We’re nearing the end of our time with the 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLS450, and it's time to pop the big lug into park, and talk tech. Before we get going, however, I’ll recap the basics.
Our car is the $147,100 starting point to the three-variant GLS lineup (450, 400d, 63 S) and is fitted with $18,400 in optional equipment. That places a $165,500 (before on-road costs) invoice on your desk and gives the Selenite Grey Benzo an AMG style pack, black trim elements, and most crucially the E-Active Body Control suspension package.
You can read up on the introduction, urban and touring reports to bring yourself up to speed, as to understand the level and integration of technology within our long-term GLS450, I feel that you need to grasp more of a biological concept than an engineering one.
This is not just a husky SUV with an iPad on the dash, it’s more like your body with a brain, central nervous system, and consciousness that can even communicate on some kind of astral plane.
The car looks, listens, speaks, thinks and acts for itself, and is just a slightly 'Americanised-English' accent away from being a crime-solving Trans-Am with seven seats.
What’s more, you can set things up and configure how everything looks and works to your specific tastes.
Perhaps an indication of the level of customisation available comes from the head-up display.
The three panes can all be changed to display the information you prefer; current speed, g-force loading, inclination angle, fuel consumption, you name it. In the head-up system alone, there are 75 combinations of data that you can view, and that’s before you even look at the dashboard.
|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)||9.1L/100km (touring)|
|Fuel tank size||90L|
|Sales category||Upper-Large SUV (premium)|
|Key competitors||BMW X7 / Audi Q7 / Land Rover Discovery|
The MB/UX information display offers four different dashboard themes. On each of these, the outer dials can be configured to show seven different points of information. The inner display can then be used to show more data about the driver assistance system, the phone, navigation, trip data, radio or other media.
Before you choose ‘what’ information you want from your selected stream, you are already at 1,176 combinations of dashboard display. Run through everything and there are at least a staggering 225,792 combinations to work through.
That means you can change the display every hour, 24-hours a day, for nearly 26 years. And that’s not including the variety of permutations that factor in the head-up or central screen displays.
Simply put, you can bury yourself for days just to explore the breadth of functionality available. There are even preset themes that change the background image, drive mode and interior lighting settings, which, given it takes a fair amount of swiping around to get to, feel ultimately pointless and a clear-cut example of the Benz team taking a long swig from the ‘because we can’ jar on a Friday afternoon.
Further, you can choose to interact with the vehicle from the touchpads on the steering wheel, the touchpad in the console, the touch screen (there’s a lot of touching) and even the virtual assistant. All work well, and I found I would use a multitude of them to interact with various functions.
I will say I did consistently enjoy asking the car to turn on the heated-stone massage on cool mornings.
|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|
It is a hugely impressive system, even when dealing with somewhat rudimentary functions like basic radio station browse and favourite saving functions, through to a dynamic display of the current air suspension compression rate on each specific corner while on the move, the GLS is more akin to the bridge of the Enterprise than it is a regular car.
"Hey Mercedes, set course, warp factor five!"
Worth noting, that saying this will not actually work, and may result in the car dialling some contact hidden deep within your phonebook, which is to say not all this technology is faultless.
Amusing example? Have a look at the photo of the ‘individual wheel control’ screen that, with the aid of the E-Active Body Control system (EABC) can raise or lower each wheel separately for particularly challenging terrain. It shows the title text reversed on the screen.
It’s not so much a fault as a glitch, and while this one is clearly a harmless result of someone reversing an image, likely to suit a right-drive market, it shows even the best are fallible.
The whole EABC function, which in perfect conditions is nothing short of amazing, is also governed by rules of doing its very best until it can’t, and as noted in previous updates, is nowhere near as accurate at night or in poor weather.
This great but not perfect approach extends to other driver assistance functions, which can occasionally slip into a realm of being either too eager or not eager enough. On occasion, we’ve experienced the adaptive cruise control wait a little too long before slowing for traffic, rear cross-traffic alert false positives, and lane-keep inaccuracies.
These were rare, and not often repeatable issues that may have been caused by poor or changed line markings on the road, sun glare into the cameras and sensors, or just unexplained astronomical events from a parallel universe. Nothing is ever done to make you feel at odds with the vehicle mind you, but it more serves as a reminder that these features are still very much ‘assisting’ with the drive, and not replacing the driver.
Enough about gremlins though, what I really enjoyed was some of the specifically clever technology that works away in the background.
|2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS450|
|Colour||Selenite Grey Metallic|
|Options as tested||$18,400|
|ANCAP safety rating||Not yet tested|
|Warranty||5 years / unlimited km|
For example, the air suspension has four different height levels, that you can manually change or that will be selected automatically when you change the dynamic drive mode. All simple enough.
However, on a country drive in Comfort mode (which runs a default height of zero), I made an overtaking maneuverer and the car automatically dropped to the lower ride height to reduce drag. Clever.
The dynamic LED headlights theatrically ‘open’ a secondary beam of light on dark roads, even around urban streets, to offer you more light where you need it. These block out oncoming vehicles and even animate to illuminate road signs. When the GLS deems you no longer need them, the light wash simply deconstructs.
Dropped your keys on the passenger seat? Reach across and the car lights it up for you.
The fact you don’t even need to ask the GLS to do this is what is most impressive.
Pop it into carwash mode when you arrive at the BP, and the suspension raises (so as to better clean your undercarriage), the cameras switch on to allow you to line things up properly, the windows and sunroof close, the air recirculation is activated and the automatic wipers turn off.
Now, I use a carwash pretty regularly, but not so much so that I would have deemed the engineering and testing investment involved in doing this remotely sensible. Hat’s off to you Mercedes!
And perhaps one final level of impressive integration is that if you are using your iPhone to navigate, then connect it to use CarPlay while on the move, the Apple Maps directions integrate with the car’s native system so that your instructions will continue on the head-up display and dashboard readouts until you reach your destination.
You even get the nifty augmented road signs that are displayed on the central screen at intersections, to literally point you in the right direction.
On top of all this, there's the MercedesMe telemetry system and smartphone app. Through this, and like BMW has offered with ConnectedDrive, you can communicate and control elements of your car from your phone.
The system is faster than I have experienced with my own BMW, more a function of the SIM card in the car than anything else (4G in the Mercedes and 3G in the X3), and the app (which was recently updated) is well featured and easy to use.
This is perhaps something you cannot understand the value of until you use it, but I am a huge fan. The GLS will advise you if a door has been left unlocked or a window or sunroof is still open, and then allows you to rectify the issue, remotely. Even in the car, the connected infrastructure shows you not only where fuel stations are, but also the current price at the pump!
You can lock and unlock the car, which I use regularly if sending the Carcierge team to come and pick it up for a clean. I simply park the car, put the keys under the console cover, lock the car with the app, then unlock it again when they get to the car. I know mine is a specific use case, but I’m sure there are ways this could work for you too.
Put simply, the GLS is a technology platform with seats and wheels.
And while the regular visible features like powered seats, the surround camera, and Burmester sound system answer the topline techno-call, it’s the things you don’t see or even realise are there that solidify the GLS as a techy tour de force.
Our next update is the final look at the 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLS450, so if you have any questions or queries about the bulky Benz, fire away in the comments below!