► Mercedes’ luxury seven-seater tested
► The self-proclaimed ‘S-Class of SUVs’
► Rivals BMW X7 and Range Rover
The marketing catchline is, ‘Here comes the S-class of SUVs.’ And that’s exactly what the new Mercedes GLS is all about.
In essence a stretched and widened GLE, the marque’s top-of-the-line crossover feels comfortable on-road, competent off-road and charismatic enough for a front-row slot in the valet car park.
The Mercedes-Benz GLS line-up
At launch time, European customers can choose between two six-cylinder diesel engines (the GLS 350d with 272bhp/443lb ft and the 400d with 330bhp/516lb ft). A 4.0-litre petrol V8 (the GLS 580 with 489bhp/516lb ft) joins the range later, targeting markets where petrol is cheap like the US and where size still matters like China.
That eight-cylinder coupled to a nine-speed automatic and aided by an on-demand 22bhp/184lb ft boost mode may be a more moderate octane consumer than the previous GLS generation’s equivalent powerplant, but the fuel economy at speed remains an obvious restriction on range and wallet. Having said that, the V8 sounds more AMG-like than lazy-boy Detroit iron, maximum grunt is available from 2000rpm, and the numbers (0-62mph in 5.3sec, 155mph top speed) are indeed more S-class than SUV.
Performance aficionados may nonetheless want to wait until next year when the GLS 63 AMG becomes available, sporting a 600bhp-plus engine, a sexier outfit and a beefed up chassis.
What’s it like on the road?
We spent most of our seat time in the GLS 400d which is only about 10% friendlier on CO2 than the V8 but notably less expensive and gratifyingly minus the diesel-typical NVH penalty.
The 3.0-litre straight six develops its peak 330bhp at a totally under-stressed 3600rpm. The short and steep on-ramp to the torque summit peaks at a positively down-to-earth 1200rpm. From 0-62mph, the 400d loses merely one token second to the 580, and at a maximum speed of 149mph it isn´t exactly a sluggard either. It even meets the currently most stringent EU6d emission norm.
Don’t expect a particularly emotional soundtrack, though.
Does the GLS handle?
Although the Airmatic air suspension is standard on every GLS, every salesman worth his salt will try to whet the client´s appetite for the pricey Active Body Control (ABC) in combination with the Road Surface Scan and Curve anti-roll features.
The trick chassis enabled by the 48V system works better in the GLS than in the GLE. There is no difference between the two systems with regard to the wheel travel, but by reading the road ahead milliseconds before actually hitting it, ABC suppresses vertical body movements more effectively.
The Curve mode turns the GLS into kind of a lean-machine by creating an artificial lateral banked corner angle. The system rolls out the g-force envelope a touch further, but it doesn’t feel entirely natural at the limit.
Despite the long wheelbase (3135mm) and the hefty weight (2490kg), the low-speed ride is still nothing to write home about, and that´s even before you specify a tyre size too wide for automatic car washes.
Serious off-roading requires the optional low-range transfer case and the pneumatic ride height adjustment device which lets you dial in up to 90mm of additional ground clearance.
Mercedes GLS: the design story
While Cadillac and BMW are tailoring increasingly extrovert designs, Mercedes-Benz is taking the understatement route. ‘These days, it´s all about proportions, surfaces and details,’ says the senior exterior designer Robert Lesnik. ‘For the best result, you need the largest possible wheels [23-inchers in the GLS’s case] and a neatly sculptured and relatively restrained body without gimmicks.’
From nose to tail, the GLS leaves us in no doubt that the days of flamboyant flares, lavish lines and eye-catching add-ons are over at Mercedes. Instead, the styling is surprisingly subdued for a full-size multi-purpose luxury vehicle priced from £73,000. While the upright grille expresses generic Swabian ornamentation, the sparse radii that shape the tall squared off front end give the car a rugged yet stately touch.
And on the inside?
Despite these cosmetic upgrades it´s the interior where the 2019 edition excels compared to its predecessor.
Apart from the complex ergonomics, the cockpit scores full marks for its layout, the available equipment and tastefully applied quality materials. MBUX is an ergonomic highlight for the younger ‘Hey, Mercedes’ voice activation crowd, the touchpad straddling the transmission tunnel caters for less adventurous silver agers, and deep pockets buy more options than the most playful user can possibly tap into in the course of a single journey.
The new GLS does not ooze prestige in the same way as a Range Rover nor is it as effervescently outgoing as the BMW X7. The 400bhp BMW diesel is in a different performance league than the six-cylinder from Stuttgart, but proper electrification is conspicuously absent in all the GLS’s competitors.
In terms of contemporary luxury, the Mercedes satisfies every whim with eleven USB ports, the world´s largest glass sunroof and electrically adjustable second-row seats which can be remote-controlled from the third row. With up to 2400 litres of cargo space, the GLS also qualifies as emergency double-bed on wheels or as an upper-class delivery vehicle. Having made room for larger-diameter wheels, the engineers also accommodated bigger brakes with better stopping power and more stamina.
The handling is failsafe, no less but not much more either; the roadholding is firmly planted up to a point very few owners will ever come close to; the cockpit looks a bit like a game room in a listed building. If you are into big SUVs than can seat seven, tow a yacht and impress in front of the golf court´s clubhouse, the new GLS may be worth a second look.
Read on for another point of view on the Mercedes-Benz GLS from Parkers senior reviewer Tom Goodlad
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.
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.
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