Mercedes GLS550 may be top SUV

A cardinal red Mercedes-Benz GLS550 adds beauty with the yellowing aspen leaves near the old Kinikinik store in Poudre Canyon. (Bud Wells photo)

A cardinal red Mercedes-Benz GLS550 adds beauty with the yellowing aspen leaves near the old Kinikinik store in Poudre Canyon. (Bud Wells photo)

The lengthy Poudre Canyon drive all the way to Gould, then north a bit, was the test track recently for the 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLS550 4Matic.

Aspen leaves along the way were turning yellow and gold and orange; too early, though, to throw snow at the refreshed all-wheel-drive beauty. GLS is new name for Mercedes, replacing GL from previous years.

Destination was Bill Allen’s elk-hunting camp, where we loaded up Kathy Allen and bags and boxes for the return trip to Greeley. Bill Allen remained on the hunt through the week.

The Mercedes may be the best of the big guys of sport utility vehicles. The short, though impressive, list of full-size luxury SUVs with three rows include, besides the GLS, the Audi Q7, Cadillac Escalade, Infiniti QX80, Lexus LX570, Lincoln Navigator and the combination of Range Rover/Land Rover LR4/Range Rover Sport.

The GLS550’s climbs are effortless with the twin-turboed V-8 and 9-speed automatic. The 4.7-liter biturbo kicks out 449 horsepower (an increase of 20 from last year) and 516 pound-feet of torque – plenty of performance and all-wheel-drive, too. The new 9G-Tronic transmission kept rpm relatively low in most driving situations.

The climb to the top of Cameron Pass was done mostly in the Comfort driving mode, which is the default mode. For the long descent return, I opted for the more spirited Sport mode, including use of paddle shifters on the steering wheel.

That was the most effective use, exemplary I’d say, of the GLS’s electronic stability control/curve control/lane-keeping assist of any I’ve driven through the mountain country. Heading into several sharp curves with the cruise set at 50 to 60 miles per hour, the control system instantaneously braked and slowed the SUV’s speed by 10 mph while assisting the steering effort (guarding against understeer) either right or left, as the curves dictated.

Up to 12.5 inches of ground clearance is possible with the GLS’s retuned Airmatic air suspension.

Diamond-quilted Nappa leather seats are heated and cooled in the front row and heated in the second row. Third-row seating is among the roomiest and most comfortable of any in the full-size category. With all three rows of seats in place, rear cargo space measures 16 cubic feet; power-fold the third row and that expands to 49 feet. Narrow running boards on either side of the long vehicle are positioned so tight to the body underside as to leave little usable foot-step room atop the board.

A $5,400 Bang & Olufsen audio system, including 14 speakers and use of acoustic lens technology at each of the A pillars, enhanced the cabin. While enjoying the surround sound, the driver may chill or warm the cupholder and its drink.

The Mercedes’ overall  length of 201.6 inches is 1 ½ inches longer than the Audi Q7; it stands 6-feet high and weighs in at 5,300 pounds.

Newest feature on the amenity-laden GLS is a Remote Parking Pilot, an app when downloaded onto the owner’s smartphone permits the driver to exit the vehicle, and with use of the smartphone guide it without driver into or out of a tight parking space.

All this dressing pushed sticker price of the Mercedes to $110,565, from a base price of $93,850.