2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS Review

When the new Mercedes-Benz GLS arrives later this year, it’ll be the perfect foil to the well-received BMW X7 that came out recently. Both are luxury SUVs with three rows of seating, designed to help buyers move into something bigger for their growing families. 

The Mercedes feels extremely special, with a pair of excellent engine choices, an incredible air suspension system, and a well-crafted, high-tech interior. Mercedes bills it as the S-Class of SUVs, cashing in on the reputation of the best executive limousine in the world, and truthfully, the GLS is very close to that standard.

There’s a lot to talk about with the new SUV. Everything about it is brand new, which was needed as past GLS vehicles were good in their heyday, but quickly became dated in terms of design, technology, and driving manners. 

The GLS has been upgraded beyond the segment benchmarks in just about every way. Look under the hood and you’ll see an engine augmented with the automaker’s 48-volt electrical system. This makes the SUV a mild hybrid by pairing either a 3.0-liter inline six cylinder engine or turbocharged 4.0-liter V8 with that integrated starter generator (ISG). The ISG provides the hybrid functions like energy recovery and what Mercedes calls EQ Boost, which provides a temporary boost of 184 lb-ft of torque or 21 hp. That ISG negates the need for a drive belt for the engine, which improves the packaging of the powertrain. The 48-volt system also powers the water pump and air conditioning system, so the vehicle should be more fuel efficient.

The six-cylinder model is rated to make 362 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque, while the V8 outputs 483 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque. Both engines are paired to a nine-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel-drive. The AWD system can shift the full range of power between the front and rear axle, and models equipped with a special off-road package even get a low-range gearset, which will definitely appeal to adventure-oriented buyers.

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The six-cylinder model is smooth and efficient, with more than enough power to hustle the big SUV around. I never found myself wanting more because the V8 was fast, albeit not in the most thrilling way. Both cars do the sprint to highway speeds in under 6 seconds, the six-cylinder is rated at about 5.9 seconds, while the V8 will do it in about 5.2. The roar from either engine was muted, as the luxury-oriented car has an impressive amount of sound deadening. 

A quiet cabin in a family-friendly SUV goes a long way, but luxury features and amazing technology go even further. Without a doubt, the highlight of this car is the E-Active Body Control (eABC), which is an evolution of the fancy suspension tech that many luxury cars offer. The eABC system controls the spring and damping at each corner of the vehicle. It balances out the car so it never feels like it’s rolling too much when cornering, a trait that large SUVs are known for. It also allows for impressive wheel articulation and ground clearance, hence the off-road capability of the car. On the road, the eABC system smooths out the pavement and irons out the bumps, wrinkles, and potholes in the street, making the GLS have a superior ride quality compared its peers (like the X7, but also cars like the Infiniti QX80, Lexus LX, and the Lincoln Navigator). The system also has the added benefit of helping the GLS get out of sticky situations with a recovery mode that bounces the car up and down, similar to how you’d get your friends to hop on the rear bumper of a car that’s stuck in snow or sand. While that’s useful, there’s a more gimmicky feature to individually select a wheel to raise or lower as you see fit.

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They’re not essential features, save for the fact that they give the car a class-leading ride quality, which is a good pairing for the wonderfully appointed cabin. Since this is the “S-Class of SUVs,” there is a wide assortment of interiors to choose from, but I’m impressed with each level of GLS we tested. The third row is big enough for six-footers to sit in, although legroom is still a concern there. The second row is brilliant, and there are plenty of gadgets and gizmos to enjoy in these seats. An optional executive seating package allows for the second-row seats to have massage, heating and ventilating functions, accessible via a removable tablet. You can also get an optional rear-seat entertainment package that includes individual screens for each passenger, as well as wireless headphones. 

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Materials and accents are top notch. The layout is a bit cluttered, and there is an abundance of vents on the dashboard. Then again, with a vehicle this big, you probably need them all. You can get all the fancy extras in the front seats as you could in the rear, like heated and ventilated seats, massage functions, and even the armrest and door panels heat up too.

The cabin is also very high-tech. The infotainment system has been updated with the MBUX interface, which uses natural speech recognition and can even pinpoint who in the car is talking to it, so if your passenger says “I’m cold,” it’ll raise the temperature on the passenger side of the vehicle. There is also wireless phone charging and 11 USB ports to charge various devices, which is so much that Mercedes joked about the GLS doubling as a mobile power bank. 

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The SUV is vault-like in terms of its sound insulation and how safe it is. The cabin is extremely quiet, so much so that the hours-long off-road exercise we participated in was serene and calm — if rocks and pebbles were pinging off the skidplates, we barely heard them. And the GLS features all of Mercedes’ usual driver assistance and safety equipment, including the PRE-SAFE functions that prepare the cabin and passengers in the case of an unavoidable accident.

There’s even a car wash mode that prepares the SUV for an automatic car wash by turning off the parking sensors, folding the mirrors in, closing all the windows, turning the air to re-circulate, and turning off the automatic wipers. Mercedes has covered as many bases as possible when it comes to passenger and vehicle safety.

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While my impressions of the GLS are positive, it’s worth pointing out that the car isn’t exactly fun or engaging to drive. It’s fast, comfortable, and it changes directions easily, but it won’t exactly inspire you to tackle a winding road. That’s to be expected in a car this size, and one that’s comfort-oriented as well, but BMW X7 has shown to be quite engaging to drive in comparison with a superb, tried and true powertrain. However, I don’t think the X7’s interior is as plush or special as the GLS, and the Mercedes seems much more spacious and accommodating.

The Verdict: 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS Review

Calling the GLS the S-Class of SUVs is mostly marketing, as the S-Class has, for decades, been the defacto flagship executive car, the one that coddles dignitaries and celebrities to each destination and red-carpet. With sedans losing ground to SUVs and crossovers, perhaps the GLS will eventually become the go-to vehicle for these types, it certainly has the tech, luxuries, and style for it.

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