Many luxury SUV shoppers will purchase the new 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLS simply because it has the best third-row accommodations of all the import SUVs. That certainly isn't a bad reason to buy the GLS (the model that previously came to market as the GL), but it is far from the only reason. As we found in our extensive drive in an advance version of the vehicle in and around Innsbruck, Austria, the GLS is a superbly capable utility that offers virtually every comfort and convenience feature of a topnotch luxury sedan (like, say, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class) but with superior bad-weather and off-road capabilities.

We discovered this as we ascended from Innsbruck to the Austrian Alps town of Hochgurgl, where blown snow, black ice and steep grades combined to put the GLS to a serious test. Thanks in large part to the vehicle's Dynamic Select six-mode transmission, which includes a "Slippery" setting that proved especially useful, the GLS turned the challenging conditions into child's play. In fact, rather than worrying about getting stuck or sliding off the road, the bigger potential issue was driver over-confidence inspired by the superior performance. 

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Off-Road+ Ups the Ante

For those who must conquer all terrain at any cost the GLS can be equipped with an optional Off-Road Engineering package that manifests itself in an Off-Road+ setting added to the Dynamic Select system. The "+" sign is justified by additional logic that enables the low-range gearbox and center differential lock to intervene when desirable in demanding non-pavement driving. The Off-Road+ mode also adds capabilities to the already remarkable Airmatic air suspension system, including raised ride height for additional ground clearance and a fording (Mercedesing?) depth of nearly 24 inches.

Luxury Interior to Suit Your Tastes

While the capability to swagger across streams is there, we expect that most GLS buyers will be more likely to bathe themselves in the vehicle's interior luxury. As we told you, the GLS is exceptionally accommodating for an import SUV, but it is not just the space but also the interior design and materials that make it such a pleasant place to be. Several interior schemes are available including five color treatments and three separate roof liners. The dash and interior trim can also be specified a number of ways, among them a combination of carbon fiber, aluminum and piano lacquer that is especially handsome. For those with a sportif demeanor, there is the AMG line interior that incorporates sportscar touches like stainless-steel pedals with rubber studs into a 7,000-lb vehicle without seeming incongruous.

The suite of safety equipment in the 2017 Mercedes GLS is truly remarkable, although we are pleased that none were called into play during our extended test drive. Among the standard safety niceties are Collision Prevention Assist Plus, Attention Assist and Crosswind Assist. The GLS also is equipped with electronic all-wheel-drive traction system, Curve Dynamic Assist and Steer Control. If that isn't good enough for you, there is the optional Driver Assistance Plus package that includes Distronic Plus active cruise control, active-braking with pedestrian detection and assists for cross-traffic, blindspot and lane-keeping. No, it won't quite drive itself with all these features, but the GLS will do a whole lot to keep your family safer.

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Twin Turbo Power Moves You

The GLS will be launched globally with four engine choices -- two gasoline-fueled V8s, a gasoline V6 and a diesel V6. The ones worthy of your attention are the 455-horsepower twin-turbo V8 of the GLS 500 4MATIC and the 585-horsepower twin-turbo V8 of the Mercedes-AMG GLS 63 4MATIC. (Apparently for the purpose of saving weight, Daimler dropped the Benz name from this model.) The GLS 500 4MATIC is plenty powerful enough, as we can attest from lengthy time behind the wheel, so another 130 horsepower could be looked at as over-indulgent, but then this is a Mercedes. Power reaches pavement through a 9-speed 9G-Tronic automatic transmission that we find a delight to operate or, more precisely, to sense in operation.

All in all, that sums up a great deal about the new GLS. It is heavily equipped with systems (both literally and figuratively) that do a variety of functions so you don't have to. Instead, you can concentrate on all the things you have to concentrate on -- business commitments, children in private schools and estate planning among them. From where we sit -- or sat -- piloting through time at the wheel of a Mercedes-Benz GLS is an exceedingly nice way to live.

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