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2018 Mercedes-Benz GLS Class Review

2018 Mercedes-Benz GLS Class Review
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The 2018 Mercedes-Benz GLS takes an old-school tack to modern-SUV design, and it works.

Last year, the Mercedes GL became the Mercedes-Benz GLS. Though it wasn’t entirely new, the SUV gained a new nose and some new features as it added another letter in its name.

It’s still one of the more charming three-row luxury SUVs on the road, and its impressive all-weather and cargo-hauling talents get an unexpected but totally welcome AMG edition.

Lightly refreshed last year, the big and boxy Benz GLS takes a delightful old-school tack in styling. It’s boxy and delights in it, once it gets past its big LED headlights and enormous three-pointed-star logo. The interior’s warmed up considerably since the early days of the GL: there’s great plates of wood, swaths of leather (an option), and a large display screen perched on the center of the dash, a lonely sour note in the well-coordinated cabin.

The GLS 450 sports a 362-horsepower twin-turbo V-6, a 9-speed automatic, and standard all-wheel drive for brisk acceleration. Speedier still is the twin-turbo V-8 GLS 550, with 449 hp shuttled through the same 9-speed to all four wheels. Far and away our favorite, the scalding AMG GLS 63 has a no-excuses twin-turbo V-8 with 577 hp and a 7-speed automatic.

All versions have very good handling, which feels odd at first, given the long and tall body and 8.5 inches of ground clearance. Air suspension mutes almost all of the worst of the road ahead, though the adaptive anti-sway bars confuse us as they try to defy the laws of physics as they apply to tall, heavy wagons.

The GLS’ pilot will feel in control of what seems like a smaller vehicle, but the passengers won’t be cramped. The GLS has room in every direction, lovely bolstered seats, some with heating and cooling, all with available multi-way power adjustment or fold-away talent. There’s nearly 100 cubic feet of cargo space inside, or space for as many as seven adults, two of them riding in the third row.

Safety scores haven’t been released, but the GLS can be fitted with blind-spot monitors, surround-view cameras, and active lane control.

The GLS doesn’t venture all the way into Range Rover territory, but in addition to its hefty standard equipment list, it can be fitted with navigation, high-end audio, premium leathers and woods, and an off-road package. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are included–good thing, since the COMAND interface gives us fits.

The classic, rugged outline of the 2018 Mercedes GLS looks just right.

Big and unapologetically boxy, the 2018 Mercedes-Benz GLS forgives you for not knowing your SUV references.

Other Benz vehicles pull themselves together from a kit bag of curves and surfaces. This one? That straight edge and T-square will do.

We love the old-school take, and give it an 8 for styling.

A new face showed up for the 2017 model year, but in most other ways, the GLS SUV has the same boxy 17-foot-long body it’s had since it was new in 2013. Now it wears a wider grille, a bigger three-pointed star, and thick horizontal bars across its front end, as well as LED lighting.

The squared-off body wears some different trim, depending on the model. GLS 550 SUVs have 21-inch wheels and flared wheel wells, while the GLS 63 AMG has its own body kit and wheels. Sport-trimmed vehicles get running boards, 21-inch wheels, and distinctive front and rear air dams.

In all models, the thorough makeover the GLS got just last year brought in a new set of gauges, a new steering wheel, and new color and trim choices. A binnacle behind the steering wheel containing two large round instruments—now entirely digital—and a information panel between them.

A digital display sits on the dash, screening the latest from the COMAND infotainment system. Air vents remain metal-rimmed rectangles—vertical each side of the center display and horizontal at the outboard edges of the dash—rather than the round vents being standardized across newer vehicles. Numerous combinations of upholstery and pattern are available, along with carbon fiber, wood veneer, and the predictable glossy piano black lacquer trim panels.

Never mind the tow ratings and space: the 2018 Mercedes-Benz GLS hits the road with sport-wagon finesse.

With its poised ride and its tire-punishing weight, the 2018 Mercedes-Benz GLS might be dismissed as just another big SUV. May we show you something in a GLS 63, then?

It’s at times an astonishing reminder that utility vehicles don’t have to have buckboard rides and dingy acceleration.

Count up the extra points it earns for its powertrain, ride, and off-road ability, and we come to 8.
The GLS draws on three different powertrains. The GLS 450 gets a 362-horsepower, twin-turbo V-6 and a 9-speed automatic. GLS 550s sport a 449-hp twin-turbo 4.7-liter V-8 and the same 9-speed automatic.

At the top of the range, the twin-turbo 5.5-liter V-8 in the GLS 63 AMG pumps out 577 hp. To cope with all that power, it shifts gears via a beefier 7-speed automatic.

In all, the turbo twist doesn’t begin right at idle, so turbo lag is evident. The 9-speed models also have a few ratios to downshift through at times, which can make the powertrain feel busy on freeway entrance ramps and steep corner climbs.

All versions of the 2018 GLS have standard all-wheel drive. A set of drive modes tailors other traction systems to bow to prevailing conditions, while reprogramming the GLS’ adaptive suspension, steering, and drivetrain. Select Comfort and all the vehicle’s reactions relax; select Off-Road+ and the air springs rise to grant a total of 8.5 inches of ground clearance. In Sport mode, the steering weights up and shifts come more quickly, which gives the GLS a hopeful hint of nimbleness in traffic. Select Slippery mode and the GLS clamps down on wheelspin and shifts into higher gears to keep as much traction on tap as is possible.

