Mercedes-Benz’s full-size, seven-passenger GL-Class SUV enters a new era when the first of the renamed GLS-Class vehicles are delivered. We know that German automakers like to adopt new naming conventions every time Mercury goes into retrograde, but why add an S? The “S” in “GLS” represents Mercedes’ ambition for it to be the “S-Class of SUVs.”
The aim is to transfer the state-of-the-art experience of the S-Class into the GL-Class; the result features some inevitable compromises, but is ultimately successful in living up to the expectations that association builds as a showcase for high-end technology, safety, and luxury features.
Changes to the GL(S)-Class’ exterior are subtle, but serve to bring the former GL-Class in line with the rest of the current Mercedes-Benz stable, with the most obvious revisions found right up front in the form of a new bumper, grille, and headlights. Making your way back along the GLS-Class, lines have been softened and rounded off slightly. Inside, the GLS-Class retains the GL’s spacious seating throughout all three rows, while upping the ante with flourishes of luxury and new technology borrowed from the S-Class.
New interior equipment includes a three-spoke multifunction steering wheel, instrument panel, center console, power driver seat (with memory settings), remote start, rearview camera, and upholstery design options. A 7-inch media display screen is standard; an 8-inch screen is optional with Mercedes-Benz’s COMAND infotainment system, along with a TV tuner or the DVD player and rear seat screens found in so many SUVs today.
New features in the GLS-Class aren’t limited to the seemingly superficial, however. Standard driver’s assists in the GLS-Class include Collision Prevention Assist Plus, Crosswind Assist, Attention Assist, Mercedes’ Pre-Safe System, Brake Assist, and the 4ETS electronic all-wheel-drive traction system. The Driver Assistance Package adds Pre-Safe brakes with pedestrian detection, Cross-Traffic Assist, Active Blind Spot Assist, and Active Lane Keeping Assist.
Like the GL, the GLS SUV will be offered in four models with different engines for each. The GLS 450 comes with a 362hp twin-turbo V-6, the GLS 550 has a twin-turbo V-8 good for 449 hp, the GLS 350d has a turbocharged V-6 diesel engine rated at 255 hp, and the GLS 63 AMG will pack 577 hp. Save for the AMG version, all GLS models will have shifting handled by Mercedes-Benz’s 9G-Tronic nine-speed automatic transmission.
Inside, the GLS feels substantial and well built; it does live up to the “S-Class of SUVs” hype. For all of the influence of the S-Class to be found, the GLS-Class won’t confuse anyone for its sister models from behind its steering wheel. Actually, the problem is found with the steering itself: It’s easy (and true) to complain that modern electric steering racks don’t have the feel of hydraulic ones, but that’s not quite the issue in the GLS. For whatever lack of feel you can find to complain about in electric racks, they’re no less likely to be precise than their hydraulic counterparts.
The GLS 450’s V-6 may not have the horsepower or torque of the V-8 (369 lb-ft to 516 lb-ft, to be exact), but it enters peak torque at 1,600 rpm versus 1,800 in the GLS 550. The V-8-equipped GLS 550 is a monster; power is available everywhere and is more than enough to blast onto freeways with confidence and overtake with ease. It’s more than enough—for most, that is. If you feel like you’ll just need more, the upcoming GLS 63 AMG will offer 577 hp, a seven-speed transmission rather than the nine-speed, and a 4.6-second 0-62-mph time—seriously fast for a seven-seater SUV.