2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS Class Review

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2019
The Car Connection
2019
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Andrew Ganz Andrew Ganz Senior Editor
June 23, 2019

Buying tip

The optional E-Active Body Control cuts lean in corners but is almost too good at its job. Stick with the standard suspension, we say.

The 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class is a three-row crossover SUV that redefines luxurious family transport.

The 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class SUV is a masterful blend of performance, comfort, and luxury. It’s so nice it’s hard to imagine how Mercedes will improve upon the GLS with a rumored ultra-decadent Maybach version, something to woo Range Rover drivers into its showrooms in the future.

We rate the 2020 GLS at 8.3 out of 10, a figure that will come back to reality once EPA fuel-economy figures are factored in. After all, the Benz GLS proves that while you can have most of it, you can’t have it all. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The GLS shares its underpinnings with the Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class and the two are built on the same Alabama assembly line. However, the GLS stretches a hefty 205 inches between its bumpers and rides on a 123.4-inch wheelbase. It comes standard with seating for seven, though second-row captain’s chairs with a narrow pass-through are likely to be popular. The GLS is plush enough in base form, downright decadent with the extra-cost Executive Rear Seat Package that adds power-adjustable, heated, and cooled thrones in the second row and a Samsung tablet that works like a mirror to the 12.3-inch touchscreen for infotainment plastered to the dashboard.

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Underhood, the $76,000 GLS450 is powered by a 362-horsepower turbocharged inline-6 paired to a 48-volt electrical system that can add more grunt with a deep stab of the throttle. The GLS450 is plenty fast even with a full load of passengers aboard, and it makes the $22,000 premium for the 483-hp, V-8-powered $98,000 GLS580 tough to swallow. All-wheel drive is standard and Mercedes even offers an off-road package that jacks up the suspension at the tap of a button and makes it into a remarkably capable beast, for those few who will relish dirtying this luxury SUV.

The base air suspension provides a supple ride that’s perhaps too soft in standard mode but just right in sport. The 48-volt setup powers an optional system that uses the car’s active safety gear to read the road ahead and pre-adjust the suspension accordingly. The system does a stellar job quelling road imperfections but reacts almost too well in corners to keep the SUV upright. Try before you buy, but it’s hard to go wrong with any version of the GLS.

 
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2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS Class

Styling

Supple lines help mask the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class’ massive size.

The 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS has presence, but it doesn’t boast the way that some rivals do. We rate it at 8 out of 10, with one point above average for its pleasant exterior and two for its divine interior. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Mercedes took the GLS’ basic two-box silhouette and rounded its edges. A big grille up front digs into the front bumper and is flanked by headlights larger than a typical passenger car but not outlandishly grotesque like on some competitors. At the rear, the GLS has a clean, simple look. Overall, this big SUV should age better than its BMW X7 rival, even if it doesn’t have the classic elegance of the Range Rover.

It’s inside where the GLS makes its biggest steps forward. A pair of 12.3-inch touchscreens sit under a single pane of glass, one handling instrument cluster functions and the other serving as the infotainment system’s display. The big panel juts out from the dashboard more subtly than in some other Benz models. Four square climate control vents sit below, each looking like it’s worth a quarter of the SUV’s asking price. Big wood panels available in a variety of glossy, matte, and open pore finishes complete the look. We like the GLS the most in a lighter hue; all black makes the cabin look like a massive cave, although the standard power moonroof can brighten things up.  

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2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS Class

Performance

The 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class defies its mass with a supple ride and strong power, but the base version is our favorite.

The 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class overperforms in any configuration. We’re just fine with the base 2020 GLS450, which easily earns a 7 out of 10 score for its comfortable ride and its strong, smooth powertrain. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Underhood, the GLS450 makes use of a 362-horsepower, 369 pound-feet of torque 3.0-liter turbo-6 paired with a 48-volt electric starter generator and battery that can provide an additional 21 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque. The 48-volt system takes away any hint of turbo lag and helps the powertrain compensate for electrical draw from accessories such as the air conditioning system.

The standard engine is so strong, so silent, and so refined that it’s hard to imagine opting for the GLS580 with its 483-hp, 516 lb-ft of torque 4.0-liter turbocharged V-8. The GLS580 also benefits from the 48-volt integrated starter generator system’s power boost and it uses a version of the 9-speed automatic transmission found in the GLS450.

Short of providing more power to handle trailers as heavy as 7,650 pounds, the big engine is overkill for most users. In our initial preview drive, we found transmission tuning in the GLS580 to downshift too eagerly, vaulting the massive SUV to illegal speeds in a blink.

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class ride and handling

Underneath, the GLS comes standard with an air suspension that can be softened or firmed up at the tap of a drive mode button. The softest mode floats over bumps with land yacht-like comfort, while Sport and Sport+ modes tighten reflexes for more control. We found Sport to be the Golidlocks of suspension modes, and Mercedes conveniently includes an Individual setting that allowed us to keep the Sport suspension setting with the Comfort drivetrain setup.

Optional on both engines is the E-Active Body Control system that uses the 48-volt integrated starter motor to control each wheel’s spring forces individually. Using the adaptive cruise control’s myriad sensors that watch the road ahead, E-Active Body Control prepares each wheel for pavement imperfections. The system works fabulously to tame bumpy roads, but we found it to result in unnatural-feeling motions on winding pavement as it attempted to keep the SUV’s passenger compartment level. Try both, but we’re not sure we’d spend for E-Active Body Control given how well the GLS rides on its stock air suspension.