While it can drive like a smaller SUV, the GLS is immense. The steering feel on versions with the standard wheels isn’t too loose or light, but it's not overly graced with feedback, either. The variable-ratio rack provides different response at low speeds than it does at higher ones.

The smooth ride the GLS generates from its standard air suspension is creamy under most circumstances. There’s an optional Active Curve system that presses down on its anti-sway bars to counteract body lean, but in doing so it removes a layer of natural information that disguises the GLS’ speed through sweeping corners. We prefer the regular setup. We also prefer the standard wheel-and-tire combination, at 19 inches, rather than the larger options with lower-profile tires, which seem to add some jiggle to the ride.

Comfort & Quality
Seven adults can ride comfortably in the 2018 Mercedes-Benz GLS.

The Benz GLS has adult-rated seats in all three rows, flexible seating, and opulent trim. Short of sliding side doors, we can’t think of a way to make it more useful. It’s a 10 here.

Front passengers get the best treatment, of course. The power front seats have heating and multiple directions of adjustment. As an option, the front seats can be cooled and fitted with adjustable bolsters and four-mode massage, including a “fast and vigorous” mode.

In the second row, there’s heating and power operation on tap. It’s easy to get into the GLS’ middle row, thanks to big door cuts. Two adults will be happier than three in the second-row seat, but it’s entirely possible to get three to fit if they’re comfortable rubbing shoulders.

Better yet, the second-row seats have either a handle or a power button that folds and slides them out of the way for third-row access. In the third row, 6-foot-tall passengers can fit comfortably, once they clamber in.

Behind the third row, the GLS has a modest but usable 16 cubic feet of cargo space. Fold down that rearmost bench, and cargo space rises to 49.4 cubic feet; fold down the second-row seats, and the GLS can hold 93.8 cubic feet of stuff. Only the biggest full-size SUVs can outpoint it by a useful margin.

The GLS generally is quiet and composed, and wind noise isn’t much of an issue despite its tall shape and big mirrors. We’d suggest some of the optional trims to relieve the unrelenting basic-black standard interior, and the glass sunroof to open the cabin to sunshine.

Comprehensive safety features? Yes, but the 2018 Mercedes GLS doesn’t have crash-test data.

Neither the NHTSA nor the IIHS has crash-tested the Mercedes GLS, so we don’t assign it a safety rating.

The GLS has all the latest safety gear, including knee airbags for front-seat passengers, standard all-wheel drive, and advanced traction-control modes as well as programmed-in compensation for crosswinds.

The GLS also includes standard Bluetooth and a rearview camera, as well as forward-collision warnings with automatic emergency braking. It also has an attention-measuring system that displays a coffee cup on the gauge cluster when it senses the driver is nodding off at the wheel.

As options, Mercedes offers features such as blind-spot monitors, active lane control, traffic-sign-based speed warnings, adaptive cruise control with steering assist, and LED lighting.

Expensive but well-equipped, the 2018 Mercedes-Benz GLS could use a new infotainment system.

The Mercedes GLS isn’t quite the automaker’s most prestigious SUV. That would be the crazy, planar G-Class. Still, the GLS has to sell against Range Rovers and Escalades, so Mercedes doesn’t hold back on the features or options.

It’s stocked fully and offers some customization, but its infotainment confuses us and its warranty is just average. It’s an 8 in this category.

Unchanged for the new model year, the 2018 GLS gets standard power features, automatic climate control, a power driver seat, a power tailgate, remote start, cruise control, a COMAND infotainment interface and an 8.4-inch display screen, as well as synthetic leather interior.

Options on the base trims include surround-view cameras, Bang & Olufsen audio, cooled front seats, a power second-row seat, heated second-row seats, a panoramic sunroof, and a trailer hitch. An Off-Road package adds a reduction gear and a locking center differential. Various packages add keyless ignition, blind-spot monitors, adaptive cruise control, navigation, ambient lighting, and AMG-style bodywork with 21-inch alloy wheels.

The COMAND system is an older, less useful infotainment interface than others we’ve sampled—for example, the embedded Apple CarPlay and Android Auto systems that can run on the GLS in lieu of the homebrew system. COMAND relies on input to a control knob to dial around a non-touchscreen, then requires a step outside of that environment to a connectivity suite to run smartphone and mobile apps.

Fuel Economy
Do you have gas? The 2018 Mercedes-Benz GLS would like some of it.

Drivers of large SUVs don’t look to them for gas mileage. With its former diesel model gone, that case is now true for the Mercedes GLS.

The base GLS 450 draws on a twin-turbo V-6 and 9-speed automatic for power. The combination yields EPA ratings of 17 mpg city, 22 highway, 19 combined. Stuff in the V-8-powered GLS 550, and the fuel economy falls to 14/19/16 mpg.

Abandon any pretense of efficiency with the Mercedes-AMG GLS 63. It’s rated at 13/18/15 mpg.

We don’t expect a truly efficient GLS any time soon. Electrified versions likely would mean batteries in the place of the SUV’s third-row seat.

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