Until 2006, Mercedes didn’t have a full-size offering in the SUV segment.
But that all changed with the debut of the 3-row GL – now known as the GLS to denote its stature as the S Class of SUVs.
And now for its next act, the GLS is bigger, lavishes its occupants with more luxury and doubles down on technology.
In all aspects of modern life, some continue to prefer analog while others crave digital. And the GLS is coded for the latter, with oh-wow electronic wizardry around every corner. Widescreens, tablets, aromas, and gesture control, the luxury 3-row segment has shifted its emphasis from driving to pampering.
Not that the GLS isn’t satisfying from behind the wheel because it is – but this class has crossed into the technology sector with a focus on indulging its occupants.
But first, let’s look at the mechanicals. This base GLS 450 with standard all-wheel drive receives a new in-line 6-cylinder turbocharged engine supplemented by mild-hybrid technology Mercedes calls EQ Boost.
So while it always uses the gas engine for propulsion the 48 volt electrical system supports energy recuperation via braking and even suspension movements and an engine Start/Stop system that saves gas when stopped in traffic. Akin to a turbo’s overboost function, it can also provide a short burst of adrenaline contributing even more go to the engine’s 362 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque. Thus, the GLS is very quick – 0-to-60mph arrives in 5.9 seconds – and its engine operates with supreme smoothness. The 9-speed auto is also fluid in its gear changes though I’ve experienced a few random missteps while downshifting. This one also has a sport exhaust at a cost of $350 but it is barely noticeable.
It rides upon an air suspension and is fitted here with the optional E-ACTIVE BODY CONTROL, again capitalizing on its 48-volt architecture. This intelligent app is the only system currently on the market that can individually control spring and damping forces at each wheel.
It works with the ROAD SURDACE SCAN feature which utilizes a forward-facing stereo camera to read road undulations and then adjusts the suspension accordingly. You hear all of this and you think wow, I could driver over a crater and not feel it but it doesn’t quite live up to the hype. The GLS’s ride quality is very, very good but it doesn’t make the stand out impression you might think. It also includes a Curve drive mode that leans the GLS into turns like a motorcycle while keeping the occupants unruffled. The E-ABC isn’t cheap – it tacks on $6,500 – but it does allow you to do this…
This one also benefits from the $1,100 Acoustic Comfort Package which indeed works as promised by keeping the cabin nearly silent. Another GLS headline is its new big screen and all of its integrated goodies.
It’s called the Mercedes-Benz User Experience or MBUX for short and it’s the brand’s new infotainment interface. It can be controlled by 4 different methods including touchscreen and is the conduit to most of the GLS’s amazing technology. There’s also a separate tablet in the rear that can be used as a controller. Like any new tech, it takes some getting used to so get ready to spend time in your driveway learning all of its amazing features. One of the coolest is the car wash setting.
It sounds silly at first but between auto hold, rain sensing wipers and park assist, the automatic car wash can be wrought with issues that’ll make you look foolish so this is pretty neat. Other things you can do in here include activate ENERGIZING COMFORT – a customized environment that manipulates the music, lighting, air balance, seat temperature and massage to help achieve a specific state of being, you can change the overall theme of the cabin, play with the amazing Burmester sound system or peruse the various drive settings.
To work it, you can use the center pad, touchscreen, voice or the very simple steering wheel touchpads. Finding what you’re looking for can be a little confusing but the system’s operation is very well done. Same for the driver information screen which can be simply customized in countless ways. And the heads-up display is one of if not the best on the market. No wireless CarPlay, however so chalk up one for BMW.
But what about those who don’t get to sit up front. Well, the Executive Rear Seat Package really brings it by offering massage, heating, and cooling – all accessible though this cool Android tablet which can be removed and used for just about anything including a camera and has a nifty wireless charge pad tucked behind it. And the pillows on the headrests? Nice touch. But not everything is perfect back here.
The biggest disappointment with the GLS is its poorly sized and engineered 3rd row. Power seat features are nice but these take far too long to complete and don’t automatically return the seats to their previous positions. And it feels tight in the 3rd row. Much more so than its number 1 competitor the BMW X7…but more on that later. The one touch action to raise and lower all the seats simultaneously however is brilliant.
There are heated and cooled cupholders, rapid heating seats, armrests and door panels and quad zone climate control – so the cabin is a spa-like sanctuary. But here are my big issues – 1) the X7 both looks and feels even more impressive and progressive. Mercedes went with more traditional SUV styling and it falls a little flat. And 2) the ill-conceived 3rd row detracts from its family moving goals. On the other hand, this GLS performs better at SUV duties when the pavement ends so if it’s that a setting you envision I’d lean towards the Benz. The X7 feels city slick and the GLS more rugged.
Towing is maxed at 7,700 pounds and gas mileage is rated at 21mpg in mixed driving. And the GLS’s self-driving capability exceeds most other systems in that it allows your hands to be off the wheel for a far greater period of time.
In this marvelous designo Cardinal Red with an abundance of options, MSRP is $103,180 – up from a base price of about $76,000. You’d be nuts not to want one but for the money the X7 is even more impressive.