This is the best full-size-premium crossover for you if you desire the S-Class of SUVs. Conjuring the performance and prestige of its flagship sedan, that’s what Mercedes-Benz calls this all-new version of its seven-passenger SUV. It’s not all hype; the 2017 GLS-Class is spacious, luxurious, feature-packed, and fast. Indeed, the name itself reflects its station. The German automaker has rebadged its crossovers, beginning each with “GL” and adding a third letter to align it with a passenger-car counterpart. For example, the midsize GLE (formerly the ML) identifies with the E-Class midsize-car line, and the GLS with the full-size S-Class sedan. The original version of this three-row crossover debuted as the GL for model-year 2007. The redesigned third-generation 2017 model is virtually identical in size to its 2013-2016 predecessor.
Should you buy a 2017 model or wait for the ’18?
Buy the ’17. It’s all-new, so aside from maybe some new paint colors, expect no noteworthy changes for 2018 – although prices are almost certain to increase. The lineup should reflect the ‘17 roster, as well. There are four models: base GLS350d (d for diesel), the V-6 GLS450, the V-8 GLS550, and the V-8 GLS63 tuned by Mercedes’ AMG performance division. We applaud Mercedes for positioning the GL350d as both the least expensive and most fuel-efficient model, though even it acknowledges most buyers will select one of the gasoline-powered versions.
It’s not easy to see the visual updates to the 2017 GLS versus the outgoing GL, but they’re there. Most noticeable are the new grille with its massive Mercedes logo and reshaped headlight housings that curve down and in, for a more sinister look. The tail is recontoured to present a broader, more planted look. Differences between trim levels are minor, running mostly to wheel sizes: 20-inch-diameter on the GLS550 and 21 on the GLS63, versus 19s on the other models. Even the GLS63 is only subtle distinguished visually, mainly by a slightly deeper front fascia and quad instead of dual exhaust tips.
Body dimensions change only slightly, and the wheelbase is unchanged. The rather boxy shape translates into excellent room for people and gear. Headroom and legroom in the first two seating rows are very generous. Even the third row can accommodate average-size adults in a reasonable degree of comfort, though they will ride in a bit of a knees-up position. The cargo area can accommodate nearly 94 cubic feet of stuff with the two rear seating rows folded. The cabin is typical Mercedes posh, with a control layout that will feel right at home for brand loyalists while taking some study for the uninitiated.
All engines are updated versions of those from the previous generation, with the V-8 in the GLS550 the only one that doesn’t increase in power; the others rise 15-27 horsepower. All again are turbocharged – with the gas engines boasting two turbos – and feature fuel-saving stop/start to automatically shut off while the vehicle is stationary and restart when the driver lifts from the brake pedal.
The GLS350d has a 3.0-liter diesel V-6 with 255 horsepower and 455 pound-feet of torque. GLS450 has a 3.0-liter V-6 with 362 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque and the GLS550 a 4.7-liter V-8 with 449 and 516, respectively. These GLSs get a 9-speed automatic transmission, versus the 7-speed automatic used by their second-generation counterparts The GLS63’s 5.5-liter V-8 has 577 horsepower and 561 pound-feet of torque and again links to a 7-speed automatic. Both transmissions include steering-wheel paddle shifters. Maximum towing capacity is 7,500 pounds across the board when equipped with the $575 Class IV trailer hitch.
All GLS-Class models come standard with Mercedes’ 4Matic all-wheel drive. A $2,050-$2,850 Off-Road Package for the GLS450 and 550 adds underbody skid plates, hill-descent control, additional ride-height settings for the standard adaptive suspension, and a two-speed transfer case with low-range gearing for dedicated off-road driving. Also standard on all is Mercedes’s Dynamic Select center-console controller that lets the driver tailor transmission calibrations among Normal, Comfort, Slippery, and Sport modes, plus a customized Individual mode and an Off-Road setting. On the GLS63, Dynamic Select replaces Off-Road mode with a Sport+ setting.
