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The new GLS SUV promises more than its predecessors

S Muralidhar | Updated on June 27, 2019 Published on June 27, 2019

Mercedes-Benz’s new flagship is beefier and more luxurious. And more focussed on rear-seat occupants

For all those who predicted the premature demise of the big sport utility vehicle, the undiminished popularity of the genre must be frustrating to see. The automobile industry has adapted to the new regulations and sensibilities, and tweaked all but the size of these behemoths to make them please the greens. At the top of this heap of giants, the luxury, plus-sized SUV segment has witnessed the most action over the past few months with Audi launching the Q8 and BMW introducing the all-new X7. It is the toughest segment to crack, with buyer’s demanding the best in every department of the vehicle’s performance.

The new third-gen Mercedes-Benz GLS manages to do just that, making its already worthy predecessor seem much less capable and desirable. It is now bigger, plusher, more laden with tech and more capable on-road and off it, than its previous generation model. Last week, I travelled to Salt Lake City in the state of Utah in the US where Mercedes-Benz had organised the international media drive for the new model. The US is really the quintessential market for big SUVs and the new GLS seemed completely normal in the midst of the GMCs, Hummers and Nissan Titans. But it is a big boy weighing 2.7-tonnes and it will lord over many of our streets.

Design

The new 2020 GLS is bigger than its predecessor. It has lost that over upright profile and gotten a more aerodynamic, rounded edge design that takes it closer even to the GLE. It is still a hulk, but its increased proportions get masked by a design direction that focusses on clean surfaces, curvy corners and a lightly tapered top half. The front design of the new GLS is aggressive with the proportionately large grille, the chromed skid plates and the twin power domes on the bonnet. The side profile of the GLS shows off a minimalist design approach with large uninterrupted surfaces and clean joints. This is also the angle from which the GLS’s size really seizes you with its 3,135 mm wheelbase and its clear three-row seat configuration.

The new model GLS also gets new LED light signatures with most variants getting what Mercedes officials call the ‘Squarcle’ (referring to the combination of the two shapes) DRLs in the headlamps and similarly shaped LED tubes for the brake lights in the tail-lamps. The new headlamp signature also features three vertical LED units that are meant to convey the GLS’s top position in the SUV model hierarchy, much like the S-Class’ three LED stripes pointing to its top position in the sedan line-up. Chrome highlights and twin exhausts make a statement of strength, power and premium-ness at the rear. The raised position of the skid plates and the massive 23-inch rims in the GLS 580 make it clear that this hulk can take on the great outdoors too. The other part about the new GLS is that even such oversized 23-inch rims seem perfectly proportionate and normal. With air suspension being standard equipment, the GLS looks formidable when raised and it seems like the perfectly apt combination of size, luxury and promise of all-terrain capability.

Cabin

The third-gen GLS gets a complete overhaul for its cabin. The GLS is being offered as a six-seat or seven-seat option; the longer (+60 mm) wheelbase helps increase space in the cabin. There is more legroom for all three rows of seats. The India-spec will likely be the seven-seat option with a bench seat for the second row instead of captain seats. The third row can now comfortably seat two adults (upto six-feet in height). All the seats are electrically foldable and second seats can be inclined too. All rear seats can be folded at the touch of one button, helping offer as much as 2,400 litres of luggage space. Leather trim, wood-pore inserts, brushed aluminium accents and LED backlit controls make it a very pleasing cabin.

There is an S-Class feel to the dashboard design and layout with it sharing the elongated glass screen that houses two 12.3-inch displays — one for the instrument cluster and the other for the infotainment system. The classic Merc multi-function steering wheel and haptic feedback touch pad are features that remind me of the S-Class. The embedded MBUX voice and touch activated assistant delivers a lot of intuitive controls for electrically operated features and the infotainment. The optional Burmester music system also integrates a two-way voice amplication feature so that rear passengers can hear the occupants at the front better; that’s how big the GLS is!

The new GLS gets more S-Class-y with a lot more features focussed on keeping rear passengers comfortable. In addition to the rear entertainment package with 11-inch screens stuck into the front seat backrests, there is also a tablet in the rear handrest for controlling all MBUX functions. There is also seat ventilation, massage and wellness programme functions for the rear seats too.

Performance

There were three engine options for the new GLS that were made available to us for test drives. The range topping variant is the GLS 580 4MATIC with its four-litre, V8 petrol engine, which for the first time features a 48-volt electrical system and integrated starter-generator (ISG). The ISG is responsible for hybrid functions like boosting, sailing and battery energy regeneration. The engine delivers an output of 489 hp and 700 Nm of torque, but the ISG system temporarily generates an additional 250 Nm of torque and 22 hp of power offering EQ boost for effortless acceleration and fuel savings. Like all the other engines, this one is also paired with Merc’s smooth 9G-TRONIC auto transmission and four-wheel drive is standard across variants too.

The other petrol I tested was the GLS 450’s three-litre, straight-six, which develops a peak power of 367 hp and peak torque of 500 Nm. This powertrain also gets the benefits of the ISG with the same EQ Boost output making it the more practical, refined and most appropriate powertrain in the range. The Diesel engine was the three-litre, six cylinder in-line, available in the GLS 400d. This doesn’t get the ISG system, but output is a generous 330 hp and the peak torque of 700 Nm is available between 1,200-3,000 rpm. The Diesel engine is a bit louder than expected. All the powertrains feel more than adequate to make the hulking GLS feel nimble. Acceleration is effortless and handling is surprisingly sharp despite its size and weight. Though there isn’t much of body roll, but I didn’t feel the size of the GLS while behind the wheel of the models that didn’t feature the E-Active Body Control. This 48V based active suspension was first featured in the new GLE. The E-Active Body Control system uses Radar, camera and Lidar inputs to adjust suspension damping at each wheel and can also individually adjust the ground clearance for tackling off-road situations.

Users can also choose to raise or lower the height at each wheel to be able to specifically take on a tough off-road situation. But, choosing the Curve tilting function helps the GLS lean into corners helping reduce the impact of its size and apparently can also reduce motion sickness for passengers.

Together with electronic assistance, E-Active Body Control and its massive ground clearance, the GLS is remarkably capable of handling some tough off-road conditions. Water wading ability at 600 mm may not make it a Range Rover beater, but it is still impressive. The off-road package that adds a low-range gear ratio is an optional addition.

Bottom Line

The GLS gets a load of driver assistance systems much like in the S-Class and in the GLE introduced last year. The CarWash function is also a nifty addition for a vehicle the size of the GLS, which at the touch of one button deactivates some auto functions, raises the suspension and primes the vehicle for a drive-in carwash.

Overall, the third-gen GLS is a huge leap in the number of new features and tech on offer, luxury and off-road capability. The practicality and presence of an SUV is still a big draw amongst buyers and that has been the reason why the previous GLS was the market leader in its segment. The new one promises even more, like the S-Class of SUVs, and is likely to keep its spot at the top. The 2020 GLS will make it to showrooms here by mid-next year.

Published on June 27, 2019
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