Two segments that have found a raging fire in their belly in recent months stand at both ends of the SUV spectrum. The sub compact SUV and the super-sized SUV. While the former is getting rather crowded, the latter is made of a good mix of premium options for large families, with the Germans bringing up the frontline. Audi Q7, BMW X7 and Mercedes GLS have all had their fair share of updates – the X7 itself being an update to the segment. Now, the GLS is trying to do what Mercedes does best – impress by an amicable array of technologies and sheer size to begin with!
THE DIMENSIONS: l x w x h 5207 x 1956 x 1824 mm Wheelbase: 3134 mm Boot volume: 481 L All seats down: 2400 L, Curb weight: 2537 kg
THE SPECS: GLS 450 – 3.0L inline 6 turbo engine 367 hp 500 Nm torque / GLS 580 4.0L V8 489 hp and 700 Nm torque / 9-speed gearbox, EQ Boost 48-volt on-board electrical system and integrated starter-generator, 4MATIC All Wheel Drive, AIRMATIC suspensions standard, E-ACTIVE BODY CONTROL
THE TECH: Infotainments screens of 12.3 inch, Dual screens on dashboard of 11.6” each, MBUX intelligent cabin assistant
WOW FEATURES: Car Wash Button that prepares for a wash, Recovery Mode that helps the car shakes free when stuck
THE PRICE: AED 380,000 / AMG version AED 600,000+
UPSIDE: Spacious and comfortable, Good handling skills, Versatile suspensions
FLIPSIDE: Van like design, Rear seats in rivals look more rich, MBUX whimsical at times
The new razor-like dual-blade grille of this Mercedes has enough meat in its sculpted form to appear muscular well-aided by the lines on the bonnet (power domes as Mercedes-Benz calls it) and the aggressive lower mesh. The MULTIBEAM LED headlamps are fitted with 112 LEDs on each side – why did they stop with that? Apparently, light intensity beyond that would be illegal!
As the GLS is rather large, and much larger than its previous generation anyway, the feature-free sheet metal towards the rear gives it more of a van-like appearance. This mundane allusion gives away to an accompanying advantage of space. The new GLS is 5207 mm long – 77 mm longer and 22 mm wider with a 60 mm longer wheelbase. In the rear, the new GLS overall has an elegant presence but the small cluster of tail lamps just might lose half the admirers of the earlier large design to the argument that this suits a smaller SUV more. The purposeful, sporty twin tailpipes suggest its powerful turbines while the wheel arches have a hint of a squared-out curve at the top; got to agree they look muscular!
Those dual exhausts have every right to be there – the GLS 450 4MATIC, my test car, is driven by a 3.0L turbo charged inline-6 engine while the GLS 580 4MATIC is powered by a 4.0L twin turbo V8. My test car generated 367 hp and 500 Nm of torque with an additional 250 Nm of torque and 22 hp available via EQ Boost, its electrified 48-volt technology, over short periods.
Anyhow, you’ve already heard the last of that allusion to a van once you get to the co-efficient of drag (Cd), which is an incredible .32! (Drag is the air pushing against the car slowing it down as it surges forward; the lower the drag the lower the resistance.) For an idea, the C-class coupe in comparison has 0.26 while that of a Tesla Model S is 0.24.
The GLS 580 4MATIC marks the world premiere of the new, electrified V8 petrol engine with a 48-volt on-board electrical system and integrated starter-generator. It has an output of 489 hp and 700 Nm of torque, needless to mention the 250 Nm of torque and 22 hp available via EQ Boost, though for a short while. So what does the integrated starter-generator (ISG) do? It saves fuel through energy recuperation the way only high-voltage hybrid technology used to. The ISG also eliminates the need for a belt drive for ancillary components at the front of the engine, which reduces its overall length.
4MATIC all-wheel drive: The new GLS is power-bridged by the 9G-TRONIC automatic transmission with a broad gear ratio – which translates to low engine speeds which in turn adds up to energy efficiency and ride comfort. A transfer case with electronically controlled multi-plate clutch allows varying torque to be supplied to the rear or front axles (from none at all to maximum) as the situation demands. An off-road special transfer case is available as an option with a reduction gear for superior off-road driving. Also when driving on the road, and particularly when cornering, it improves handling safety and agility.
The GLS comes with the enhanced AIRMATIC air suspension system with Adaptive Damping System Plus fitted as standard which reads and adapts to the road condition and driving situation in real time to maximise ride comfort. The air suspension also keeps the car at the same level, regardless of the load on board.
