by Adam Lynton
With a starting MSRP of $70,150, the Mercedes-Benz GLS is not for the faint of heart, or budget. But the price tag isn't the only big thing about the SUV; a truly enormous chassis encompasses a spacious and luxurious interior. And neither the standard 362-horsepower nor the optional 449-hp bi-turbo engines are lacking in size or brawniness. Competing with the likes of the Audi Q7 and the new BMW X7, this stylish and well-appointed luxury SUV is holding its own. And despite its seemingly high price, it's still on the cheaper side versus the competition. With space for up to seven adults, a premium interior, and features out the wazoo, there really isn't much the GLS does wrong.
Mechanically, nothing has changed for the 2019 GLS, and the same is mostly true when it comes to aesthetics. However, Mercedes has introduced a limited-time Grand Edition. This entails unique interior color schemes, lighting accents, and high-quality trims and floor mats. Grand Edition badging, active LED lamps, and larger, uniquely accented wheels encompass the exterior changes.
The Merc GLS is huge; there are no two ways about that. But it doesn't look as monstrous as many of its rivals do. The chassis is slimmed down by smooth lines, and the front grille is large but tasteful. The basic halogen headlights are smaller than you'd expect on such a large vehicle with equally slim and stylish brake lights furthering the car's toned-down styling. LED headlights become standard from the GLS 550, while LED running lights are standard across the range. The base GLS 450 rides on 19-inch wheels, with larger 21-inch AMG wheels fitted to the GLS 550.
At 202 inches long, 84.3 inches wide, and 72.8 inches tall, the Mercedes GLS can be a bit tricky to maneuver in heavy traffic, or a packed parking lot. Heck, the 121.1-inch wheelbase is longer than an entire Smart Fortwo. And it would take several of these tiny cars stacked atop one another to outweigh the 5,335 lbs GLS 450; the 550 weighs in at 5,578 lbs. This puts it relatively on par with BMW X1 range, although it is quite a bit heavier than the smaller Audi Q7.
As with most luxury vehicles, the GLS presents buyers with a diverse palette of striking colors. Unrestricted by trim level, the standard color choices are Black and Polar White. For an extra $720, you can select from Obsidian Black Metallic, Iridium Silver Metallic, Lunar Blue Metallic, Brilliant Blue Metallic, and Selenite Grey Metallic. The premium designo colors comprise Cardinal Red Metallic for $1,080 and Diamond White Metallic for $1,515.
The standard 362-hp 3.0-liter bi-turbo V6 engine is more than powerful enough to send the GLS 450 powering along the road at remarkable speeds. Paired with a nine-speed automatic transmission, the SUV promises to go from 0 to 60 mph in less than 6.5 seconds. Real-world testing has proven that the Merc can deliver on this promise, with drivers hitting the 60 mph mark at around 6.2 seconds.
The GLS 550 is equipped with the same transmission and drivetrain but a more powerful 4.7-liter bi-turbo V8. It produces 449 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque and can hit 60 mph in around 5.2 seconds. The GLS-Class is rating for towing at 7,500 lbs across all its guises, but with the more powerful V8 on the 550, you'll find it a lot easier to pull this impressive amount of weight around town.
A bi-turbo 3.0-liter V6 engine with direct injection is the standard fare on the entry-level GLS 450. This is mated to a nine-speed 9G-Tronic automatic transmission, which smoothly rows through the gears and directs the engine's impressive power to all four wheels.
While it uses the same gearbox and drivetrain, the GLS 550 steps up to the plate with a 4.7-liter bi-turbo V8 engine that promises to hit every obstacle right out of the ballpark. With 449 hp and 516 lb-ft at its disposal, the SUV effortlessly merges onto the highway and overtakes all but the highest of performance vehicles without breaking a sweat. Around town, the responsive throttle and smooth automatic transmission mean that traffic lights are no more than minor annoyances.
The large luxury SUV handles better than you would think at first glance. Despite its dimensions and weight, the GLS gets up to speed rapidly and, once there, handles maneuvers with remarkable grace. The steering doesn't offer much feedback, but it is light and offers quick responses to inputs, allowing the driver to guide the graceful giant around turns with only a modicum of body roll, despite the SUV's height.
Much like its predecessor, the GLS-Class, the new GLS benefits from a powerful and refined braking system, further shored up with multiple active tech features that ensure safety even when you push the vehicle a little too hard. As for handling… well, this luxury Mercedes doesn't disappoint. The air suspension easily absorbs all but the most devastating of road imperfections. And with a well-insulated cabin, you won't even hear the road, no matter how bumpy it gets.
With more than enough power to hop between intersections in town, or fly down the highway, combined with steering that gives this magnificent beast a surprising amount of nimbleness and comfort that is second to only a select few, the GLS promises a driving experience that, while not necessarily thrilling, is enjoyable and engaging.