We’ve thus far tested only the GLS63. It feels every bit as fast as Mercedes’ claim of 0-60 mph in 4.5 seconds — remarkable given its 5,754-pound curb weight. Dynamic Select has a pronounced effect. Comfort softens throttle response and suspension damping; the latter is at odds with the vehicle’s performance tires, resulting in a confused ride. Sport and Sport+ settings should be used with caution, as they make the throttle hair-trigger quick. The latter mode allows the exhaust to produce a delightful popping sound when you lift off the accelerator. Most drivers will be best served by staying Normal.
Mercedes-Benz has made some unusual packaging decisions for the GLS-Class. For example, heated front seats with driver-seat memory, a power liftgate, and power-folding third-row seat are standard on all models. However, leather upholstery is only included on the GLS550 and GLS63 and optional otherwise; the 350d and 450 use the brand’s MB TEX leatherette substitute. On the safety front, forward-collision warning with emergency braking and Mercedes’ ATTENTION ASSIST drowsy-driver alert are standard across the board, but blind-spot alert and lane-keep assist are only included on the 550 and 63. A surround-view camera is standard on the 550 and 63 and optional on the 350d and 450. All models also include five years of Mercedes-Benz mbrace Connect infotainment and telematics that includes a smartphone app to lock, unlock, and start the vehicle.
A base-price range of $67,975-$125,025 puts the GLS in the upper echelon of this pricey segment, along with the Cadillac Escalade, Range Rover, and Lexus LX570, although no direct rival – not even the extended-wheelbase Escalade ESV – matches the Mercedes’ for third-row comfort. The GLS350d and similarly equipped GLS450 start at $67,975 and $69,625, respectively. (Base prices here include Mercedes’ $925 destination fee.) The $1,200 Appearance Package adds illuminated running boards and 20-inch wheels in place of standard 19s. A $1,390 Lighting Package adds full LED headlights with adaptive high-beam control. Leather upholstery is a $1,620-$4,900 upgrade, depending on which type you like. A couple different woodgrain trims are $160. The $3,830 Premium 1 Package adds ambient lighting, illuminated door sills, blind-spot alert, lane-keep assist, keyless entry with pushbutton ignition, memory function for the front-passenger seat, navigation system, satellite radio, and support for Apple CarPlay. The $1,200 Parking Assist Package adds hands-free parallel parking and surround-view camera.
The GLS550 starts at $94,775 and includes most of the above features as standard. A Driver Assistance Package, which costs $1,375 on this model and $2,250 on the 350d and 450, includes adaptive cruise control, pedestrian detection, and the ability to steer itself back if you wander from your lane. Mercedes’ Active Curve System is $2,900 on the 550 and $3,700 on the 350d and 450. This setup can automatically adjust the stiffness of the front and rear stabilizer bars to reduce body lean in fast turns; the package includes an adaptive air suspension on the 350d and 450.
Among the standalone options for the 350d, 450, and 550 are a $250 heated steering wheel; $5,400-$5,800 Bang & Olufsen audio system; $620 heated second-row seats; $400 power-sliding second-row seats; $380 second-row side window sunshades; $280 cabin air-purification system; $1,950 rear-seat entertainment system; and $350 for “Magic Vision Control” which filters heated windshield washer fluid through holes in the wiper blades, rather than through nozzles on the hood, which can eliminate annoying streaking.
For its $125,025 sticker price, the GLS63 AMG comes pretty well loaded. Among its few options are the aforementioned heated steering wheel, Bang & Olufsen audio, power-sliding second-row seats, rear sunshades, air purifier, and rear entertainment system. You can have its brake calipers painted red for no extra charge.
EPA fuel-economy ratings for the GLS350d were not available in time for this report. For the gas, city/highway/combined ratings are 17/22/19 mpg for the GLS450; 14/18/16 for the 550; and 13/17/14 for the GLS63 AMG. All gasoline models require 91-octane premium-grade fuel.
Gas-powered models went on sale in Spring 2016. The GLS350d as a Summer ’16 release date.
What’s next for the GLS-Class?
Probably not a whole lot until a midcycle freshening, probably around model-year 2020. Increasingly stringent fuel-economy regulations could mean the demise of the GLS550, if not also the 63, but that’s up in the air at this point.
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