Combined with AIRMATIC as an option is the E-ACTIVE BODY CONTROL, which Mercedes-Benz says is the only system that can individually control spring and damping forces at each wheel. So, it not only counteracts body roll, but also pitching and squat. There are two more interesting tech that make this the world’s most intelligent SUV suspension according to Mercedes-Benz! ROAD SURFACE SCAN: cameras continuously scan the road surface for bumps and dips, and the suspension responds in advance CURVE INCLINATION FUNCTION: Like a motorcycle, the GLS leans into bends and tackles cornering in three stages, with practically no body roll.
While all these new functions improve the ride on the road, the new GLS doesn’t ignore the off-roading side of things. If the GLS sinks its wheels in a sand dune, the new RECOVERY MODE can help to free the vehicle more easily. Depending on the resting position of the wheels, the suspension level is automatically raised and lowered several times, which changes the ground pressure of the tyres. This improves traction and sets the GLS free. Another useful feature is INDIVIDUAL WHEEL ACTUATION. The level of each wheel can be individually adjusted through the media touchscreen, so as to improve the vehicle’s alignment when, say, the vehicle is stuck in a ditch. This allows the traction and the torque to a wheel to be increased.
Cabin and controls
The free-floating appearance of the dashboard screen can make you think it is one long screen but in reality they are two 12.3 inch units, with their brilliant blue signature graphics. The central console has a sliding lid of wood that hides an odd-sized wireless charging slot and serves as the base for two prominent grab handles that complement its off-roading credentials.
MBUX (Mercedes-Benz User Experience) responds to your voice serving a quick hello. “Hi Mercedes” is how the conversation begins with the assistant understanding you mostly and asking you to clarify if it doesn’t. The Mercedes assistant can change stations, make calls and even set the temperature (the system recognises that command is coming from the driver’s seat or passenger side and acts accordingly.)
Just as we are getting used to the ‘social dilemma’ of being tracked, here is the opportunity of being stalked in the comfort of your car cabin. Say, if you are in the habit of checking on your old parents every Sunday, the MBUX will display their number on that day of the week, if it slips your mind! If you are in the habit of listening to my radio show every Tuesday at 7.25 pm on the ARN Channel, the MBUX will prompt you when it’s time. All because, MBUX belong to the AI generation with eerie learning capabilities!
The GLS also offers the option of a full-colour Head-up Display with an enhanced resolution of 720 x 240 pixels and an extended projection distance. Two 12.3-inch touchscreens are fitted behind the front seats for movie, music and internet time while a separate 7” android tablet allows the rear occupants to take charge of the MBUX. The cabin also has a camera fitted on the roof console to read gesture commands with the wave of your hand – triggering a massage or switching on the reading light!
Over three inches longer, the GLS gives more than that to those reclining in the second row seat with 87 mm of extra legroom with the seats pushed to the farthest slot. The third row has two full-fledged seats that according to Mercedes can comfortably seat two adults 3 inches over 6 feet. The rear is a comfortable place in the new Mercedes GLS.
The seats are of coarse and classy leather, while the carpet-trimmed backs of the backrests are designed to support as placement surfaces for cargo – Mercedes says – but the practical touch seems to be less preferred to a luxurious finish in the heftily priced cabin. A five-zone automatic climate control might help cool that feeling down a bit. They are also heated and boast their own charging ports.
These seats are designed for free movement – all of them are electrically adjustable and the third row allows for easy entry at the push of a button. Better still, it’s just the touch of a button that drops them all down to make space for 2400L of cargo. The second row folds flat while the third row disappears into the floor. There is a button to lower the boot sill, by approx. 50 mm, for easier loading of heavy items.
Car wash function! Filling the dashboard with jaw-dropping technology is what usually we see with every new generation of premium cars. Mercedes GLS adds something that is not a lifesaver, but surely a very convenient one. The ‘carwash’ function prepares the car for a wash by automatically doing everything that we (or the washing bay attendant) do as we roll into a car wash (especially those automatic quick washes). Fold in the side view mirrors / Close the windows and slide in the sunroof / Deactivate the rain sensors so that the windscreen wipers don’t get activated / Switch the climate control to air-recirculation mode. Besides these, after eight seconds, the new GLS activates the front camera to help you drive into the carwash and deactivates these settings automatically when you drive out and reach a speed above 20 km/h. The best part is, the car aids the cleaning by raising the suspension to the highest position – which reduces track widths thanks to how the axles are set – making it easier to drive into a carwash and also easier to remove dirt from the wheel arches, especially after an off-road trip.
The essential Mercedes-Benz GLS 2021
While the new Mercedes GLS comes with many useful technologies, its rivals [click link to watch video review] the new BMW X7 and the new Cadillac Escalade are not ready to fall behind in tech proficiency and would even come across as more dramatic – same goes for the material comfort in the elegant cabin of GLS. However, in the off-roading side of SUV ownership, the GLS could have an edge among premium SUVs. Anyway, the new GLS has stoked the fire in the segment that it demands a closer look on all three. Let me know what you think.