2017 Mercedes-Benz GLS Class Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

John Voelcker John Voelcker Senior Editor
June 12, 2017

The 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLS gets the first-class upgrade along with its name change—and a Maybach edition is waiting in the wings.

The 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class marks a significant, mid-cycle upgrade for what was previously knew as the GL-Class. As part of a nomenclature change sweeping the entire brand, each of the German luxury maker's sport-utility vehicles has received new badging and a full or partial makeover to bring the lineup into more obvious parallels with its sedans—so this large, three-row SUV becomes the GLS, to align it with the largest S-Class sedan. Hence the S in its new name.

The GLS-Class earns a score of 7.8 on our scale. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

It might not be the S-Class of SUVs yet, but it's close. It's essentially the same size and the same package as before, but the largest utility vehicle in the Mercedes-Benz lineup gets some significant updates—including new front and rear styling, new infotainment features, updated cabin appointments, and new 9-speed automatic transmissions. There are three powertrain options: two gasoline engines, and an even quicker AMG GL63 performance model at the top of the lineup. Last year, a diesel-powered GL350d was available, but that model won't return to the States.

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The updated front-end appearance falls right into line with those of other current Mercedes-Benz vehicles; the front-end look is bolder up at the top—more emphatic is a good way to put it—with the large three-pointed star, a chunkier grille with two-bar "wings" on either side of a larger three-pointed star, and a more drawn-back look to the air dam, plus fenders that are more expressively sculpted.

Inside, the refresh is modest but noticeable. The infotainment screen now stands atop the middle of the dash, as it does in many other models from the brand, although it’s not quite the complete, cohesive, flowing remake that’s been given to the C-Class sedans and their GLC-Class crossover counterparts. Finishes have been upgraded, including several new upholstery options, and the general ambience of the cabin is a step up.

Mercedes GLS performance, comfort, and features

Starting at the bottom of the lineup, the entry-level model is a GLS450, with a twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V-6 producing 362 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque. The GLS550 is the higher-performance option, and it makes 449 hp and 516 lb-ft from its 4.7-liter twin-turbocharged V-8. Serious driving enthusiasts who want a practical three-row utility vehicle in the garage will go for the top-performance GLS63, with a 5.5-liter twin-turbo V-8 making 577 hp and 561 lb-ft.

The packaging of the GLS carries over from the GL. Either SUV is one of the few that provides real, adult-size seating space in all three rows (although that third row can require a bit of agility to get to). In front, passengers can ride on ventilated seats with a massage function. The second-row seats can be heated, and folded down with optional power assistance. The best trick these models have is their flip-and-fold feature. The power-folding third-row seats stow for more cargo space, giving almost 100 cubic feet with second and third rows folded down—not quite as much as a long-wheelbase Escalade, but for considerably better for passengers who aren't riding atop a live rear axle.

Mercedes continues to offer an Off-Road Engineering package in the GLS that boosts ride height from the usual 8.5 inches up to a full foot. Tow ratings haven’t been released yet either, yet the outgoing GL can pull up to 7,500 pounds.

The GLS arrives with a great set of safety credentials, although no crash-test results from either the IIHS or the NHTSA. It carries over with much of the same underpinnings as its GL predecessor—and that model has an excellent real-world record for occupant protection. Standard safety gear on the GLS-Class includes a rearview camera system, Pre-Safe, Attention Assist to help warn you if you’re drowsy, and a full suite of airbags and stability controls. Options include blind-spot monitors, an active lane keep system that actually steers to keep you in your lane (hands on the wheel, though), and a pedestrian detection system with automatic emergency braking. A heated adaptive windscreen wiper system should help give you the best visibility in winter weather, too.

Standard features across the GLS lineup include remote start, cruise control, a power driver’s seat with memory settings, a power tailgate, and power folding side mirrors. Prices and final options packaging will be announced closer to the date the GLS starts to arrive at dealers, now pegged for late March 2016.

The company has hinted that it may add a Mercedes-Maybach version of the GLS-Class, but such a model hasn’t yet been announced. Unlike the Mercedes-Maybach S-Class, whose wheelbase was extended beyond that of the longest S-Class, a GLS in Maybach trim would likely have the same dimensions—but considerably more luxury to let it compete with the ultra-luxe Range Rover SV Autobiography series. Such a model likely won't arrive for a year or two

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2017 Mercedes-Benz GLS Class

Styling

The 2017 Mercedes GLS has the latest grille on a handsome, elegant SUV shape that's classic and rugged.

