What would you get if you mated what used to be Mercedes-Benz’s GL-Class three-row SUV with its luxury S-Class flagship sedan? Probably something very much like this large and loaded ’17 GLS-Class SUV, which Mercedes positions as the “S-Class among SUVs.”
While it looks like the long, tall, roomy, fullsize three-row SUV it is, this new GLS wears a fresh new face somewhat like the one on S-Class Coupes and Cabriolets. It leads with a large central Mercedes star flanked on both sides by twin three-segment horizontal chrome bars (instead of single bars) and swept-back two-element headlamps under a twin power-creased hood. And its squared-off tail is updated with a new bumper and full-LED taillamps.
Standing nearly 17 feet long, 7 feet wide, and 6 feet tall, it can transport up to seven adults in reasonable comfortable or nearly 94 cubic feet of expensive stuff with both second and third rows folded flat, and it can tow up to 7,500 pounds. Inside its commodious cabin are a new instrument panel with a color Media Display, a new multifunction three-spoke steering wheel wrapped in Napa leather, new color and trim options, and a modified center console with a touchpad cantilevered over the standard Mercedes COMAND control knob.
“Compared with its predecessor,” Mercedes-Benz says, “the new-generation features improved efficiency, additional DYNAMIC SELECT transmission modes, improved air suspension system (AIRMATIC) with enhanced damping system (ADS), nine-speed 9G-TRONIC automatic transmission, state of the art assistance systems, and the latest-generation of Mercedes-Benz telematics, [including] Internet access and remote-start capability.” Three twin-turbocharged gasoline engines—a 362hp 3.0L V-6 (GLS450), a 449hp 4.7L V-8 (GLS550), and a 577hp 5.5L AMG V-8 (AMG GLS63)—are available at launch, and a 255hp 3.0L turbodiesel V-6 in a fourth model labeled GLS350d is reportedly on the way.
The Driver Information Center (DIC) between the big, round speedo and tach displays a lot of useful things, but transitioning from one menu to another requires quick thinking because while you’re deciding which way to scroll (using arrow buttons on the steering wheel), it defaults out of select mode in about two seconds. And unlike most other vehicles with Lane-Keeping Assist, which gently nudges you back toward your lane when you inadvertently begin to stray out of it, the GLS has no button to activate and deactivate it. Instead, it requires several steps to turn it on or off through the DIC, which is tedious and distracting. We also could not find a way to cancel or mute the navigation system’s guidance instructions. Our only other complaint: the dark, shiny Anthracite Poplar trim looked more like plastic than real wood.
Otherwise, the ’17 GLS is a fine-driving upscale people and cargo hauler with excellent second-row room and surprising third-row accommodations, though getting in and out of that far-back seat can be a chore. It’s the closest thing in capability to Cadillac’s truck-based Escalade ESV and the only “full-fledged seven-seater in the European premium SUV segment,” according to Mercedes. An excellent choice if that is what you want or need.