Living with the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS450 in the literal confines of a city transitioning out of lockdown has presented a somewhat relevant comparison landscape for the husky SUV.
The giant G has remained constant in an environment that has gradually become busier and more crowded. A shrinking space around the car taking the luxury of parking where I want, and the greater luxury of doing it without family onboard, away.
So in this update, we’ll be looking at how the big ’Benz handles the urban shuffle, both with and without people around.
The GLS450 is powered by a 3.0-litre turbocharged inline six-cylinder petrol engine paired to a 48-volt mild-hybrid system for a total output of 270kW and 500Nm (with an additional 16kW of short-burst ‘EQ-boost’ up its sleeve) and weighs in at $147,100 before options and on-road costs.
Our Selenite Grey companion ticks the Night Package, Interior Innovation and E-Active Body Control boxes for a grand total of $165,500 plus on-roads.
For some context, if you are shopping for a luxurious three-row two-bedroom apartment with wheels, the GLS sits below the more powerful 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 BMW X7 M50i ($179,900) and slightly smaller twin-turbo V8 diesel Audi SQ7 ($161,500), but above the twin-engine Volvo XC90 T8 R-Design ($114,990) and adventure-capable Land Rover Discovery HSE Luxury ($126,034).
But outputs and dollar signs aren’t the measures we’re looking at here, as in the urban jungle the GLS is king by the simplest of currencies, size.
|2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS450|
|Engine configuration||Inline six-cylinder turbocharged petrol (with 48V mild-hybrid)|
|Power||270kW @ 5500rpm (+16kW EQ-Boost)|
|Torque||500Nm @ 1500–4500rpm (+270Nm EQ-Boost)|
|Transmission||9-speed (9G-Tronic) automatic|
|Drive type||All-wheel drive|
|Fuel consumption (combined cycle claim)||9.2L/100km|
|Fuel consumption (combined cycle on test)||-|
|Fuel tank size||90L|
|Sales category||Upper-Large SUV (premium)|
|Key competitors||BMW X7 / Audi Q7 / Land Rover Discovery|
My word it is big. Everywhere.
First, the benefits – the GLS is massive inside. Rear passengers in both rows have plenty of room, but it’s the middle section with full power-adjustable seats and business-class leg room that makes this a practical family machine.
Miss 11 has become quickly accustomed to adjusting her pew for comfort, placing her and the constant sounds of TikTok well away from the front cabin, despite being only one row back.
It’s not just passenger space that works in the GLS either. The fact that you can run all three rows of seats and still have enough boot space for the shopping is just straight convenience. With cargo room that expands from 355L to 890L and again to a huge 2400L maximum (to the roof), the Merc’ does make use of its expansive proportions.
Even the ease, and frankly the speed, that the powered seats can raise and lower is supremely convenient, especially when there’s no-one else about to mess with your settings. But more on that shortly.
The thing is, while all that room and flexibility is great, the enormous slice of the universe the GLS takes up cannot be ignored.
I know it sounds silly to praise the space but deride the size, especially considering how usable the commodious ’Benz is, but I feel in terms of overall volume, we may have stepped over the ‘too much of a good thing’ line.
You sit high with a commanding view, but the extremes of the car are essentially non-existent. I can’t imagine how drivers shorter than me (6’3”) even see out.
From behind the wheel, the big bonnet just ends as sharply as a flat-earth theory, forcing you to rely on the myriad cameras to even know what is around you. Any laneway or driveway navigation soon becomes a Death Star trench run, with screaming sensors and red flashing proximity lights advising you that expensive body repairs are potentially millimetres away.
The worst are tight carpark or fast-food driveways where swinging the 5219mm-long GLS through narrow lanes with pronounced kerbs is like playing Operation, except instead of buzzing the patient’s red nose, you risk carving a scar into those enormous 22-inch wheels.
At night, as a form of recognising its own size, the car projects the Mercedes-Benz logo puddle lamps onto the ground, in an attempt to provide some form of illumination assistance. It’s about as useful as the captain of a 747 shining a torch out the window while trying to taxi through a minefield, but it’s nice of them to try.
It is not just kerbs that have their eye on your snazzy ’Benz either. Walls, pillars and all other solid obstacles are somehow now everywhere, and in your way.