The 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLS is a very large and rectilinear seven-seat utility vehicle. Its lines that fall squarely into the classic large-SUV mold, but it forgoes some of the glitz and excessive chrome of other luxury SUVs. But against the more fluid, rounded, expressive shapes of the German brand’s sedans and newer utility vehicles, however, the GLS suddenly looks either classic or a bit old-fashioned—despite a new front end that shares some styling cues with those newer vehicles.

We give it points for above-average styling mated to an excellent interior, for a styling score of 8. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The front end of the GLS (nee GL) has a wider grille with a larger three-pointed star emblem in its center and two thick horizontal bars resembling the wings of a biplane seen from the front. The hood has acquired a pair of long, narrow “power bulges” as well. The result is essentially a very large version of the family face most recently seen on the C-Class sedans and the new GLC compact crossover utility (which replaces the GLK). Front and rear lights, bumpers, and alloy wheel choices are all redesigned, and the taillights feature LEDs, as do the daytime running lights.

The new and more expressive face leads back into the familiar upright, square-edged SUV we’ve seen on the road since 2013, almost 17 feet long, ending in a vertical tailgate. GLS550s are differentiated from lesser models with flared wheel arches and 21-inch wheels, and the AMG gets its own look, with big wheels and body-kit pieces. A handful of special exterior packages either enhance or overdress the big GLS, depending on your point of view: the Sport exterior option on the GLS550, for example, adds unique front and rear aprons, side running boards, side flaps painted in vehicle color and 21-inch AMG light-alloy wheels.

But the interior has received a much more thorough makeover, with a new instrument panel, a redesigned console, a new three-spoke multi-function steering wheel, and updated colors and options for the upholstery and trim. Naturally, it’s instantly recognizable as a Mercedes-Benz behind the wheel. A binnacle behind the steering wheel containing two large round instruments—now entirely digital—and a information panel between them.

The display screen in the center of the dash now sticks up slightly beyond the horizontal surface, a design nod to the freestanding screens of smaller, sportier sedan models. The COMAND operating system's knob controller on the center console runs those features. Air vents remain metal-rimmed rectangles—vertical each side of the center display and horizontal at the outboard edges of the dash—rather than the round vents being standardized across newer vehicles.

As well as the expected black interior, new shades include Ginger Beige and Espresso Brown, giving a more vivid interior palette. Numerous combinations of upholstery and pattern are available, along with carbon fiber, wood veneer, and the predictable glossy piano black lacquer trim panels.

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2017 Mercedes-Benz GLS Class

Performance

The 2017 Mercedes GLS doesn't feel nearly as huge behind the wheel as it is, never mind the towing capacity.

Like its predecessor, the GL-Class, the 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLS remains one of the most composed full-size SUVs on the market. Its independent suspension and standard air springs are tuned for a pillowy ride, making it better at isolating road surfaces than the Cadillac and GMC full-size utilities of the same size with their live rear axle.

We give it extra points for powertrain, ride, and off-road ability, for a performance score of 8. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

From behind the wheel, the GLS feels and drives like a much smaller vehicle—a C-Class sedan, perhaps—though you’ll be quickly reminded of its immense size when trying to park it. But light steering makes it relatively easy to place, and the 40.7-foot turning circle is surprisingly tight, making it easier to thread the big SUV even around the narrow hairpin turns of our test drive in the Austrian Alps. The ride is good, courtesy of standard Airmatic air suspension on every version.

Some body roll is evident on corners, though the optional Active Curve system uses active adjustment on the front and rear anti-roll bars to reduce the degree of roll. But because it counters some of the natural body motion that drivers expect as they press the GLS into tighter curves, we prefer the regular setup.

We also prefer the standard wheel-and-tire combination, at 19 inches, rather than the larger options with lower-profile tires, which seem to add some jiggle to the ride. The steering feel on versions with the standard wheels doesn't feel too loose or light, but it's not overly graced with feedback, either. The variable-ratio rack provides different response at low speeds than it does at higher ones.

