When Mercedes-Benz launched the GL-Class here in 2012 it was the largest vehicle that they had brought to India, in fact, it became the largest SUV on sale. Now there is a facelift which we would have normally called the GL facelift but last year Mercedes-Benz changed its naming convention and attached every car in the lineup to a core model like the A-Class, C-Class and the E-Class. Since this one is their largest and most expensive vehicles, it has been rechristened the GLS which makes it the SUV of the S-Class range. As is the case with most mid-life updates, this one has resulted in some subtle styling changes and some revisions to the feature list. What is completely new however, is the nine-speed gearbox that has replaced the seven-speed unit.
On the exterior front, the new GLS SUV comes with minor upgrades and flaunts the chrome treatment on roof rails, shoulder line strips, boot lid handle, under-guard as well as side skirts. The new Mercedes Benz GLS comes with minor upgrades to its external appearance. The front facade of the new SUV gets a redesigned front bumper with twin-slat front grille, new bonnet as well as all-new headlights. On the sides, the profile remains same as it comes with special character lines, body coloured door handles and 21-inch alloy wheels that highlights the overall look of the profile. However, the rear profile gets a refreshed bumper and elegantly designed extended tail lamps, rear spoiler and chrome bar placed about company’s logo in the centre. In terms of dimensions, it comes with a length of 5130mm, width of 1934mm, height of 1850mm and wheelbase of 3075mm.
The large exterior dimensions translate to acres of space inside, and the GLS is one of the largest SUVs inside too, with genuine space for seven adults and not five adults and two kids. The third row offers enough space to seat two people, though getting in is a bit of a squeeze as the second row seats do not slide forward and can only be tumbled. That said, the second row is the place to be with its kind of legroom, headroom, kneeroom and, of course, comfort. The rich feel from the plush leather seats adds to the luxurious experience of being ensconced in the back seat, and it isn’t surprising why a lot of GL buyers are chauffeur-driven.
Not that the driver’s seat is a snug-fitting Recaro either. It offers great comfort, allowing you to sink into its softness while also offering good support. The view it offers is towering, adding to the incredible feel of being seated in something massive. The design and layout of the dashboard is typically Mercedes though it looks a bit dated now with a lot of buttons and switches. Quality levels are as good as one would expect, with the leather on the dashboard offering a rich feel. However, other new generation luxury SUVs like the Audi Q7 and Volvo XC90 have clearly taken the game a notch higher with their modern look and feel.
Climb in and the first thing you notice is the new steering wheel and revised instrument cluster. The display for the latest generation COMAND system is an 8-inch unit that sits on top of the dashboard. The resolution of the screen is high, and in its latest avatar COMAND gets advanced connectivity, allowing you to browse the Web or stream online music once you sync your phone’s internet. Of course, there’s Apple’s CarPlay which is a boon for iPhone users. And the slick interface, coupled with the stylish touchpad on the rotor for the COMAND makes using the infotainment system a breeze on the go, since you can access everything with a mere swipe or touch.
The ambience inside is better than before thanks to the mood lighting, and you can choose from three colours and five variable adjustments. Features like a large panoramic sunroof, cup holders that cool or heat up your drink, and electric fold for the third row seats are on offer, too, as expected in a luxury SUV. The infotainment screen also doubles up as display for the 360-degree camera which makes parking or maneuvering this massive SUV in tight spots extremely easy. Of course, the automatic park assist feature from the GL has been carried forward too.
Another big highlight is the addition of the DYNAMIC Select dial that lets you choose vehicle settings depending on the terrain you are driving on, letting you choose from Individual, Sport, Comfort, Slippery and Off-road. Each mode has its own settings for the suspension setup, engine response and steering, but more on that later. What’s noteworthy though are the details each mode offers you via the screen – Off-road tells you about the angles the SUV is at when climbing up or down; in Sport mode you get to know which suspension is getting loaded and how much around corners along with an indication of where exactly the centre of gravity is shifting and likewise for Comfort and Slippery mode.
The GLS will be available in 350 d guise which means it comes with Merc’s lovely 3.0-litre, V6 diesel engine. Power and torque figures (258hp and 620Nm) remain unchanged from before, but the engine now comes mated to Mercedes’ new nine-speed 9G-Tronic gearbox in place of the GL’s older 7G-Tronic unit. The shorter initial ratios have helped improve performance by a bit. The GLS’ 8.2 second 0-100kph time makes it 0.7 seconds quicker than the GL to the ton. It’s also quicker than the older version in kickdown acceleration from 20-80kph and 40-100kph. But if you get into the numbers, you’ll find a Q7 is faster just about everywhere.
Not that you’ll ever feel a lack of power. There’s strong pulling power at all speeds and performance is impressive for what is a 2.4-tonne SUV. You always have the option to switch to Sport mode or set the engine to Sport in the ‘Individual’ driving mode to get the most of the engine. Wish the gearbox allowed more aggressive manual downshifts via the paddles though. Anyway, quick as the GLS can be, it actually feels at its best when you adopt a relaxed driving style, especially with the engine-gearbox set to Comfort. The electronics keep the transmission in the highest possible ratio and correspondingly, engine at the lowest revs. What this equates to is minimal engine noise and a relaxing driving experience.
The GLS also rides reasonably well. The stock 20-inch tyres make light work of big potholes and the suspension goes about its business quietly. But there’s no getting around the air suspension’s firmness at low speeds. You can feel surface imperfections more than you would even in Merc’s smaller GLE. Comfort does work well for city use but at faster speeds you’d find the GLS far better tied down with the suspension in Sport mode. Sport also adds a bit more weight to the steering, but don’t expect the hulking GLS to change character at the touch of a button, or more aptly, the turn of the Dynamic Select dial. It’s a big, huge SUV that wants to be driven like a big, huge SUV. If you want a sharp handling seven- seater, this ain’t it. For average driving in town, you’d be happy enough in Comfort mode where the steering too is light and surprisingly easy to twirl.
DRIVING DYNAMICS ;
The Mercedes GLS comes with an AIRMATIC suspension which helps the brute deliver a good ride experience. The vehicle absorbs most bumps and undulations without much fuss and passengers don’t feel discomforted at all. Handling is neutral and the GLS feels like a true blue SUV with all its body roll. The steering, however, provides good feedback and has a nice feel. Even the brakes do their job properly and shed speeds without breaking into a sweat.
One of the safest full-size SUVs on the market as of 2015, the GLS is equipped with numerous standard driver assistance features, including Collision Prevention Assist Plus, Crosswind Assist, Attention Assist, Pre-Safe, Brake Assist, ESP, and cruise control among others. The optional Driver Assistance Package adds Distroic Plus with Steering Assist, pedestrian detection, Cross-Traffic Assist, Active Blind Sport Assist, Active Lane Keeping Assist, and Speed Limit Assist.For the first time, the GLS also gets LED Intelligent Light System for improved night-time vision. Customers can also opt for the Magic Vision Control system with the heated adaptive windscreen wiper.As for airbags, the SUV features adaptive, two-stage units for driver and front passenger, knee airbag for the driver and front passenger, and window airbags for all three seat rows.
The Mercedes GLS is certainly the biggest SUV in its segment and offers oodles of space along with a good engine and gearbox combo and plenty of features to play with. However, something seems to be missing as the GLS certainly doesn’t feel like the S-Class of SUVs. Mercedes has crafted the vehicle nicely but it seems to be missing a ‘wow’ factor that doesn’t make you feel as special as it should, especially when compared to newer rivals like the Audi Q7 and Volvo XC90. If your priorities are space, comfort and road presence, the Mercedes GLS is a certainly a good choice in the full size luxury SUV segment.