Originally published December 7, 2015

Photos by Brendan McAleer and courtesy Mercedes-Benz

Millennia ago, mammoths would have walked these lands, surefooted and warm in their woolly coats. Times have changed, but the behemoths are still here – just that they now carry the Mercedes three-pointed star up front and the leather’s on the inside.

Here’s the new GLS, a facelifted and updated version of Mercedes’ GL-class SUV, now given three-letter acronym status to match the rest of the range. If you hadn’t heard, Mercedes-Benz considered 2015 to be the year of the SUV, and they’ve been rolling out wave after wave of the things. The GLS is the last and mightiest beast, and having debuted in Los Angeles, somewhere chillier was needed to show off its bona fides.

Thus, the Austrian Alps and a series of switchbacks to make a slalom skier salivate. Our GLS 400s are all fitted with proper snow tires, which helps, but the road is a mix of spotty tarmac, slippery icy patches, and drifting snow. Given the considerable mass of this hefty seven-seat Teuton, these are not ideal conditions for climbing or stopping.

Happily, the GL hasn’t just been de-bumpered into the GLS, but has received some mechanical updates as well. There’s a new nine-speed automatic transmission for everything save the AMG models (they get the quicker-shifting and burlier seven-speed auto instead) and a selectable terrain system. Twisting a knob in the centre console to the snowflake-symbol of Slippery mode, the GLS finds itself capable of rampaging up the slopes as if it was wearing snowshoes. There’s some wheelspin, some slight shifting around, but confidence levels are high. This is a big cart-horse of a machine, but she climbs and turns as if much smaller.

Large Marge has never been a shrinking violet, and this newly refreshed version is more of the same high-volume horseflesh. Measuring 5.19 metres in length and just about 2 m wide, the GLS is no capering mountain goat. On the narrow winding roads of Austria, it should feel like trying to thread the SS Bismarck along a rural canal.

Family Resemblance: Mercedes-Benz Heavy Hitters Get New Look

And yet it doesn’t. Starting out at the Bergisel ski jump near Innsbruck, I drove a diesel-equipped GLS 350d several hundred kilometres to the tiny Alpine ski village of Hochgurgl (sounds like a brand of mouthwash), and at no point did I wish for something smaller. The GLS devoured several slippery switchback sections in the dark, and snacked on a slow-moving Audi A3 as an aperitif to making the last climb up the mountain sections.

The moniker “GLS” is intended to align Merc’s largest SUV with the S-Class sedan, and there are a few more family resemblances. A new, even bluffer front end houses the multi-faceted headlights seen throughout the rest of the Merc range, and an overall polish of the silhouette makes the GLS look like a really big ML.

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