Three different powertrains are offered in the 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLS: a 362-horsepower 3.0-liter V-6; a 449-hp 4.7-liter V-8; and, finally a 577-hp 5.5-liter V-8 in the AMG performance model. As in the prior GL, all three engines are turbocharged.

Nine speeds, versus seven

All but the AMG version power the wheels through a new 9-speed automatic transmission, with the company’s 4Matic all-wheel drive system standard. The greater output of the GLS 63 AMG engine, almost 600 hp, requires retention of the older 7-speed automatic. The two smaller gasoline engines will represent the bulk of sales, and the AMG model will likely be the lowest-volume version.

All of the engines suffer at least a small degree of turbo lag, and the larger number of ratios in the new 9-speed transmission mean that for maximum power—that short, tight, uphill freeway on-ramp, say—the engine spools up while the transmission shifts down two or even three ratios. It all works, but rising fuel economy laws mean even the big GLS is tuned to loaf along under 2,000 rpm any time the driver isn't accelerating.

The Dynamic Select rotary dial on the console provides up to six drive modes, depending on how the vehicle is optioned. All 2017 GLS versions come with Comfort, Sport, and Slippery modes as standard, along with an Off-Road mode and an Individual setting to customize drive settings (which we think few buyers are likely to do). An optional Off-Road Engineering package adds a sixth mode, Off-Road+, that takes advantage of a locking center differential and an additional reduction gear to provide steady travel at low speeds on particularly tricky terrain. It also adjusts the ride height to lift the GLS from its standard 8.5 inches of ground clearance to a full foot.

Switching into Sport mode while on the road gives an immediate surge of power, and not only does the suspension tighten but the steering weight gets heavier. It’s possible to hustle the big SUV through traffic at surprising speeds in Sport mode, as long as you’re confident you know its dimensions, but Comfort is likely to be a better choice for most uses—especially longer family trips. It’ll also be better for fuel economy.

The Slippery mode made the GLS sure-footed even on the icy and snow-covered mountain lanes of the Tyrolean Alps. The big SUV behaved perfectly heading downhill at speeds of 25 to 35 mph through rutted and powdery snow, and the anti-lock brakes were fully capable of stopping the car in remarkably short distances. Its slippery-road capabilities, in fact, exceeded the comfort level of one reviewer who grew up driving far less capable vehicles in just the same sort of conditions. The Mercedes GLS is able to deliver far faster speeds on slippery and snowy roads than equivalent vehicles of earlier generations, all thanks to powerful computing, complex electronic engine, transmission, and suspension control programs, and reams of digital sensor data to inform it all.

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2017 Mercedes-Benz GLS Class

Comfort & Quality

The 2017 Mercedes GLS really fits seven adults without torturing them; the cabin is elegant, comfortable, functional, and luxurious.

Its maker says the 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLS is the only full-size luxury SUV that can comfortably carry seven full-size adults. And indeed, it’s completely possible for two 6-foot-tall passengers to ride in the third-row seat, which offers ample head room and adequate leg room once you get back there. Two adults will be happier than three in the second-row seat, but it’s entirely possible to get three to fit if they’re comfortable rubbing shoulders.

For those reasons, we give it a 10 for hitting all its marks, and doing so with an opulent interior. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The two seats up front are supremely comfortable and adjustable, as are all high-end Mercedes seats in our experience. Eight-way power adjustments and heating are standard, with 10-way controls optional. You can also specify multi-contour control (which adds adjustable thigh and thorax support), and four modes of on-the-go shiatsu—everything from "slow" to "fast and vigorous." It may take five minutes of adjusting to get your seat just right, but isn't that what standard memory functions are for? The GLS as a whole is cavernous, comfortable, and almost as versatile as a minivan—but considerably more luxe inside and capable on the road than any minivan you've met.

The second-row seats benefit from wide door openings, which make it easier to get in, and they also have an Easy-Entry feature—either a manual handle or a power actuator that flips and folds them forward—for better access to the third-row. The power controls also slide the front seats forward to make room for the folded second-row seats. That's a nice touch, but the sounds of the motors moving the seats aren't exactly Mercedes quality.