The GLS has a nimble feel in urban situations and it settles comfortably into high-speed highway cruising. Its steering delivers little communication to the driver, but that’s not really the point of a hulking SUV.

An optional off-road package includes a special four-wheeling traction control mode, though it’s hard to imagine many buyers will choose the GLS for its adventuring abilities.

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2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS Class

Comfort & Quality

The 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS would feel appropriately luxurious at nearly twice the price.

Though base models are draped in synthetic leather upholstery, the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class offers a generously luxurious feel inside. We rate it at 10 out of 10, giving it points for supreme comfort in every seat, excellent cargo-hauling ability, and generally fine material choices. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Front-seat riders are treated to standard power-adjustable and heated thrones covered in soft synthetic leather. Real hides are optional and are likely to be fitted to most GLS SUVs, and we imagine many will be ordered with cooled and massaging seats that are simply divine.

Row two is hardly a downgrade. The standard setup includes good space for three adults to sit abreast, plus standard rear-seat climate controls and plenty of USB ports. Heated and cooled second-row seats are optional, as are individual captain’s chairs that delete the middle seat. The Executive Rear Seat Package makes the second-row seats power-adjustable and includes a Samsung tablet located in the center console that runs the same MBUX software as the infotainment screen in the dashboard, allowing for wireless control of the audio settings and more.

The third row has enough space for two adults in a pinch and is relatively easy to access. USB-C ports for third-row passengers should provide a good enough distraction, at the very least.

The GLS can hold nearly 85 cubic feet of cargo with the second and third rows stowed away. Raise row two and that figure shrinks to a still-impressive 43 cubes, or 49 cubes with the second row shoved all the way forward. With all three rows up, the GLS has 17.4 cubic feet of cargo. Tapping a button in the cargo area lowers the rear suspension to make lifting large or heavy items into the truck easier.

Even base GLS450s are lavish inside. Their synthetic leather feels like the real stuff and will take less work to keep looking shiny, while the optional real leather is buttery soft. Interior trims include several different types of wood that all look luxurious. Take time to go through the available options to find the interior that suits your style.

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2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS Class

Safety

The 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS can’t quite drive itself, but it comes close.

The 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class hasn’t been crash-tested by either federal or independent testers yet and we wouldn’t hold our breath. As a result, we’ll hold off rating with the hope that it will someday be tested. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The 2020 GLS comes outfitted with a high level of collision-avoidance tech, and a few additional features are bundled in an option package. Automatic emergency braking that can detect pedestrians and cross-traffic is standard. Additional features available include adaptive cruise control, active lane control, and a system that can automatically move the GLS into an open lane of traffic at the tap of the turn signal.

The GLS is also equipped with car-to-X communication, a function not widely used yet that can warn the driver of upcoming road conditions including hazards. It’s kind of like having a 5G LTE phone—it’ll be a nice feature someday.

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2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS Class

Features

If the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS isn’t lavish enough for you, just wait for the upcoming Maybach version, you hedonist, you.

With a price that skyrockets into six figures with optional equipment added, the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class had better be luxurious.

Fortunately, it is downright plush even in base GLS450 form. We rate the 2020 GLS lineup at 8 out of 10, with points above average for its standard fare, its massive infotainment screen, and its high-end options. It’s a shame that Mercedes doesn’t throw in more than the expected four-year, 50,000-mile warranty with the GLS, and it’s hard to call the big Benz a good value. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The base GLS450 costs $76,195 and comes with a pair of 12.3-inch screens housed under a single glass panel, navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, blind-spot monitors, a surround-view camera system, a power moonroof, seating for seven passengers. The options list is lengthy and includes features such as leather upholstery, second-row captain’s chairs, cooled front seats, and more. The E-Active Body Control suspension changes the SUV’s ride and handling and is worth testing out before committing.

The GLS580 costs about $22,600 more

Mercedes offers numerous interior and exterior trim customizations such as special leather colors, various types of wood trim, and even unique headliners. It pays to take time sorting through the available options before placing an order.

The automaker’s latest infotainment software responds quickly to taps and flicks, with items buried behind icons (our favorite is the lotus flower-looking “wellness” page). The gesture controls are harder to master, however. The available Burmester audio system surrounds passengers with warm sound fed by radio, satellite radio, or one of the many USB-C ports scattered about the cabin.  

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2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS Class

Fuel Economy

The 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS hasn’t been tested by the EPA yet.

We’re have to hold off on rating the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class for its fuel economy until the EPA weighs in. That should happen close to the SUV’s on-sale date by the end of 2019. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The GLS450 weighs more than its smaller GLE450 sibling, which is rated by the EPA at 19 mpg city, 24 highway, 21 combined. We would expect slightly higher consumption for the GLS.

The BMW X7 is rated at 20/25/22 mpg with its standard turbo-6 engine, while the more powerful X7 xDrive50i checks in at 15/21/17 mpg.

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8.3
Overall
Expert Rating
Rating breakdown on a scale of 1 to 10?
Styling 8
Performance 7
Comfort & Quality 10
Safety N/A
Features 8
Fuel Economy N/A
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