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Review of: 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLS 4MATIC 4dr GLS450
2017 Mercedes-Benz GLS 450: Good stuff comes in three rows
By Jil McIntosh
Sep. 21, 2016
While Canadians overall are flocking to buy smaller crossovers and compact sport-utes, there’s still a market for larger models that can get a group where it’s going. At Mercedes-Benz, that’s fulfilled by the GLS-Class.
This three-row SUV gets some upgrades for 2017, starting with its name. The company has rebadged its utility lineup, all of which now start with GL (save for the military-style G-Class) and with a third letter that corresponds to the car lines to indicate its position. So the GLS, formerly the GL-Class, sits at the top of the heap just as the S-Class is the highest level of the automaker’s cars.
The refresh also includes a new nine-speed transmission to replace the previous seven-speed, a new top-of-dash tablet-style centre screen, standard Dynamic Select driving mode system, and a new bumper and hood design.
The 2017 diesel version is coming to market shortly, but right now, the GLS offerings consist of my V6-powered GLS 450, starting at $82,900; the V8 GLS 550 at $104,300; and the Mercedes-AMG GLS 63 at $132,900, all with 4Matic all-wheel drive.
My tester was further enhanced with a number of options, including Premium, Sport, and Intelligent Drive packages, air suspension, gloss-black exterior trim and open-pore wood interior trim, for a total of $94,700 before freight and taxes.
Pros & Cons
- + Quiet, serene cabin
- + Well-matched engine/transmission
- + Rear seat space
- - Narrow running boards
- - Premium fuel required
- - Price of options
Although it doesn’t “drive big,” the GLS is a hefty hunk of metal. Still, the proportions are right and it avoids looking cumbersome, at least from the front. There’s more overhang at the rear, but that translates into extra space for third-row passengers. Its exterior dimensions are also smaller than the Cadillac Escalade, Infiniti QX80, or the regular-wheelbase Lincoln Navigator.
Twenty-inch wheels are the default, but my tester had optional 21-inch AMG twin-spoke rims.
The large greenhouse gives good visibility all around, and courtesy of my tester’s Premium Package, the rear quarter windows pop open at the back. They work off a single switch and both sides have to be open or closed at the same time.
It’s a step up into this vehicle, but the optional aluminum running boards suffer the same restrictions that so many do: they’re not wide enough for adult feet to gain a confident toehold on them, but they stick out far enough that it’s awkward to step over them when getting out.
But when night falls, oooh, I can forgive the GLS any shortcomings. Hit the key fob, and the mirrors broadcast a perfect rendition of the classic Mercedes-Benz symbol, leaves and star and all, in white light on the road beside the doors. Call me shallow, but that’s one of the coolest puddle lights I’ve ever seen.
The interior is as lovely as you’d expect a Mercedes with an “S” in its name to be. The new centre screen rises up out of the dash rather than sitting atop it: many dislike the look but you’re going to see a lot more of them in future, since they keep your eyes up and toward the windshield when you’re using the screen. It also frees up more of the centre stack, which in turn lets designers lower the dash.
The centre stack retains Mercedes-Benz’s traditional keypad-style controls for the system, in addition to the joystick on the centre console. Those controls are easy to use, which makes up for the fact that they’re starting to look a little dated. The climate control uses large dials for the temperature, and all other heat-or-cool functions are similarly handled by buttons.
My tester had a $4,900 Premium Package, which added such items as a panoramic sunroof, multi-contour front seats with massage, rear-window sunshades, surround-sound stereo, heated rear seats, and cupholders that could either warm or cool my beverages.
The package also added an “easy-entry” feature that electrically folds and tumbles the second-row seats for access to the third row in place of the stock manual levers. While any three-row SUV is a bit of a compromise for those in the very back, the GLS is better than most. There’s acceptable legroom for adults and the seats are contoured and bolstered for a comfortable sit-down, rather than the hard, flat slabs that some automakers stick back there.
Mercedes-Benz’s COMAND infotainment system remains a bit clunky to use, even though you have your choice of a joystick dial, touchpad, or voice commands, since there’s no touchscreen option. That said, once you figure out the directions to push and turn the dial to bring up the options, it’s fairly straightforward to get to the menus you want.
My tester was outfitted with a $2,700 Intelligent Drive package, which added a number of electronic nannies including adaptive cruise control with steering assist, active blind spot and lane departure assist, forward collision warning, and cross-traffic alert.
The steering assist keeps the vehicle between the lanes, while the adaptive cruise maintains the GLS’ distance from the vehicle in front. The combination, as with similarly-equipped vehicles from a few other manufacturers, allows the GLS to drive itself. It’s reactive rather than proactive so it’s not autonomous, depending on other vehicles and clear road markings to do its job. While it could in theory get you from one end of the Trans-Canada to the other, regulators still aren’t ready for it, and the system demands that you put your hands back on the wheel after a few seconds and then turns off if you don’t.
Most automakers say that steering assist is meant to reduce driver fatigue, but I dislike the wheel’s squirmy feel when it’s on. And you also have to pay attention: at one point, the system obediently followed the lane marking on the right-hand side and started to take a highway off-ramp when I wanted to stay straight.
The GLS 450 carries a turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 that makes 362 horsepower and 369 lb.-ft. of torque. It’s a smooth ride and a great engine, and the new nine-speed transmission easily slips into ninth gear at cruising speeds, without the reluctance that some multi-speeds can have to using that final cog.
The engine also has start/stop, which shuts it off at idle such as when you’re stopped at a light. It can be turned off if desired, but it was one of the less intrusive systems I’ve experienced, with a smooth start-up once you take your foot off the brake.
Against published fuel figures of 14.4 L/100 km in the city and 11.4 on the highway, I averaged 13.8 L/100 km in combined driving, with the GLS requesting premium fuel.
A dial on the centre console lets you select between sport, comfort, snow, and off-road settings (there’s a further Off Road Plus, but my tester wasn’t equipped with the option). There’s also an “individual” setting, which lets you set up the steering, suspension, and engine response between sport and comfort. I set it to mine, preferring the heavier steering weight and tighter suspension of the sport settings, but with the engine in comfort mode for lower revs. It remembered those individual decisions, but each time I restarted the engine, the system defaulted back to Comfort, and I had to spin the dial back to my Individual setting. That got tiresome in a hurry: why can’t it just remember how I had it set the last time I shut it off?
There isn’t a lot of steering feedback, but the GLS handles well and, for something this big, feels much smaller when you’re manoeuvring it around, at least until you’re watching the corners when trying to get into city-sized parking spaces. Programmed into the electronic stability control is a feature called Crosswind Assist, which helps to counter the sideways force of wind gusts on the highway, reducing the need to fight the wheel to keep the GLS straight.
At a starting price of $82,900, the GLS sits at the lower end of most of its three-row competitors. You can get into a Lincoln Navigator for as low as $77,400 or a Volvo XC90 for $61,300, while it’s $84,145 to start in a Cadillac Escalade, $92,800 for an Infiniti QX80, and $105,000 for the keys to a Lexus LX 570.
If you don’t need three rows of chairs and want to stay with Mercedes-Benz, you can also look at the GLS’ little brother, the GLE 450. Formerly known as the ML, it’s basically the same vehicle but with less butt in back, since it only seats five, and starts at $70,800.
With its slightly refreshed face and the more major switch to a nine-speed transmission, the GLS updates nicely for 2017. It’s big and bulky but doesn’t feel like it, and while it’s a chunk of change overall, there are lots of opportunities to pay more. If three rows and luxury are on the checklist, this could well be the one that fulfills it.