With the 50/50-split power-folding third row of seats up, the GLS has a modest 16 cubic feet of cargo space. Flip them forward and that rises to 49.4 cubic feet; with the second row folded forward, the total is a very useful 93.8 cubic feet of storage for goods of all sorts. It's only outdone by a full-size SUV or large crossover from General Motors (including the Cadillac Escalade, one of the GLS's competitors).

On the road, the GLS is smooth and surprisingly quiet for a large vehicle with the likely aerodynamic profile of a small municipal hospital building. Even riding with the sunroof open generated little extra wind noise, and in the default Comfort mode, the air suspension kept the ride smooth.

Textures, materials, and trim are all top-quality, with a substantial variety of upholstery colors, trim materials, and design packages to choose from. We found the all-black interior slightly oppressive, but that’s as much a personal preference as anything—and many GLS models will come that way. The lighter tones give the interior a more airy and spacious feeling, as does the large optional glass sunroof that opens over the first row and extends over the second row as well.

Mercedes allows for a quite a bit of opulence as well. A heavy hand on the order form will get you such available features as heated and cooled cupholders, a heated steering wheel, heated and ventilated front seats, supple and attractive "designo" leather upholstery, and Harman Kardon or Bang & Olufsen sound systems.

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2017 Mercedes-Benz GLS Class

Safety

The 2017 Mercedes GLS hasn't been crash-tested, but it offers all the latest electronic safety systems.

The new 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLS hasn’t been rated for crash safety by either the NHTSA or the IIHS.

Its predecessor, the GL model, wasn't rated either, so we have little information to go on. But it's closely related to the GLE-Class (nee ML-Class) five-seat SUV, which is an IIHS Top Safety Pick. That, and the company's stellar reputation for crash safety—along with innovation in new features to keep occupants safe and, lately, avert accidents before they happen—makes us confident the GLS is a safe vehicle.

Until we have data, though, we abstain from giving it a safety rating. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The GLS comes with a long list of standard and optional safety equipment, bringing it up to par with the company’s latest versions of various electronic active and passive safety systems.

Its standard array of airbags includes front, side, and knee bags for the driver and front passenger, along with side-curtain airbags that cover all three rows of seats.

The Dynamic Select drive modes include Slippery and Off-Road settings as well as the ability for a driver to customize specific performance parameters of the suspension, engine, and transmission. Crosswind Assist prevents this long, tall, flat-sided vehicle from being affected by sudden crosswinds; it automatically steers slightly into the gust to keep the vehicle headed on its original trajectory.

A rearview camera and Bluetooth pairing are standard, as is the Collision Prevention Assist Plus system that warns drivers of impending collisions and automatically brakes to avert or reduce the severity if the driver doesn’t respond. There’s also the Attention Assist system, which can sense a driver getting sleepy or inattentive. Its coffee-cup icon and audible alert is a good reminder for drivers to stop and rest. And it has the standard suite of electronic stability and traction control systems, anti-lock brakes, and so forth as well.

The Driver Assistance Package bundles together a long list of optional safety equipment, including the Distronic Plus adaptive cruise-control system with steering assistance; Pre-Safe Braking with pedestrian detection; blind-spot monitors with cross-traffic assist; active blind-spot assist; active lane-keeping assist; and active speed-limit assist, which reads speed-limit signs and warns drivers when they’re speeding.

There’s also Magic Vision Control, essentially an adaptive heated windshield-wiper system that distributes water as needed to ensure cleaning where needed, especially during winter weather. An LED Intelligent Light System improves night-time visibility by maximizing illumination and using high beams whenever an oncoming car is not present. And the Active Curve System adds dynamic adjustment to the front and rear active anti-roll.

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2017 Mercedes-Benz GLS Class

Features

The 2017 Mercedes GLS is pricey (starting in the mid-$60,000s and heading into six figures), but it's well equipped.

As the largest vehicle the German maker sells, the 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class has to compete with the highest-end SUV offerings from Range Rover, Cadillac, and Audi. It might almost be easier to list the items that you can't specify in the GLS. With seven seats suited for actual adults, and a price that can easily rise into six figures, there's a lavish list of comfort and convenience options you can add to the GLS if you choose.

