Auto123 reviews the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS 450 luxury SUV.
Such is the Mercedes-Benz nomenclature that some bits make sense, other less so.
Take the GLS 450 4MATIC, for example. The “450” in the name suggests the existence of a 4.5L six- or eight-cylinder engine. But the actual 450 actually gets a 3.0L 362 hp turbocharged straight-six. Go figure.
The “S” in “GLS”, however, makes more sense: like the S-Class in the Mercedes car lineup, the GLS sits atop the Benz crossover world; I say “crossover” because if I’d said “SUV” I would hear about it from readers coming at me with “what about the G-Class?” comments. That’s a body-on-frame truck more akin to SUVs, while the GLS is more sedan-like in its unibody build. So, like the GLE, the GLC, the GLB and the GLA, the GLS uses a sedan sibling as a jumping-off point.
Indeed, when I attended the launch of the GL predecessor a number of years ago, it was touted as “the S-Class of SUVs” by Mercedes itself. Which means there are big expectations for the GLS. After all: the S-Class continues to be the benchmark for full-size sedans-cum-limousines, so while it’s technically the smaller vehicle, the GLS still has some pretty big shoes to fill.
Its exterior styling helps it start off on the right foot. While the dark Canvasite Blue paintjob (why couldn’t they just call it Navy?) hides some of the panel cuts and creases, the detailing on the two-tone twin-bar grille, headlights and rims as well as the chrome trim around the side windows, on the roof rails, the rocker panels and front splitter helps break things up a bit, keeping the GLS’ appearance classy but with a few splashes of flare.
It’s still a fairly conservatively-styled vehicle – even in AMG GLS 63 form – but it’s handsome enough. I love the stance, too, somehow less tall and gawky-looking than the GL before it.
Here it’s a bit of a different story, especially when you consider the ultra-modern and luxurious chocolate-brown leather draped over the seats, dash and door panels. I’m a big fan of brown leather done right, and with the contrasting white stitching seen here on my tester, Mercedes has hit the mark. But I can’t think it would look even better with some slightly lighter exterior colouring.
Like the dusting of chrome found on the exterior, the dark-ish interior is brightened up by jewel-like Burmester speaker grilles – man, do I love these – and other smatterings of chrome and brushed aluminum on the door-mounted speaker controls, steering wheel spokes and vent bezels. Unlike Mercedes’ cars, the GLS’ vents are rectangular as opposed to round, which is more in keeping with its slightly blockier exterior.
The lighting is also a big plus, and it’s highlighted here by what is essentially a fully-digitized dash. The gauge cluster and infotainment screen are of equal size, equally slick-looking and a pleasure to interact with. The graphics are ultra-sharp, the colours are vibrant and they are sized just right to easily access on the go. My goodness what a gorgeous experience this is. It really is like having a proper mobile device right there in your dash. Fantastic.
The infotainment screen is accessed one of three ways: via touch, a centralized control pad or thumb controls on the wheel spoke. The touchpad on the opposite spoke, meanwhile, is used to interact with the gauge display – you can change your display appearance, access the trip computer and a multitude of other commands with just your left thumb. Once you get used to the small touchpads, it makes the main console-mounted pad almost vestigial. Better yet, even though they’re so close to your thumbs, I never found myself accidentally using them. It’s a clever piece of kit, this.
Except for one thing – well not one, but 9, as in the number of USB ports you have in the GLS. Having that many is great, but they’re all of the USB-C variety. I guess more and more mobile devices are using USB-C now, but you couldn’t give us one traditional USB slot? This meant CarPlay was a no-go for me as unlike the X7 (or any BMW using the brand’s latest iDrive system), it doesn’t connect via Bluetooth – cable only, and I didn’t have one.
Comfort-wise, the front seats are right on – I’m especially a fan of the hand-holds either side of the centre console; found myself using them quite regularly even though this is, above all else, a pretty smooth-riding SUV. It’s just a very comfortable pace to rest your hand, whether sitting in the driver or passenger seat.
The second row of the GLS can be spec-ed either with a bench seat or captain’s chairs; mine had the latter. They don’t tumble forward for third-row access as does the bench seat – which is a bit of a shame – but they do tilt and slide, meaning you can leave a child’s seat there and still move the seats forward. Or, you can just have third-row passengers make their way between the two captain’s chairs.
It should come as little surprise that the second row is a roomy space to sit. I don’t deny that. I’m less enamoured, however, with the angles of both the seatback and bottom cushion, as I always felt the latter was angled at too sharp of a rake, having me feeling like I was hunched forward a little. Playing with the seat back helped a bit, but I never felt that I nailed it.
Strangely, the third row (which gets its own cupholders and USB ports) doesn’t suffer from these issues. There’s less room and the bottom cushions are a little firmer, but otherwise I found this to be one of the best third rows I’ve ever sampled, and that includes the likes of the BMW X7 and Lincoln Navigator - though the latter is very close.
That said, chances are most GLS owners are going to leave the third row folded flat, which means they’ll have access to 1,150 litres of storage space (seats up leaves you with 391). Seat folding is done via controls mounted to the cargo bay wall, with the second-row seats automatically moving if they have to accommodate the folding rear seat.
This interior – and the S-Class connection – portends to the GLS riding, turning and accelerating like a top-flight luxury vehicle should. Indeed, firing the engine with a press of a button leads to, well…nothing, really. A bit of a snuffling at first blush settles into a nice, caramel-smooth idle as those 362 horses get warmed up. Then, it’s a nice, easy launch from tip-in as the well-tuned suspension keeps the – admittedly quite large – body in check.
This is a decidedly low-drama SUV as you lope about town; the steering is basically weightless, the view out is good and the engine’s only going to really make itself heard if you really get on it, which is something few GLS 450 drivers are likely to do. Which is good, because that feeling of serenity does dissipate under heavy acceleration loads as the noise level rises. I don’t mind it, but most will prefer to do without it.
Tougher to avoid, however, is the slight feeling of chassis flex you get as you traverse everyday bumps and road obstacles. Remember that, new nomenclature or no, the GLS is a large vehicle that’s still making use of an ageing platform. You’re going to get a few slight squeaks and rattles as all that weight moves around through turns and so forth.
On more open roads where you get to allow the GLS to stretch its legs, meanwhile, the six-cylinder is smooth and responsive, early in deploying its 362 hp and 369 lb-ft.
I was happy whenever I had to set out for a drive in the GLS. Some cars are meant to excite as you drive them; others to keep you comfortable. Still others manage to mix a little bit of the two and while the GLS is one that aims firmly at those in camp comfort, the power is there and all that tech wizardry is proper for a luxury auto of the highest order. In my dream garage, there aren’t many SUVs. The GLS, however, has a spot.
Crisp, modern, intuitive infotainment
Usable, well-equipped third row
We like less
Not exactly a head-turner in the styling sense
Shows its age in places
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