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First drive: Mercedes’ largest and plushest SUV arrives

All-new Mercedes-Benz GLS upper-large SUV checks in to challenge BMW X7

30 Jan 2020

AFTER more than a decade on the market and two different nomenclatures, Mercedes-Benz has finally breathed new life into its biggest and most luxurious SUV, the GLS (formerly GL) upper-large family wagon.


The all-new, second-generation GLS has seen a significant overhaul, expanding its already sizeable exterior proportions and upping the technology and luxury equation befitting of what Mercedes refers to as ‘the S-Class of SUVs’.


Having arrived in local showrooms earlier this month, the new GLS range consists of two variants, the petrol-powered GLS450 from $144,600 plus on-roads, and the oil-burning GLS400d (tested here) from $151,300.


The range will be bolstered in the third quarter of this year with the addition of the high-performance GLS63 AMG and the super-luxury Mercedes-Maybach GLS600, which will give some serious panache to the range.


Point of entry to the GLS range has climbed by a significant $26,230, however that is mainly due to the deletion of the entry-level GLS300d variant which has been deemed unnecessary thanks to the addition of a seven-seat option on the new and one-size smaller GLE.


The removal of the GLS300d means that the point of entry is significantly higher than that of the X7, which kicks off from $124,900 for the 30d, which features a 3.0-litre turbo-diesel inline six-cylinder engine similar to the GLS400d, albeit with 48kW/80Nm less grunt.


To justify the increase in price over its closest German rival, Mercedes has included a broad range of standard spec on the GLS range, leaving only a short options list to eliminate confusion for buyers.


Stepping into the GLS cabin for the first time, it seems no surprise the brand considers it the S-Class of the SUV segments, with premium appointments, new-fangled technological features and a generally serene environment that gives it a feeling of undeniable luxury.


Dominating the dashboard are the now-familiar pair of 12.3-inch digital displays comprising the instrument cluster and MBUX infotainment system, which we are pleased to report have been integrated neatly into the dashboard unlike other Mercedes models where the tablet-style screens look glued on.


Controlled by a touchpad and series of buttons, MBUX is an intuitive and easy system to use, and its voice recognition tech is the most impressive and user-friendly in the business.


Our test car is fitted with the optional $800 Innovation package, which includes a new feature that combines augmented reality with the satellite navigation that works to make navigation easier for drivers.


Called MBUX Augmented Reality for satellite navigation, the system will project the car’s front-facing cameras onto the media screen when approaching a turn, and will project arrows onto the road as well as the street name to help drivers identify where they need to turn.


It even projects street numbers onto passing houses, and is a massive help when travelling in unfamiliar areas.


As expected for a car of its size, space inside the GLS’s cabin is cavernous, with a high roof and longer wheelbase allowing for comfortable seating in the front, and miles of legroom for second-row passengers.


Mercedes claims the third row is appropriate for adults up to 194cm in height, and while we certainly believe the claim for headroom, when it comes to legroom our 186cm frame couldn’t come close to fitting.


Operation of the second and third-row seats are made easy by fully electric folding seats that can fold flat, and offers a massive 2400 litres of cabin space with both rows stowed. Even with all seats in use, a respectable 355L is still available.


Second-row occupants are treated to a gorgeous panoramic glass sunroof that adds to interior ambience, however for its most luxurious SUV, we were hoping the second-row pews would be more comfortable.


The seat bottoms are angled backwards quite aggressively, and with the seats only able to recline so far back, the seating position can feel too upright for some.


Add in the fact that with no second-row heated seats available as standard, the S-Class still remains the go-to Mercedes for chauffeured occupants.


The huge interior space comes from its massive exterior dimensions – 5207mm long, 1956mm wide and 1823mm tall with a 3135mm wheelbase, which combined with its 2490kg kerb weight leads to a settled and comfortable on-road ride quality.


Throw standard air suspension into the mix, and the GLS provides plush ride comfort on any surface, as befitting its status at the top of the SUV tree.


The GLS rides superbly even on our optional 22-inch alloys, with 21-inch hoops standard issue and customers able to select up to 23-inch wheels.


Highway driving is also a breeze, when combining the comfortable interior experience with Mercedes’ active safety tech that includes lane-keep assist and automatic lane change function.


While the GLS has a generally hushed cabin, we did experience some tyre roar on coarse-chip roads, and its imposing size did lead to some wind noise at high speeds.


Taking it off the highway and into the twisty stuff, we were unsurprised to find that the GLS doesn’t love having its considerable heft thrown into corners.


To be fair, it does a commendable job considering its size, and if the E-Active Body Control adaptive suspension is optioned it would go a long way to cancelling the pitch and body roll felt when shifting from side to side.


Steering feels quite heavy at higher speeds but lightens around town, and its relatively tight turning circle combines with a comprehensive set of parking cameras to make it fairly easy to park.


As mentioned, the launch range will consist of one petrol and one diesel engine – we were only able to sample the latter, a 3.0-litre turbo-diesel inline six-cylinder mill pumping out a healthy 243kW from 3600-4000rpm and 700Nm from a low1200-3000rpm, driving all four wheels via a nine-speed automatic transmission.


Outputs are up 53kW/80Nm over the outgoing version, with Mercedes saying it expects the 400d to comfortably be the most popular variant.


The diesel mill is perfectly suited to the GLS, with silky power delivery that starts from low down in the rev range and gets the big bus up to speed in quick time.


With 700Nm on offer, the GLS feels smaller than its size would suggest, and the new-gen oil burner has a hushed character with no chugging engine note to speak of.


Official combined fuel consumption for the GLS400d is rated at between 7.6 and 7.9 litres per 100km, and over our day of driving we recorded 9.0L/100km, however we feel that was a generous estimate as there was very little city-like stop-start driving in the mix, which would have only increased its thirst.


Overall, the GLS is a big step up over the previous version and it deserves the title of S-Class SUV. For those who are after a people mover for the family but want to look just as comfortable in the country club parking lot, the GLS400d provides a huge amount of usable space with all the luxuries expected of a Mercedes.


The sheer size of the GLS may scare some off, however its usability is undeniable, and for carrying people and luggage, there are few more comfortable ways to do it.


2019 Mercedes-Benz GLS pricing*

GLS400 4Matic (a) $144,600
GLS450d 4Matic (a) $151,300

*Excludes on-road costs

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