Mercedes-Benz GLS Review: First Drive

By Ishan Raghava | on September 9, 2020

The 3rd generation GLS comes in an XXL package, which claims to accommodate seven occupants and offer you the extravagance and luxury of Mercedes’ range-topping S-Class sedan. But, is the GLS really the S-Class of SUVs?

Even in today’s highly diversified automotive market, crammed with hundreds of products, a true seven-seater SUV can still be a bit of a unicorn. Sure, there are SUVs out there that offer a third row of seating, but how many of them can actually fit seven full-size adults? Well, with the launch of the third generation of the GLS – Mercedes’ range-topping SUV – the carmaker claims to have achieved exactly that – top-drawer luxury and the ability to seat seven full-size adults.

mercedes benz gls 450 front three quarter

Big Ship
When you first look at the GLS, you can’t help but be intimidated by its size. At over 5.2 metres long, the GLS is big – in every sense of the word. In fact, it’s the largest SUV in the Mercedes model range. Now, the earlier generations of the GLS weren’t exactly small, but the GLS has grown significantly over the last-gen model. It’s now longer and wider and features an additional 87mm of legroom in the 2nd row. But I’ll come back to that later. 

In terms of design, I have no doubt in my mind that the GLS, in its current avatar, is the best-looking SUV in the current Mercedes product range – barring the G-Wagen, of course (but I am biased in that respect). Mercedes’ current design language is indeed elegant and sharp. And the GLS is no exception. With its bulging, yet toned, bodyline, fine details, and terrific overall proportions, the GLS looks much more balanced than its smaller siblings. 

mercedes benz gls off road

What helps here are the short overhangs on either end of the GLS, along with its sharp detailing. For instance, the sharply styled headlights and taillights, and that big front grille, which somehow seem very proportionate to the rest of the body – unlike a certain flagship SUV from Bavaria for instance. 

Another interesting aspect of the GLS’ design is the standard-fit 21-inch wheels, which fill the wheel arches nicely. Also, the wide tyres – 275s at the front and 315s at the rear – give the whole design a wonderful well-balanced stance. A significant technical milestone that deserves a mention here is the fact that the GLS, despite its size and big surfaces, has an aerodynamic coefficient of 0.32, which is really remarkable. 

mercedes benz gls interior

Luxury Lounge 
Now, Mercedes claims that the GLS is the SUV equivalent of the S-Class, which automatically raises expectations when it comes to its cabin. And the good thing is that it doesn’t disappoint. Like the exterior, Mercedes’ interior design is excellent, and the quality is top notch. The highlight of the interior, for me, are the twin 12.3-inch high-resolution screens, which are the centrepiece of the interior. Their terrific design – which makes them look even bigger than they actually are – excellent graphics, resolution, and general visual appeal make the interior a really attractive place to be in. You also get a 13-speaker Burmester audio system in the GLS, which sounds, need I say, pretty good to say the least.

The rest of the design is on point – the quad central air vents, toggle-style switches, and uncluttered layout of the centre console give the GLS’ interior a very clean look. In terms of space, the front seats are truly humongous. The second-row is a great place to be, and if you like being chauffeured around, the extra 87mm of legroom really helps here. Not to mention that the rear left passenger also gets dedicated controls to alter the front passenger’s seat to maximise space in the second row. 

mercedes benz gls rear seat

Space Constraints
Now, there are a couple of issues with the GLS’ seat space. One, it comes with something that Mercedes calls the ‘rear comfort package plus,’ which means that there’s a big armrest in the 2nd row. Now, while this can be lowered to make it more comfortable for two passengers, when combined with the protruding air vents from behind the front armrest and the transmission tunnel, it means that fitting 3 adults in the second row is nigh on impossible. 

And while it would appear that the third-row doesn’t have enough space for full-sized adults, you can move the second row forward just enough so that you could conceivably have three full-size adults sitting one behind the other. And the sheer size of this vehicle means that, even with all three rows of seats up, you can still fit plenty of luggage in the boot. So, a weekend trip with six adults is a definite possibility in the GLS.

mercedes benz gls

Captaining the land yacht 
Let’s make no mistake, with its 5.2 metres of length and almost 2.2 metres of width, driving the GLS in our traffic is a little like navigating a yacht through a busy port. But, that’s not the first thing that strikes you when you start the GLS, rather, it’s the refinement and sheer isolation inside the cabin – which is truly class-leading. In fact, the brand-new 3.0-litre inline-six petrol engine of our GLS 450 test car was so silent at idle that I accidentally switched it off the first time, thinking that it wasn’t on yet!

Producing 362bhp and 500Nm of torque, the turbocharged engine is also fitted with an Integrated Starter Generator (ISG), which not only helps harness power to recharge the battery and increase efficiency but also provides an added boost of 21bhp and 250 Nm of torque when needed. This means that despite its 2.5-tonne weight, the GLS goes from 0 to 100km/h in just 6.2 seconds! 

The engine itself is exceedingly smooth, revs quite freely, is a delight to drive, and offers immediate throttle response. All this thank to the peak torque curve, which starts from a mere 1,600rpm and goes up to 4,500rpm. The new 9-speed transmission in the GLS, however, is still a bit of a sore point. Sure, it’s a generational leap over the 7-speed transmission in older Mercedes products and shifts quite well in most circumstances. But, when you really start driving the GLS in different traffic conditions, you realise the limitations of the gearbox – particularly when driving in part-throttle, heavy-traffic conditions. In this respect, the BMW 8-speed gearbox is far better. And it’s one area that Mercedes has definite room for further improvement. 

mercedes benz gls 450 engine

S-Class of SUVs?
Well, all things considered, there’s no doubt that the GLS makes a strong case for itself. I still think that the quality and seats in the S-Class are a tad superior to that of the GLS. But, at a price point of ₹99.9 lakh (ex-showroom), the GLS offers better value and practicality than the S-Class – a definite advantage for this behemoth then. 

mercedes benz gls india

However, as mentioned earlier, the GLS is more of a 6-seater, and the 9-speed gearbox still needs more polishing. And, of course, keep in mind that an all-new S-Class is also around the corner – and it’s one that looks to be a complete paradigm shift. 

That apart, as a practical, refined and spacious luxury limousine, the GLS makes a very strong case for itself. And for just under the Rs. 1 crore mark, the GLS is a lot of car for the money – one that’s usable every day.  

  • Mercedes GLS 450 4MATIC

Engine: 2,999cc / Inline-Six / Turbocharged / Mild Hybrid

Fuel: Petrol 

Transmission: 9-Speed Automatic / All-Wheel Drive

Power: 362bhp @ 5,500-6,100rpm

Torque: 500Nm @ 1,600-4,500rpm (+250Nm on EQ Boost with Mild Hybrid)

Price: ₹99.90 Lakh (Ex-showroom)

X-factor: With three rows of usable seating, excellent refinement, and handsome looks, the GLS makes a very strong case for itself as an uber-luxurious full-size SUV.

Pros           
• Refinement
• Handsome design

Cons
• XXL-size
• Confused 9-speed gearbox

Also read - 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS launched at Rs. 99.90 lakh

New Mercedes-Maybach GLS is a V8-powered super luxury SUV

Tags: Mercedes-Benz GLS

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