Mercedes' flagship Range Rover and Bentley Bentayga rival is seen for the first time in prototype form
Mercedes-Benz is planning to expand its luxury Maybach line with a plush range-topping version of its soon-to-be-revealed GLS SUV.
The third-generation of Mercedes’ largest SUV is set to make its debut at this month’s Los Angeles motor show, and now the first prototypes of the range-topping Maybach model are being tested on German roads.
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Shown testing alongside regular seven-seat prototypes, the Mercedes-Maybach GLS is marked out by its unique vertical grille slats. Chrome exterior detailing, distinct badging and unique wheels are also expected behind the camouflage. The biggest changes will be to the interior, however, where the Maybach is likely to ditch a seven seat layout for five or even six captain’s chairs for a roomier and more luxurious layout.
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Maybach is considered an important brand for Mercedes to develop given the rising demand for luxury models, particularly in the SUV sector, with rivals such as Bentley and Land Rover having notable success with the Bentayga and Range Rover respectively.
Mercedes has also seen strong growth of its AMG performance arm, which achieved 131,970 sales in 2017, and it would like to emulate this success with Maybach on a smaller but still profitable scale.
The new SUV was first reported to be on the cards by Autocar in 2016.
The Mercedes-Maybach GLS will then be revealed in production form at the in November. The car is tipped to be priced above £120,000 when sales begin in 2019.
The model will build on initiatives taken with the two-year-old Mercedes-Maybach S-Class.
It will share the same basic aluminium-and-steel bodyshell and advanced four-wheel- drive underpinnings as the regular GLS. However, its upmarket positioning will be justified by a series of subtle exterior design tweaks and a significantly more luxurious interior.
The GLS sits on the latest Modular High Architecture (MHA) platform shared with the smaller GLE, extended to give it a similar footprint to the new BMW X7. It provides a significant reduction in kerb weight over the old GLS, the capability to support a 48V electrical architecture and the very latest in radar, camera and sensor-supported driving functions.
Insiders involved in the development of the forthcoming concept car, known internally as the Maybach 9, say it will not only preview the look of the SUV, with a bold new grille among the key elements, but also highlight the kind of high-end features, including autonomous driving functions, due to be offered.
A high-level Mercedes official told Autocar: “We have been quietly surprised by the sales success of the Mercedes-Maybach S-Class, which is proving extremely popular in many key markets. The plan now is to extend the exclusivity surrounding the Maybach name into the upper end of the SUV segment. We’re confident that this new model will leave little to be desired in terms of luxury.”
The Mercedes-Maybach GLS, which could be called the GLS 560, is likely to be offered exclusively with the AMG-developed M177 V8 petrol engine. In the recently launched S560, this twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 produces 462bhp.
The new engine, which features a cylinder shutdown function for added fuel savings in city driving, will replace the twin-turbocharged 4.7-litre V8 used by today’s Mercedes-Benz GLS 500.
Also under discussion for the Mercedes-Maybach SUV is the plug-in petrol-electric drivetrain recently unveiled in the Mercedes-Benz S560e. This combines Mercedes’ new turbocharged and electronically supercharged 3.0-litre in-line six-cylinder petrol engine, developing 362bhp, with a 121bhp electric motor and a lithium ion battery. It’s said to offer a pure-electric range of up to 31 miles.
The next GLS will be produced exclusively at Mercedes’ Tuscaloosa plant in Alabama, US, making the luxury SUV the first Maybach model to be produced stateside.
As well as providing competition to the Bentayga, the luxury GLS has also been conceived as a rival to the likes of the Rolls-Royce Cullinan and Range Rover SVAutobiography.
What the Maybach GLS must beat:
Bentley got there first with its Bentayga, which has been a major lifeline for the brand. A 4.0-litre V8 diesel has gone down well alongside the W12 and a plug-in hybrid is also now available.
The Cullinan will arrive this year. Rolls-Royce’s first four-wheel drive shares its architecture and 6.75-litre V12 with the new Phantom.
The 641bhp Urus is expected to double Lamborghini’s sales to 7000. The model can achieve 0-62mph in 3.6sec.