One of the SUV's only real failings is its fuel economy. No one would expect a juggernaut like the GLS to be particularly efficient when it comes to fuel, but it falls so far behind the competition that it would be unwise to discount this failing. The base GLS 450 gets an EPA-estimated 16/22/18 mpg over the city/highway/combined cycles, while the more powerful engine in the GLS 550 only manages 14/19/16 mpg. Considering the car runs on premium gasoline, this can end up costing you a lot in the long run, but then again, if you can afford the GLS, maybe it isn't that much of a drawback. With a 26.4-gallon fuel tank to work with, the SUV can manage 443 miles to a tank in its more efficient GLS 450 guise. If you would like a similar luxury SUV with better fuel economy, the 335-hp BMW X7 xDrive40i gets 20/25/22 mpg.
Riding inside the Merc GLS is the modern-day equivalent of being carried around town upon an ornate palanquin in ancient times; you will undoubtedly feel as spoiled as you may look to those who wish they could afford this well-appointed vehicle. The interior is opulence incarnate, with space to fit up to six adults without feeling overly cramped. The infotainment suite is a bit dated but still more than adequate; it's just a pity that smartphone integration doesn't come standard. The controls can be a bit tricky to learn, but once you have them set up to your liking, they seem a lot more intuitive. Opting for the plusher climate-controlled leather seating may feel gluttonous, but it's so worth it.
You will struggle to find a car on the market with as much space as the Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class. There is seating for up to seven occupants and enough space for each person to stretch their arms and legs over longer rides. Head and legroom are so plentiful that even the third-row seats can comfortably accommodate six-foot-tall adults.
The standard GLS 450 has its interior upholstered with MB-Tex faux leather, which feels surprisingly similar to the real deal. Color options with this material comprise Black or Espresso Brown, with each of these pairable with Ginger Beige to form a dual-tone color scheme. The supple leather that comes standard with the GLS 550 can be dyed in the same two-tone schemes mentioned above, as well as Saddle Brown/Black and Crystal Grey/Black. The optional Nappa leather upholstery is available in Black, Porcelain/Black, and Espresso Brown/Black. The premium designo Nappa leather appointments can take on Espresso Brown, Porcelain/Black, or Porcelain/Espresso Brown hues.
Considering how generous the GLS is with its seating appointments, it still supplies a practical amount of cargo space. Behind the third-row seats, you will find 16.2 cubic feet of room. This the same as what many daily-driver sedans offer, though if you are planning to fill all seven seats and go on an extended trip, you will need to equip a trailer for the extra luggage. However, if you only need the front and second-row seats, you can fold down the third row to free up a total area of 49.4 cubic feet, which is more than enough room for vacation luggage for five. And if you need to do some serious feng-shui, the second-row seats can also fold down to create a whopping 93.8 cubic feet of space, more than enough for several pieces of stylish furniture.
But, let's not forget about all your knick-knacks, cell phones, iPads, water bottles, and kids toys; the GLS has space for all of them with its assorted cup holders, door pockets, spacious center console, and dashboard trays.
The luxury SUV can seem deceptively simplistic with its standard list of features, but that illusion is shattered when you consider all the available tech. This comprises active brake assist, driver attention assist, the Pre-Safe system, adaptive braking tech, a rearview camera, multifunction driver-assist display, keyless entry and ignition, a power liftgate, 10-way power front seats with three-position memory, heated front seats, 60/40 split fold-down middle seats, 50/50 power fold-down rear seats, a power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, dual-zone climate control, a power glass sunroof, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, and an integrated garage door opener. When you step up to the GLS 550 trim, you also receive blind-spot assist, active parking assist, a surround-view camera, keyless-go, memory functions for the front passenger seat, ventilated and multicontour front seats, and tri-zone climate control. Other available features include a suite of active safety features, advance Pre-Safe Plus, heated rear seats, and a panorama roof with third-row vent windows.
The MBUX infotainment system on the GLS-Class is decent, but it is starting to feel a little dated. Standard features comprise a seven-inch touchscreen display, a console-mounted central controller, Garmin navigation, Bluetooth hands-free and audio streaming, multiple dual USB ports, HD Radio, Mercedes me connect, and a seven-speaker sound system. This suite is upgraded when you move up the trim levels, receiving a larger eight-inch touchscreen, Apple Carplay and Android Auto, a touchpad for the console-mounted controller, COMAND Navigation, voice control functionality, SiriusXM with SiriusXM Traffic and an upgraded Logic7 sound system. Available infotainment features include a 13- or 26-speaker sound system, as well as a rear-seat entertainment system with high-resolution monitors.
The GLS receives an impressive 86 out of 100 for dependability by J.D. Power. However, the SUV has been subject to several recalls over recent years. In 2018, some models were reported to leak oil, while in 2017 the car was recalled for faulty door locks, improperly insulated airbags, and faulty power steering assist.
Due to stringent in-house testing, Mercedes-Benz seldom submits its vehicles for evaluation by government bodies. For this reason, there is no safety rating for the GLS from the NHTSA. The same is true for the IIHS.
