2800 kilometers across Germany - in the tall and mighty new Mercedes GLS 350d. A journey for petrolheads, that started at the cradle of motorkind in Stuttgart.
Words & photography by Dieter Losskarn
Would you like us to park your car, sir?” I couldn’t have asked for a better welcome. It’s a first. Being a petrolhead, I always selfpark my cars. But at the moment I am in the newest version of the Mercedes S-class SUV GLS. And it is big. Really big.
Cruising comfortably between 160km/h and 200km/h on the autobahn (where it belongs), I was already worried in anticipation of the old narrow parking garage, adjacent to the historic Rebstock Hotel, in my former hometown of Würzburg. And now the really nice lady behind the reception desk asks me this question, preventing me from the embarrassment of posing it myself. I am relieved, but not making it look too obvious. “Thanks, that would be great”.
Well, to my defense, I did try to enter another parking garage a couple of days later. And I actually made it inside, parked across two bays, but couldn’t make it out again. The upwards left-hand turn was just too tight. I had to backtrack through a one way lane, out the way I came in.
I am sure the Mercedes-Benz museum’s garage was built with the consultation of GLS development engineers. I had no problems there. It’s spacious, airy and filled with light and already some delightful classic cars in snow-white-like glass displays.
The Mercedes Benz museum is celebrating its 10th birthday in 2016 with lots of extra exhibitions and events. Its an ode to the automobile and an architectural masterpiece. A must for petrolheads. You go up with a futuristic lift and start at the very top of the architectural marvel. There you can here the sound of hooves on cobblestones. Then the first engine stutters to live. First exhibit is a replica of the horse-less carriage, the Patent Motor Car, that Carl Benz invented in 1886. But always the reluctant inventor, he didn’t dare to test drive it.
Two years later, Carl had build an improved model. It still had no proper steering wheel, only a narrow bench to sit on and no body. And no test drive. Carl’s wife Bertha had been following the construction process with keen interest. She knew that petrol was sold at the chemist’s, brake pads at the cobbler, a plugged petrol line could be cleared with a hat pin and on steep sections the passengers simply had to get out and push for a while.
So one morning in August of 1888, Bertha gathered enough confidence, took her two sons, while Carl was still snoozing and drove from their home in Mannheim some 100 kilometers to Pforzheim, to visit an aunt. She reached their destination in the evening, proving her husband’s creation worked. The automobile was born. And road trip number 1 done. Bertha was not only the first human being to drive a car, but by taking her sons along, literally the first soccer mom. Something the GLS will have to endure in its main market, the US, a lot. It is capable of going off the beaten track, especially with the optional off-road package, but nobody really does this in a luxury SUV. To know it is possible and that the car has still some inheritated G genes is enough.
Merc’s SUV portfolio now comprises of the compact GLA, the mid-size GLC, the GLE (previously the M-class), the GLE Coupé and the comprehensively facelifted GLS (formerly the GL). All towered by the granddaddy of them all: the iconic G-class.
To stay with the petrol-infused feel of the trip, I have to sleep in a car tonight. Not in the GLS, but in another Mercedes. Cut in half and standing in the middle of a hotel room, named car wash. The absolutely brilliant V8 Hotel has several car-themed sleeping options to choose from. On their website you can do a virtual tour and find what ambience you fancy the most.
And from some of the rooms you can look directly into the halls of Motor World Stuttgart, where dozens of classic and supercars are displayed. Most exotic car dealers have their shops here and nothing is hidden. Through large glass windows, you can observe the mechanics working on McLarens, Ferraris, Bentley’s and Lamborghinis.
Despite driving the entry-level GLS model, the 350d with the trusted V6 biturbo diesel, the silver car is equipped with an optional AMG package. It features lots of chrome, a modified front and rear bumper, running boards, wheel arches painted in the vehicle’s colour and 21inch AMG light-alloy wheels.
The facelifted 5.1 m long and 1.8 m high GLS with the new front grille and lights looks fresher and younger than the old GL did. It is a proper seven-seater, with adults sitting comfortably in the last row. Besides the 350d, there are another two models available in South Africa, also equipped with 4matic (all-wheel drive). There is a V8 biturbo GLS 500 (335kW & 700Nm) and the compulsary GLS 63 AMG (430kW & 760Nm). Setting you back R1 444 400 and R2 469 900 respectively.
I must say, I was very happy with the 350d. Not only because petrol prices in Europe are significantly higher than in South Africa and the Rand doesn’t buy much fuel there. But also because the torque of the V6 diesel is enough to go with the traffic flow. 180km/h on the autobahn and a quick push to 200km/h to overtake the odd family sedan. No problem. Even mountain passes in the Alps, close to the famous Neuschwanstein castle, are easily ironed out, especially in Sport plus mode.
With the GLS, Mercedes once again redefined a segment, this time the one of tall and mighty luxury SUVs. The inventors of the automobile are more than ready to take on the likes of Bentley Bentayga, Jaguar F-Pace and Maserati Levante.
Mercedes Benz GLS 350d
Engine 3.5-l. V6 bi-turbo diesel, paired with a 9-speed auto (9G-tronic)
Power 190kW and 620Nm
Top Speed 222 km/h
0-100km/h 7.8 seconds
Price R1 238 900
Compulsary pit stops:
Mercedes-Benz Museum – www.mercedes-benz.com/museum
A celebration of the automobile with the pointed star at the cradle of motorkind in Stuttgart. Don’t ruin your travel budget in the tempting museum shop.
Motorworld Stuttgart – www.motorworld.de
An amazing array of motor related shops, classic and exotic car dealers. Heaven for petrol-heads. Try the Wichtel restaurant for traditional fare and freshly brewed craft beer.
Central Garage – www.central-garage.de
Beautiful car museum and faszinating model car shop in Bad Homburg, near Frankfurt. The highlight is a completely restored 1940s Motanol service station with workshop. Have a look at the website under ‘Historische Tankstelle’.
Klassikstadt Frankfurt – www.klassikstadt.de
The equivalent to Motorworld Stuttgart, this carnut’s paradise is situated in Frankfurt’s East Side. In a monumental brick factory building from 1910. The survivor of two World Wars. Lots of classic and exotic car dealers and a great workshop-themed restaurant ‘Die Werkskantine’, serving local specialities.
Hotel Rebstock – www.rebstock.com
The author’s favorite hotel in his hometown Würzburg. Historic and in the centre of town. But remember: If you drive anything bigger than a Smart, don’t park yourself in the old parking garage.
Michelskeller – www.michelskeller.de
The best place to enjoy the famous Meterbratwurst (yes, a one meter long wors), saisonally (May/June) paired with delicious white aspargus. Best devoured with a Franconian Schoppen (0.25 litre of local wine).
Alte Mainmühle – www.alte-mainmuehle.de
Enjoy a sundowner with a difference on or next to Southern Germany’s oldest bridge (Alte Mainbrücke). A while ago, on a rare sunny day, some folks took their glass of wine (0.25 liter = ein Schoppen) outside the restaurant in the old mill and sipped it, while enjoying the view of the castle, chapel and the holy figurines on the bridge. The Brückenschoppen (we would call it: bruk doppie or bridge wine) was born. On summer days in late afternoon old and young people are now gathering on the bridge in a refreshingly un-German way to enjoy their Franconian version of a sundowner. And afterwards you can have a lekker traditional meal in the bridge restaurant Alte Mainmühle.