Case in point, in order to reach the swiper to activate the boom gate in the CarAdvice office carpark, you have to fully commit to where you think the red-and-white-striped pole is, as it vanishes without a trace below the bonnet’s horizon well before you can even attempt to reach the magnetic reader.
And that’s only after you’ve carefully negotiated the one and only path through the carpark that is wide enough to let the GLS manoeuvre through the concrete pillars. A task that was made much easier when the carpark was empty.
Regular carparks at supermarkets and the like do their best to body-shame the GLS, with many spaces barely big enough to fit the Mercedes, and most leaving it to dwarf other vehicles. Don’t even get me started on height restrictions (at 1823mm it feels dangerously close to some of those 1.9m maximum height barriers).
Things were a bit easier when the local area was largely devoid of people, as I could choose a spot away from other cars, allowing room for those big back doors to open, especially with passengers on board.
|2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS450|
|Ground clearance||199mm (adjustable)|
|Boot volume||355L / 890L / 1470L (2040L to roof)|
|Tow rating (unbraked / braked)||750kg / 3500kg|
|Wheels/tyres||22-inch – 285/45R22 front, 325/40R22 rear Continental|
For those weeks when the roads were clear and carparks empty, the GLS450 was still big, but with no-one around, I didn’t notice as much. Easy come, easy go.
What I didn’t mind, though, was the ability to actually spend some time getting used to the car and exploring its other strong trait, comfort.
The combination of size, materials and the E-Active Body Control (EABC) air suspension makes this a tremendously comfortable shuttle, even when just running about the hood.
As far as technology goes, EABC is quite amazing when it works, but it doesn’t have a 100 per cent strike-rate. On a clear day, at the right speed, I simply never get sick of the way it erases bumps as you drive over them, but in failing or low light, or when the road is wet, you’re back to regular air-matic.
It is still very comfortable; you just don’t get the magic-carpet party trick.
That aside, and while the GLS is brilliantly cosseting, it does tend to wobble on cobbled or other patchy surfaces. It’s very much a side effect of the air suspension and can be disconcerting for those unfamiliar with it.
Again, a small quibble, but that’s what we are here for.
|2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS450|
|Colour||Selenite Grey Metallic|
|Options as tested||$18,400|
|ANCAP safety rating||Not yet tested|
|Warranty||5 years / unlimited km|
In terms of performance, the petrol inline six works pretty well around town.
There’s good response low in the rev range, as all 500Nm of torque is available from just 1600rpm. You don’t need to explore the power band, as the six pulls smoothly and effortlessly at urban speeds.
We’re seeing about 15.0L/100km for a number of weeks of speeds that haven’t exceeded 60km/h, which is higher than Mercedes’s urban claim of 11.4L/100km, and driving has been predominantly in Comfort mode. That means there is a propensity for even thirstier performance should you explore the throttle even more.
I am looking forward to stretching the ’Benz’s legs on a longer run, though, and with school holidays on the horizon, I’m sure I’ll have my chance.
Speaking of school holidays, it brings me to the other part of having Melbourne start to get back to a normalish state – having children and friends of children in the car, and dealing with them pressing buttons willy-nilly.
After months of largely travelling one-up, having to contend with pint-sized passengers and their sticky fingers does take a bit of getting used to again. The fact the powered seats can be moved and folded very easily tends to upset my experience of having the car set ‘just so’. There really should be a parent lockout button on any and all functions beyond the seatbelts.
Fair to note, too, that when you fold the second-row forward to access the rear, it ‘closes’ again to a generic position, meaning you have to readjust the seats every time to get them back to where they were. Again, surely a car as smart as this should have a way of resetting seamlessly.
But these are the challenges of parenting more than they are issues with the car, and so I’ll leave it at that.
In summary, the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS450 is as comfortable as your lounge room and as big as your house. Stay away from narrow lanes and tight spaces, and the voluminous G will effortlessly ferry you and yours about your postcode, while all the time having its very own.
In the next update, I’ll hit the open road and see how the inline six’s thirst changes on a sustained cruise, plus I’ll explore the other drive modes, including the cool ‘Curve’ function.