Full size SUVs are making a quick resurgence, thanks to lower gas prices. These big trucks give luxury automakers a great opportunity to showcase their ability to create a large, comfy, spacious, and practical vehicle.
Engine: 3.0L turbo 6-cylinder
Output: 362 hp, 369 lb-ft.
Transmission: 9-speed auto
US Fuel Economy (MPG): 17 city, 22 MPG highway
CAN Fuel Economy (L/100 km): 14.4 city, 11.4 highway
US Price: Starts at $69,625
CAN Price: Starts at $82,900 CAD
Yet for whatever reason, German automakers have had a strange aversion to offering or at least classifying their SUVs as full-sized. We have the Cadillac Escalade and Lincoln Navigator from domestic brands, and the Japanese brands trot out cars like the Lexus LX and Infiniti QX80. When it comes to the Bavarian brands, only Mercedes offers a full-size SUV and, luckily for them, it’s quite good.
The GLS is the new name for the familiar SUV, previously called the GL, which is part of a new nomenclature for Mercedes lineup. The car names stay the same, C-Class for the compact sport sedan, E-Class for the mid-size executive sport sedan, and S-Class for the flagship sedan. The SUVs follow this up with the letters GL. So the GLC is the compact SUV, the GLE is the mid-size SUV, and the GLS is the full-size model, and the model here is the 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLS 450 4Matic.
Powering the Big SUV
For the 2017 model year, the car gets a number of changes and updates including subtle interior and exterior tweaks, but nothing more significant than the powerplant. The GLS 450 4Matic tested sports a 3.0-liter twin turbo V6 engine that we first saw in last year’s model. It makes 362 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque. Interestingly enough, it’s actually the base engine for the car, as the other engines on tap are twin turbo V8s (a 449 hp, 4.7L in the GLS550 and a 577 hp, 5.5L unit in the GLS63 AMG). It’s plenty quick and powerful, I never felt the need for more power, but the option to get a bigger engine is there for those who aren’t satisfied with just six cylinders. No matter the engine, the car is limited to towing 7,500 lbs when equipped with an optional trailer hitch, so it’s not like the bigger engine will help you tow more, but it may allow for more confidence during the job.
Next to the engine is a new transmission, a nine-speed unit that works very well. Not only is it smooth and responsive, but it seems to always been in the right gear for the job. While psyching the transmission out is possible with erratic throttle use like you would see in severely congested traffic, it was typically well sorted on the highway and in suburban routes. The new transmission leads to fuel usage of 17 mpg in the city and 22 mpg on the highway or about 19 mpg combined. It’s also worth mentioning that the GLS is only available with Mercedes’ 4Matic all-wheel-drive system. Most 4Matic-equipped vehicles split the power between the front and rear axles 45/55 and can shift it 30/70 in either direction, however, this big full-size SUV is a bit different, splitting power between the axles 50/50 instead.
Folks buy these kinds of vehicles not just to feel like they’re in command of something powerful and tough, but because they’re very practical and like lavish things. The GLS450 fits the bill and is every bit as luxurious as a Cadillac Escalade or Range Rover, if not more so. It can easily seat seven passengers and the second row of bucket seats are remarkably plush. Special attention should be given to the headrests, as several passengers complimented how comfortable they are.
There’s 143.6 cubic feet of passenger space, and wriggle and elbow room wasn’t a concern at all in the vehicle. Behind the third row of seats is 16 cubic feet of storage space, which expands to a much more useable 49.4 cubic feet when that third row is down. Fold away that second row and you have an impressive amount of cargo space totalling 93.8 cubic feet. The practicality and spaciousness of the vehicle is fantastic, and those figures are very similar to what you’d get in a Cadillac Escalade and more than you’d find in a Range Rover.
The interior is upholstered in a gorgeous brown leather that can be found on the dash and seating. Interior accents on this tester were a nice wood trim that felt authentic to the touch. Less impressive is Mercedes’ COMAND infotainment system, which can be a bit of a hassle to use thanks to a rotary knob to select items on the screen, and a touch sensitive pad that can be used to handwrite text in a cumbersome way. While the screen is full of information, along with the driver’s information display, the useability of the infotainment system just isn’t ideal.
This being a Mercedes, there’s a number of appreciated convenience features including dual-zone automatic climate control, a great 360-degree camera, Apple CarPlay compatibility, and power heated seats. The options list on this tester were thoroughly checked: massage seats up front, heated cupholders, a huge panoramic sunroof, privacy shades for the rear seats and even power folding seats for the second and third row. The Harman/Kardon Logic7 surround system is also worth pointing out, filling the large cabin with your music without losing any quality in the process.
How is it to Drive?
Mercedes also packs a number of driver assistance features in the GLS450 including adaptive cruise control with steering assist, blind spot warning, active lane keep assist and autonomous emergency braking.
These features along with the equipped sport package helped the big SUV feel fairly easy to drive. While it may be intimidating to pilot such a large vehicle, the steering and suspension were nicely tuned with good feedback. Helping to provide this engagement was the car’s adjustable drive modes, which included an Individual mode that allows for the car’s powertrain to be put in the responsive Sport mode, while leaving the suspension and steering in the less darty comfort mode.
Visibility was quite good and blind spots are easy to negate thanks to the driver aids and many large windows. The adaptive cruise control was also very functional and useful on long road trips, which are really this vehicle’s strong point. While the car was accommodating in the city, the size of it was particularly concerning in tight spots, but at least the fantastic sound deadening helped keep the buzz of the city out of the cabin.
Rumor has it that Mercedes is planning to make a Maybach version of the GLS-Class and it’s hard to imagine how the automaker can improve the luxury appeal of this vehicle. This vehicle already features massage seats and heated cupholders, what could be next? Maybe a champagne cooler in the back, but not much else.
The Verdict: 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLS 450 Review
Starting at $69,625 USD ($82,900 CAD) the Mercedes GLS 450 sounds pricey, but that’s just in the middle of the price range that this segment lives in. The Infiniti QX80 runs for around $65,000 USD, while the Cadillac Escalade costs just under $75,000 USD. The GLS 450 is easier to recommend than both of those options. However, once you load up the options and get to the level of equipment as our tester, you’re looking at a car that will cost around $85,000 USD (or over $95,000 CAD.) If you’re looking for something in this segment, it’s hard to argue with the offering from Mercedes. While BMW will likely come out with a big SUV called the X7 in the near future, Mercedes’ German rivals will have a hard time topping the GLS-Class.