We give it a score of 8 for features. It's lavishly outfitted but its infotainment system is kludgy. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Every 2017 GLS comes standard with cruise control, automatic climate control, a power-adjustable driver’s seat with memory function, remote start, a power tailgate, power folding mirrors, a rearview camera, the COMAND interface, and MB-Tex (leatherette) upholstery, among other features. Five Dynamic Select drive modes are also standard, with the ability to add Off-Road+ if the optional Off-Road Engineering package is specified; it adds a locking center differential and a reduction gear.

All GLS models also include mbrace2, Mercedes' connectivity suite, which links smartphones and mobile apps to the vehicle's infotainment system. The system is accessed via the controller knob on the console, and displays on the LCD screen that now protrudes slightly above the top of the dashboard. That knob is the primary method for setting radio stations, controlling the DVD changer, even setting the massaging seats in motion. But it can take multiple spins of the wheel and pushes of the knob to reach the desired command, and it takes a lot of learning to understand the right menu you need to accomplish the right task.

In short, the COMAND system is a reminder that other brands are doing infotainment better. As for the mbrace2 suite itself, it offers features like custom speed alerts, geo-fencing, and the ability to search Google, Yelp!, and get Facebook updates while on the go. It also gives owners the ability to control and keep tabs on their GLS from their smartphones, including lock and unlock functions and more.

Standard features and options

Base versions of the GLS450 are fairly well equipped. The active park-assist package is bundled with a surround-view camera, more exotic selections of wood and leather can add to the cost, and a Bang & Olufsen audio system is a pricey option as well.

Major stand-alone options include the active-curve suspension, ventilated front seats, massaging front seats, a trailer hitch, a panoramic sunroof, a power second-row seat, and heated rear seats. You can also dress up a conventional GLS to mimic the AMG version, but without the hot-rod powertrain. The Sport exterior option on the GLS550 adds unique front and rear aprons, side running boards, side flaps painted in vehicle color and 21-inch AMG light-alloy wheels.

Other options include a package that bundles satellite radio and an iPod interface, satellite radio alone, navigation, ambient lighting, a power tilt/telescoping steering column, and auto-dimming mirrors. Another package adds Harman Kardon surround sound, keyless ignition, and soft-close doors. Safety packages add features like adaptive cruise control and blind-spot monitors, as well as active park assist.

The GLS550 is the top of the line, excluding the special-purpose AMG version, and it's equipped lavishly. Options are limited to the off-road package, the parking-assist package, a panoramic sunroof, a rear-seat entertainment system, power-folding second-row seats, heated rear seats, adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist, and the rich-sounding Bang & Olufsen audio system. And at the very pinnacle of GLS specifications is the GLS63 AMG. It carries a base price substantially above $100,000, though even there the Bang & Olufsen sound system is still optional.

But Mercedes executives at the GLS drive event dropped a few hints that there may well be a new, even higher-end model coming, in the form of a Mercedes-Maybach GLS. Unlike the Mercedes-Maybach S-Class, whose wheelbase has been extended even beyond that of the longest S-Class, a GLS in Maybach trim would likely have the same dimensions—but considerably more luxury to take it up into competition with the ultra-luxe Range Rover SV Autobiography series. Such a model likely won't arrive for a year or two, but if you're tempted by the GLS, but feel that it's just a little too downmarket...Mercedes feels your pain.

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2017 Mercedes-Benz GLS Class

Fuel Economy

The 2017 Mercedes GLS drinks fuel at a rate that befits its size.

The 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLS is a full-size sport utility vehicle that seats seven adults in a luxurious cabin filled with standard and optional comfort amenities. In other words, it's never going to be that high on the fuel-efficiency scale.

We give it a score of 5 on our green scale. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

This year's update of the former GL into the GLS reshuffled engine options and added a new 9-speed automatic transmission to all models except the AMG hot-rod version. And the company has worked to save weight by forming body panels, suspension pieces, and structural members out of aluminum where possible. There's even an electrical system designed for efficiency.

The twin-turbo 3.0-liter gasoline V-6 in the 2017 GLS450 4Matic was rated by the EPA at 17 mpg city, 22 highway, 19 combined. The V-8 GLS550 earns just 14/18/16 mpg and the Mercedes-AMG GLS63 gets 13/17/14 mpg.

Mercedes executives have ruled out a future plug-in hybrid version, noting that the battery pack would conflict with the third-row seating—a very high priority for purchasers of the GLS.

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Styling 8
Performance 8
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