Our view: 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class
The 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class elevates family hauling to new heights in terms of practicality, but it still leaves room for improvement.
Exterior & Styling
In a nutshell, the 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class is a GL-Class with new headlights and grille inserts. Mercedes revised a handful of other areas, too — the bumper openings, some lower cladding and (just barely) the taillights — but those changes are even slighter.
This is hardly an overhaul, and given the GL-Class’ crowd-pleasing styling, it didn’t need to be. The GLS550 has a meaner, hunkered-down look with gaping bumper openings, but its near-$95,000 starting price is also a lot meaner on your wallet.
How It Drives
Editors disagreed on the power from our GLS450’s turbocharged V-6: Some found it quick, or at least quick enough, but I deemed it only adequate; most of the engine’s reserves were needed merely to pass slower traffic. At higher speeds, the nine-speed automatic transmission resists downshifts until your right foot is halfway to the floor. One editor found accelerator response immediate, but I observed outright lag off the line. At least I found it consistent, so drivers can plan for it, and there’s a Sport mode that quickens transmission response. But those are silver linings on a sluggish cloud.
The doldrums translate to the rest of the driving experience, too. The steering wheel turns with smooth, consistent feedback, but the slow ratio, skittish tires and prodigious body roll will diminish any handling fun. Ride quality with the standard air suspension is soft but truck-like, with a creaky suspension and floaty, uncontrolled body motions over major bumps. Dump a wheel in a pothole and the GLS450 suffers lingering reverberations afterward. It’s no G-Class, but there’s a lot left to be desired.
The brakes are equally truck-like, with an inch or so of pedal travel before anything happens. The GLS550’s brakes have larger discs — probably necessary, as its turbo V-8 makes considerably more power than the 450 (449 horsepower versus 362). Adaptive shock absorbers and active stabilizer bars are also optional. If you plan any serious off-road driving, Mercedes offers an optional two-speed transfer case, locking center differential and front skid plate.
The GLS gets high marks for practicality, but it’s hit-and-miss on the luxury front. Visibility is excellent thanks to tall windows and head restraints that nest into the seats in the second and third rows to clear up the view out back. The second row is a three-position bench (you can’t get separate captain’s chairs) that reclines but doesn’t slide forward and back. Our test car’s optional power-tumbling chairs made third-row access a cinch: One button nests the head restraint, tumbles the seat and even powers the front chairs forward if there isn’t enough clearance. Both the second and third rows have adult-friendly space. The third row treats passengers to a high seating position, big windows and padded armrests. Many second rows don’t have it this good.
Stitched, low-gloss materials adorn the upper dashboard and can optionally extend to the doors and lower dash. Below all the eye candy, though, the doors regress to a sea of lower-rent plastics — the sort you won’t find in an Infiniti QX80 — or, for that matter, the far cheaper Volvo XC90. The climate control knobs still employ a rickety, yesteryear design, and the center console has patches of dull, cheap plastic. The seats come standard with Mercedes’ MB-Tex vinyl, an upholstery whose vinyl-ness is obvious at this price. Optional leather comes in regular or premium Nappa grades, but it’s beyond me why Mercedes would charge extra for it in a near-$70,000 SUV. (Mercedes and BMW are regular offenders with vinyl, but GLS competitors like the QX80, Cadillac Escalade and Land Rover Range Rover Sport all have standard cowhide.)
Ergonomics & Electronics
Fitted with optional Apple CarPlay (Android Auto isn’t available), the GLS-Class sorely needs a touchscreen. No tapping, pinching or swiping the optional 8-inch dash display; all the action with that screen happens through a rotary knob and touchpad on the center console, and it’s terrible. You can press down on the console touchpad to make a selection, but you can’t zoom or scroll around CarPlay’s Apple-sourced navigation system or even change menu selections. Doing any of that requires you to spin the knob to move the screen cursor to different selections and pick something. It’s time to move on from this, Mercedes, especially now that you’re attempting to support the touchscreen-oriented CarPlay.
Fortunately, the GLS has a good factory navigation option with sharp graphics and plenty of street labels. The three-tiered menu structure will be familiar if you own another Mercedes, but there’s a steep learning curve for the uninitiated. Two USB ports, HD radio and Bluetooth phone and audio streaming are standard. The controller-and-touchpad combo described above is optional; without it, the GLS has a simpler knob, no touchpad and a 7-inch multimedia screen. A Harman Kardon premium stereo is also optional, as is a considerably pricier Bang & Olufsen system. In-car Wi-Fi and a rear entertainment system with two screens are optional, as well.
Cargo & Storage
The GLS-Class has a competitive 16 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third row. It’s a cinch to fold, with standard power-folding, 50/50-split backrests that go completely down and up with one-touch controls — a significant advantage over most power folders, which require you to hold the button while the seats slowly do their thing. With the third row folded, cargo space behind the second row is 49.4 cubic feet.
The second-row chairs aren’t so easy. With cushions that need to be flipped forward before the seats fold, they take a few more steps. (The power-tumbling described above is just for third-row access; for cargo purposes, you have to manually fold them.) The resulting load floor is flat, albeit with a slight gap between the two rows. Maximum cargo volume is 93.8 cubic feet, a total that’s competitive with larger SUVs like the QX80 and Escalade.
The GLS-Class has not been crash-tested. A backup camera and drowsy-driver detection system are standard, as is a forward collision warning system with automatic emergency braking. Blind spot and lane departure warning systems are optional. Self-driving options include adaptive cruise control with lane-centering steering assist, which purports to keep your car centered — not just pinballing between lane markers — given the right conditions.
Go here to see a full list of standard safety equipment. Parents with small children will appreciate the GLS’ abundant Latch anchors: The second and third rows have two sets apiece, with top-tether anchors in all positions.
Value in Its Class
Prices start around $70,000 for the GLS450, in the ballpark of the Escalades, QX80s and Range Rover Sports you’ll find in America’s tonier suburbs. Go to town on the options, though, and a loaded GLS550 can swell to more than $115,000 — tens of thousands of dollars beyond the Cadillac and Infiniti. A value choice it is not.
But the GLS still has a trump card: practicality, even for its class. At their core, SUVs should be practical no matter the price or segment. But some luxury models have sacrificed this at the altar of performance or styling. (I’m looking at you, Porsche Cayenne.) For all its flaws in drivability and luxury, the GLS still does the whole SUV thing right.
By Kelsey Mays – https://www.cars.com/reviews