Test Drive: Mercedes-Benz 2017 GLS450 SUV

Frank Vizard

Tough alpine roads—with their tight curves and trecherous conditions—prove no match for this sumptuous, souped-up, yet-to-be-released ride.

I’m driving the new 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLS450 through the Austrian Alps and every few miles I catch a glimpse of the future. That’s because the route I’m following, the L237 out of Innsbruck that connects to Route 186, heading toward Hochgurgl, is a carmaker’s favorite for road testing forthcoming models. If you’re a car lover, this is the path to take for sneak peek of the vehicles to come (many decked in camouflage paint) from Porsche, Land Rover, Audi, and Mercedes-Benz—including the one I’m driving.

The road is challenging with a mix of tight, alpine curves, straightaways, and open-sided avalanche tunnels. The Mercedes-Benz GLS450, with its 362-horsepower, V-6 engine and 4MATIC all-wheel-drive, is up to the task, thanks largely to a 9-speed automatic transmission that seamlessly responds to the demands of an ascending and descending track. A variety of transmission modes change the handling characteristics of the vehicle to adapt to road conditions, including a “slippery” mode that works well in snow.

Two technical features make for a very stable drive: One is an active curve system that employs anti-roll bars on the front and rear axles to reduce the roll angle of a big vehicle like this one when cornering; the second is an Airmatic suspension system that monitors steering angle, driving speed, yaw rate, and the brake pedal to adjust each wheel to ensure stability. The Airmatic system also can raise the car’s suspension for a ground clearance of up to a foot over rough road, or to a fording depth of up to 23.6 inches.

I’m running late after an apple strudel break at the Kühtaier Dorfstadl (Kühtai 12; 43 5239 5265; dorfstadl.at), a charming Alpine-style restaurant in Kuhtai, and by the time I reach Hochgurgl, night is already gathering in the Alps—the mountains somehow looming larger and more intimidating in the semi-darkness. Smart headlights that automatically adjust to oncoming vehicles and provide better illumination around curves are a big plus in this environment.

At an elevation of over 8,000 feet, the charming Relais & Chateaux TOP Hotel Hochgurgl (Hochgurglerstraße 8; 43/5256-6265; tophotelhochgurgl.com) is inviting—and aptly named—place to unwind, but if the GLS450 had a bed, I might stay in the SUV—it’s that comfortable, and spacious. With three rows of seating and room for seven passengers, the GLS450 is the SUV equivalent of a Mercedes-Benz S-class luxury sedan. Even still, upgrades are available: The GLS550 has a more powerful V-8 engine, and a high-performance AMG variant called the GLS 63 offers more dynamic driving capabilities. Really, the only thing pulling me out of the car is a new weak spot for strudel I’ve developed on this journey, and I’m told there’s some waiting in the hotel.

Price, yet to be announced; for more informaiton, mbusa.com.