The Mercedes-Benz GLS350d gets upgraded infotainment and new features but is it the S-Class of the large SUV world?
Two petrol engines and two diesel engines comprise the 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLS range and from the outset of this review, we think the GLS 350d as tested here could be the pick of the range. It’s certainly the smartest buy based on the numbers alone.
When Mercedes-Benz changed its naming conventions it made understanding the SUV range a little easier, but it also set a perilous precedent - and that is that this SUV for example, really needs to be the S-Class of SUVs. Is it?
Let’s find out…
On test, we have the GLS 350d, which fits into the upper large SUV segment and has three siblings in the GLS range. There’s the GLS 500 ($161,500), the GLS 63 AMG ($217,900) and the GLS 350d Sport ($135,900). Those starting prices (before on-road costs of course) compare to this model, which starts from $116,900 before on-road costs.
Six figures isn’t a small ask by any means, but if you need a seven-seat SUV and it has to have a three-pointed star on the nose, you can step into this model grade without spending completely stupid money.
Added to that price, our test vehicle only has two options: a heated steering wheel ($290) and underbody protection ($290) taking the pre-on-road cost to $117,480. So our GLS is pretty much what you’ll get if you’re trying to find the sharpest deal in the GLS range.
Underbody protection probably won’t be needed (for almost all GLS buyers anyway), but the heated steering wheel is a solid inclusion if you live in cold climate areas. On the subject of underbody protection, let’s discount the off-road chops of the GLS straight up. Sure, it will tackle some off-road terrain, and according to Mercedes-Benz, the GLS is actually quite capable.
The reality though is that few, if any buyers, in this luxury segment intend on ploughing their expensive SUV down any track that a 2WD vehicle wouldn’t tackle easily. Still, there’s something to be said for knowing your vehicle is capable of it, even if you never use it.
Under the long and high-set bonnet, there’s an absolute cracker of a diesel engine. The 3.0-litre turbo diesel V6 generates 190kW at 3400rpm and 620Nm between 1600-2400rpm. 0-100km/h comes up in 7.8 seconds and top speed (irrelevant here) is 222km/h.
The ADR fuel consumption claim is 7.6L/100km and on test, we used an indicated 11.5L/100km, impressive given the overwhelming bulk of our driving was done around town in traffic.
A 100-litre fuel tank ensures the GLS has plenty of cruising potential for longer trips. Stop/start works seamlessly too, although it can get annoying in heavy traffic where it is constantly shutting down and cranking back up again.
The diesel engine is matched to Mercedes-Benz’ excellent 9G-TRONIC nine-speed automatic transmission, and a permanent all-wheel drive system. The GLS rolls on 20-inch wheels, shod with 275/50/R20 tyres. It’s no lightweight either, tipping the scales at 2455kg. That portly weight is offset though, by an impressive 3402kg braked towing capacity. You can just see the GLS lugging horse floats around affluent suburbs, can’t you?
You’d expect the GLS to have a comfortable and luxurious interior, and it doesn’t disappoint. Across all three rows, the seating is comfortable and beautifully appointed with quality leather trim. We noted the same gripes with cabin layout though as we did during our long term loan of the GL. The second row seats flip forward with the touch of a button, but you need to heave them back into place and then lower the backrest down to the desired angle each time you flip them forward.
For me, there’s not enough legroom in the second row either - especially given the physical dimensions of the GLS externally. Don’t get me wrong, the second row is comfortable, I’d just like to see more legroom (or perhaps be able to slide the seat bases back). The reasoning is undoubtedly to ensure the third row has enough legroom for adults, and it does, so you could say there’s method to the Mercedes-Benz madness.
Likewise the load space, which all folds down flat, but results in quite a high boot floor, and thus a high load level. With the one third section of the folding second row in the flat position, the GLS easily swallowed a full-size bicycle with room to spare. Remember too, that with the third row in play, there’ll be precious little luggage space remaining.
The interior’s biggest coup de grace is the added technology that’s been directed at the GLS. There’s the full suite of driver aids, parking sensors and cameras, walk up lighting and improved infotainment. Everything you could think of, and some things you haven’t, have all been included.
One such addition is the integration of Apple CarPlay, which works well, but doesn't really add to the otherwise excellent infotainment package. The proprietary navigation system and communication options are so well executed, you don’t ever feel like the GLS ‘needs’ CarPlay. In fact, we only used it once to check that it worked. Otherwise, the standard Bluetooth connection was more than enough.
The Bluetooth phone connection is exceptional, and we love the standard satellite navigation system. It’s incredibly easy to use, accurate and clear - spot on for a satellite navigation system. The 8.0-inch tablet-style central screen is crystal clear at all times too. Some CarAdvice members don’t like the way it is mounted, but I think in the GLS platform, it actually looks quite tasteful.
The 190kW diesel engine is incredible - right from start up actually. We expected it to be smooth and refined, but it’s quieter than even we expected the minute you hit the starter button. There’s no clattering, rattling or weird noises you associate with some diesel engines. That smooth refinement continues, even as you ride the solid wave of torque. With the peak arriving so low in the rev range, the engine has an effortless ease about it under all conditions, despite the fact that the GLS is a portly, big SUV.
The nine-speed gearbox is also smooth, but it can shift quickly as easily as it can saunter around town at low speeds. If you work the engine hard up to highway speeds, the gearbox selects each gear without any loss of progress or jerking. No matter how hard you punt the GLS, it always remains smooth and refined.
Our indicated fuel usage return was also impressive, given how large and heavy the GLS is. We’d expect to see that figure dip into single figures over longer highway runs too.
The main string to the GLS’s comfort bow around town is the clever air spring suspension. The system runs monotube dampers with continuously variable damping action/air springs front and rear. You’ll need to get used to the strange (and loud) air expulsion as the system purges itself when you lock the GLS and walk away, but it makes a big difference on-road.
While it’s comfortable and manages to soak up poor surfaces, the GLS definitely wallows over nastier surfaces and isn’t what we’d call a handling leader in the segment. Most owners wont care - or realise - anyway, but those of you accustomed to an SUV that hugs the road a little tighter will notice the rocking side to side and corner to corner when the surface beneath the tyres deteriorates. The steering is always light though, such that manoeuvring the GLS around town is never a chore at the wheel, even if it is a behemoth.
The GLS is covered by a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty. There's also a capped price servicing plan that requires servicing every 12 months/25,000km and will cost $616.00 for the first service and $1232.00 for each of the subsequent two services for a total over three years of $3080.00.
So, the initial question was whether the GLS is indeed the S-Class of SUVs. The answer is that it isn’t quite, possibly because the S-Class bar has been set so high. Regardless, the GLS is a classy, well-equipped and functional seven-seat SUV with badge cred to ensure you get noticed.
We gave the new GLS range a 7.5 overall at launch, but we think the 350d deserves a little more than that. There’s no doubt this 350d is the pick of the model range too, which gives it a solid eight overall on our ratings system. Now more than ever, there’s a genuine Audi Q7 alternative.