► Merc's latest GLS hits the road
► It claims to be the 'S-Class of SUVs'
► Does the big seven-seater succeed?
How do you disguise your largest model’s enormous dimensions? Launch it in the USA, of course. Driving the all-new Mercedes-Benz GLS on Utah’s vast, open roads certainly hides the fact this car has grown in every direction over its predecessor, but that’s not why Mercedes brought us to the USA.
The GLS is built in the States at its Tuscaloosa plant alongside the smaller GLE, and the US is an important market for its SUV products.
Just how big is it?!
Big. Just not alongside America’s biggest SUVs and pickups, where it feels like a Ford Focus. Mercedes says the GLS has grown in length, width and height compared with the old car, with a 60mm stretch in the wheelbase, freeing up that all-important space inside for it to feel more like an S-Class, and with enough room in all three rows of seats.
It’s long and wide, but Mercedes has managed to disguise its heft quite well – the design looks more cohesive than its latest GLE (at least to these eyes), and the bulk suits it well. In the UK, we’ll get only AMG Line models (a grand total of three of them) with alloy wheels up to 23 inches in size, if that gives you some direction as to just how enormous this car is. A set of 19s, 20s and 21s are available for cars in other markets (rides like a magic carpet, looks underwheeled), but the UK’s penchant for sporty looking cars means the smallest we get are 22s.
At just over 5.2m long and 2m wide, the GLS is longer and wider than both the BMW X7 and Range Rover – cars it’s aiming to steal a few sales from.
That must mean it’s big inside…
It does indeed. Up front the GLS is just like the GLE. Same wideboy dashboard with an impressive sense of space while also feeling quite cocooning thanks to the high centre console and wide range of adjustment in the seats. Even the largest of front seat occupants will fit with ease, and get comfortable very easily.
Move back to the second row and things remain spacious. Different seating options are available in different markets – a three-seat bench or a two-seat set-up with a large gap between the seats. Whichever you’re in, head and legroom are both very generous again, with electric adjustment for both sides of the car. A vast panoramic sunroof helps to make it feel airier, but there’s a good amount of space to stretch out in.
In the third row, a pair of full-size seats and that high roof mean you don’t have to hunch forwards just to fold yourself into the seats. Adults do actually fit, but those middle seats will need to slide forwards slightly to accommodate taller passengers.
If you’re not a seating enthusiast and prefer boot capacities, get ready for this:
- Seven-seat mode (measured to parcel shelf): 355
- Five-seat mode (measured to parcel shelf): 890 litres
- Two-seat mode (measured to roof): 2,400 litres
That should prove vast enough for all kinds of occasion. All the seats fold down at the touch of a button, but do take longer than you might expect to eventually lower. And if you’re buying this as a family car, there are no less than 11 USB sockets to keep your darling children plugged in.
And is it as luxurious as an S-Class?
Not quite. You’ll need to spend extra to get S-Class levels of luxury (no surprise there), but it’s not far off. Pick the top-spec AMG Line Premium Plus Executive (imagine that as a boot badge), and you’ll get full Nappa leather across the seats, doors and dashboard, heated everything (all seats), massaging seats in the first and second rows and all the latest MBUX infotainment setups and driver assistance tech.
You can’t quite stretch out like you can in the back of an S-Class, though. If you want to be chauffeur-driven properly get the S, as you can’t lay almost flat in the back of the GLS unless you fold the seats down. We’d rather you didn’t try that at home.
You do get extra pillows on the headrests and climate seats to boost comfort, as well as a “luxury armrest” in the back with a tablet to control some of the car’s function from the back seats. Oh, the power.
Is it as relaxing to drive as an S-Class?
Almost. Airmatic suspension is standard on all GLS models, so it floats along smooth roads in a very serene manner, and feels more relaxed than the experience in the smaller GLE. Driving on American roads means you can only drive in a relaxed way most of the time, as the roads were all open, clear and at tame speeds. But that’s absolutely fine – the GLS isn’t about tearing around corners and getting it on its door handles.
It suits a relaxed drive where the effortless engines make light work of hauling along this 2.5-tonne beast, while light controls do make it feel smaller than it really is. It doesn’t feel like hard work driving around in the GLS, but this could change if you’re threading it through a narrow British street or car park.
Performance is good across the engine range. In the UK, we’ll be getting the GLS 400d to start with, a 3.0-litre V6 diesel with 325bhp and a generous slab of torque – 516lb ft of the stuff. The firm’s 4Matic four-wheel drive system is standard and a nine-speed automatic gearbox takes care of the smooth and effortless gearshifts for you. It’s smooth and refined with a snappy response if you floor the throttle or put the car in Sport mode via the Dynamic Select drive mode selector. But the GLS is best left in Comfort where it wafts along with ease.
It’s the only engine available to UK buyers at the car’s launch, but it’ll be joined by a couple of petrol variants later on – the GLS 450 and a fire-spitting Mercedes-AMG GLS 63 version.
The 450 is an interesting alternative to the 400 d, but it won’t make much sense over here due to its fairly hefty fuel consumption. It’s silky smooth, quiet yet makes a pleasing growl getting up to speed, but it’ll be difficult for some to stomach the lower mpg figures next to the diesel.
I assume it’ll cost me then?
A top-spec GLS will set you back £87,495, with only one option able to bring the price up. That’s the £1,495 Off-Road Pack which adds a suite of system and functions to enable to the GLS to tackle the kind of terrain a mountain goat would attempt.
It’s impressive just how capable the GLS is off-road, in fact. It makes light work of rocky terrain and slippery slopes, while all the electronic systems and off-road driving modes (you get a choice of two with the package) let the car essentially sort itself out without drama.
If you spec the e-Active suspension (which should be available later for UK buyers), the GLS will even bounce itself out of sticky situations (sand, for example) using the air suspension. Impressive stuff. This setup also features a Curve driving mode that actively leans the car into bends to counteract body roll. It takes a bit of getting used to, but it works.
Which models can I get?
You’re in luck if you like your Mercedes in AMG Line spec. The line-up kicks off with the AMG Line Premium, moving up to Premium Plus and then Premium Plus Executive. Unsurprisingly, each one gets a bit more kit than the last, but all come packed to the roof with equipment and technology anyway.
For now, you can only get the 400 d, but we suspect that’ll still be the most popular and sensible option even when the range starts to fill out a bit more.
Mercedes GLS: verdict
The GLS doesn’t come cheap, but it was never going to be when it’s billed as “the S-Class of SUVs”. Inside, it doesn’t feel different enough from the smaller (and cheaper) GLE to justify that tagline.
In isolation, it’s still a very comfortable and luxurious way to ferry around your large family, with a modern feel that’s packed with technology. It certainly feels a cut above the BMW X7 in terms of restrained luxury. When it’s filled out, the engine range will be impressive too, but the 400 d bump-starts the range will likely be the pick of the range for most anyway.
Check out our Mercedes reviews