about to climb to 2764 metres (9068 ft.) It also gets slow anytime you want it to. The brakes on this car are just superb. Hit them hard and it just gets slow very fast. It resembles the notion to lower its nose, since its air suspension is keen on keeping it level. This is also true for any leaning movement while driving through bends: there is close to none. Which is such a strange thing, when you are sitting as high as a lorry driver. It gets even stranger, when you are able to shoot up and down the serpentines way faster than all the motorcyclists.
Fearing that I might be impartial I decided to let crew members drive the GLS as hard as they can. After nearly dying about half a dozen times the verdict was still unanimously: brilliant brakes, ridiculously sporty. Christina (21) put it this way “I’ve never experienced a car with such great braking – and the way it goes is just crazy”. Christina normally drives a BMW 1 series. She singlehandedly managed to crunch the fuel efficiency from 19 MPG down to 12,3 MPG… on bendy country roads. Chapeaux!
Driving over the alpine pass was a marvellous experience. It was the first time I encountered these rocks of which signs try to warn you. To be honest: I still don’t know how to react properly: should I speed up to be in an unsafe spot for a shorter amount of time – or should I slow down to see falling rocks and be able to brake? Unclear about what to do, I decided to do neither but park close by the biggest rock I could spot… for reasons and stuff. And obviously: selfies. It’s fair to say that I have neither a sense for alpine dangers, nor any shame in my body.
While driving through Paris I encountered the bizarre calmness I had already come across when driving through Milano. It was remarkable laidback to get through the city in the big Mercedes. Even that big roundabout at Arc de Triumph couldn’t stress me during rush hour. Instead I decided to park in it, take a few photos and finally set the sat nav for the Hotel close to the Eiffel tower.
This was unexpected. I anticipated nightmarish horror but instead got faster and way more relaxed through the city than ever before (especially compared to public transport). Even the medieval parking garages didn’t manage to upset my mood, thanks to the 360° camera system of the GLS… which… to be honest, was at this point a life (or better: mirror-) safer. Yes, there were only few inches of empty space left, while navigating through it – but thankfully this task was manageable only through patience but actual parking talent.
I must admit: I never expected the GLS to be such an astonishing car. This Mercedes has something very rare: true character. Returning it to Stuttgart was the most melancholic motoring-related experience I’ve ever had.