Few large SUVs rival the Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class, and none within its particular segment truly best it. With a remarkably low starting price for a luxury SUV and a sumptuous interior that few can come close to matching, the GLS stands proud and tall, despite its few shortcomings. If you really want to nitpick, the infotainment system is a bit dated compared to newer Mercedes models, and the base model GLS 450 is a bit sparse in terms of advanced tech and infotainment features - at least for the price you are expected to pay.
Nevertheless, if you are willing to fine-tune the SUV with the long list of available features, you will find yourself wanting for nothing, except perhaps a discount, as the price can quickly skyrocket as you equip the car to your tastes. Still, with two amazing engines to choose from, paired to a refined drivetrain, the GLS will get you where you are going quickly with no fuss or muss, and it will do so in style. The Mercedes-Benz GLS is a shining example of why the German manufacturer is revered the world-around for its automotive genius.
The starting price for the GLS 450 is $70,150. If you really want the punchier V8 engine, you will need to shell out an additional $25,600 for the pricier GLS 550. These are MSRP prices and do not take into account tax, licensing, registration, or Mercedes-Benz's standard $995 destination fee.
The GLA range of SUVs is comprised of two trims: the 450 and the 550. A 3.0-liter bi-turbo V6 powers the GLS 450, delivering 362 hp and 369 lb-ft to all four wheels. The GLS 550, on the other hand, delivers 449 hp and 516 lb-ft, also to all four wheels, thanks to its stronger 4.7-liter bi-turbo V8 engine. In both cases, a nine-speed automatic transmission rows through the gears for you, although each vehicle comes with steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles.
Standard features on the GLS 450 include 19-inch alloy wheels, LED daytime running lights, automatic emergency braking with forward collision alert, a rearview camera, a power liftgate, rain-sensing wipers, dual-zone climate control, fold-down middle and rear seats, a seven-inch infotainment screen, a seven-speaker sound system, and Bluetooth compatibility.
Some more advanced safety features like active parking assist, blind-spot monitoring, and a surround-view camera are added with the GLS 550. The infotainment gets a larger eight-inch screen, and COMAND Navigation is installed, along with SiriusXM Traffic. Seat upholstery is upgraded, the front seats get heating, and the rear cabin benefits from the new tri-zone climate control.
Notable packages include the time-limited Grand Edition for the 450 ($6,000) and the 550 ($3,200). The entire package comprises 20-inch alloy wheels with black accents, active LED headlights, multicolor ambient lighting, illuminated front door sills, designo Porcelain/Espresso Brown exclusive Nappa leather upholstery with dashboard trim, and designo Natural Grain Linden wood panel trim. The reduced price on the 550 is due to some of these features already being standard or less luxurious than what is already present. The Premium Package ($3,830) for the 450 adds blind-spot monitoring, lane-keep assist, COMAND Navigation, SiriusXM, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, keyless-go, and SiriusXM Traffic. The Drive Assist Package ($1,375) for the 550 comprises Distronic distance assist, active steering assist, Pre-Safe Plus, active blind-spot monitoring, active lane-keep assist, and speed limit assist.
Considering the luxurious nature of the car, even in its base trim, and the relatively high price tag, sticking with the GLS 450 might be the best bet. The $25,600 you save by not opting for the 550 can then be used to decide exactly what you want to add to the base model, without having superfluous features from the 550. Also, as a family-oriented vehicle, you don't really need the powerful V8 that comes standard with the more expensive trim. Rather custom-design your GLS 450 to meet your family's comfort and safety needs.
Although they hail from different vehicle segments, both the Merc GLS and Audi Q7 are popular SUVs. The Q7 is a bit smaller than the GLS, which naturally means that it cannot boast the same spacious interior. Nevertheless, unless you are expecting to fill all seven seats in each car on the regular, that shouldn't be a huge problem. The Audi comes equipped with top-notch tech features, and more of them than the GLS. The Mercedes can come just as well-equipped, but this requires you to tag on a lot of optional items, which quickly increases the car's price. When you consider that the Q7 starts off a lot cheaper than the Merc, and also offers better fuel-efficiency, it becomes clear which SUV is the better investment from a value perspective. So, unless you plan on regularly carpooling your entire hockey team around, the Q7 is the smarter choice here.
As with the Audi Q7, the BMW X5 competes with the Mercedes GLS across vehicle segments. As a mid-size SUV, the X5 is naturally smaller, lacking a third row of seats as standard. Still, the five seats it does provide are as comfortable as can be, with plenty of room for all five occupants. The smaller dimensions also mean that the X5 has less cargo capacity, both as standard and with the rear seats down. However, the BMW, being newly revamped, offers state-of-the-art infotainment and tech features as a significant discount to the more dated Mercedes. Combine this with fuel economy that is comparable to the Audi Q7, and you will start to see a pattern emerge. Once again, unless you really need the space, the BMW X5 should meet most, if not all, of your daily needs at a much cheaper cost than the Mercedes GLS-Class SUVs.