2017 Mercedes-Benz GLS: First Drive

Abigail Bassett
·Contributor

Mercedes’ largest SUV gets a makeover that’s more than skin deep.

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What it is: 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLS

Price Range: To be announced but expect it to be around the same price as the current GL – about $65,000 and up

Competitors: Land Rover Range Rover, Audi Q7, Lexus GX and LX, Infiniti QX80

Alternatives: Cadillac Escalade, Lincoln Navigator

Pros: Plenty of legroom for seven adult passengers, ample room for luggage (with the third-row seat folded down) a luxurious interior and good looks on the road.

Cons: A larger package means there’s a lot more vehicle to wheel around and on steep, wet, fog-wrapped roads.

Would I Buy It With My Own Money: If I needed to haul a soccer team in a luxury vehicle that looked good and didn’t break a sweat doing it, I’d buy it.

Time takes its pound of flesh from everyone. Butts sag, jowls wobble, bellies bubble over their beltlines, and while we are all flesh and bone, sometimes we feel compelled for help in fighting gravity’s pull. It’s as true for humans as it is for automobiles and the 2017 Mercedes-Benz full-size SUV has just undergone the equivalent of an Extreme Makeover—one that did not end in tears and terrible sweaters.

Previously known as the GL, the seven-seater has been upgraded to become the GLS, aligning it with Mercedes top-level sedan, the S-Class, even though the GLS builds from a stretched version of the smaller GLE platform. Back in 2006 when the first GL hit the market, the large-size SUV quickly became one of the German automaker’s most popular vehicles, selling nearly 20,000 units in its first year, and more than 26,000 last year.

Updates for the 2017 GLS includes more powerful engines paired with new transmissions. The “entry” level GLS 450 carries over the 3-liter twin-turbo V-6 rated at 362 horsepower and 369 lb.ft of torque. The GLS 550 gets a 4.7-liter twin-turbo V-8 and a power increase of 20 horsepower to 449 hp and 516 ft-lb of torque. The top-of-the-line AMG GLS63 gets an AMG 5.5-liter twin turbo V-8 that makes 577 hp and 561 lb-ft of torque, up 27 hp from its predecessor. In addition, Mercedes will offer a diesel version in the form of a GLS350d that makes 225 hp and 457 lb-ft of torque.

The GLS450, GLS550 and GLS350d all get the new 9-speed automatic transmission called 9Gtronic, while the AMG GLS63 gets the AMG Speedshift Plus 7 speed transmission. All models will come equipped with Mercedes’ all-wheel drive system and an updated version of the air suspension system it uses on its SUVs. Mercedes claims that the new combination of lighter engines and nine-speed gearbox makes the new GLS more fuel efficient across the entire range.

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Mercedes likes to refer to the GLS as the “S-Class of SUVs,” and its interior space,details and technology do not disappoint. Technology packages include Mercedes’ active cruise control system and lane-keeping function that offers nearly-autonomous driving. The GLS also comes standard with many of the safety systems that Mercedes has become known for, including their collision prevention systems, attention assist, and crosswind assist that helps keep the GLS from tipping in high winds.

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Having been crammed into the back of a couple of competitors “seven-plus” vehicles during recent events, I can authoritatively say that the Mercedes-Benz GLS does in fact get more legroom in the third row than the others. As a 5-foot-7 adult, I can sit comfortably without my knees hitting my chin in the third-row seat. Part of this space comes from a longer body—202 inches in the GLS450, GLS550 and GLS350d and 203 inches in the AMG version of the GLS. The other part comes from an addition of shoulder and knee space in the compartment that makes the GLS a comfortable people hauler.

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Inside the GLS gets a dashboard similar to the GLE. A new, larger eight-inch screen is the central nervous system of the car, showing everything from music selection and navigation to phone connectivity and vehicle status. While it is not a touchscreen, you can use the scroll wheel to choose your options and settings for the infotainment system.

In addition to the dash control pad, the driver has an additional scroll wheel, called the Dynamic Select Controller. This toggles among transmission modes that include Comfort, Slippery, Sport, Individual, Off-Road and, if you are so inclined, Manual. In the more powerful GLS63, the SUV gets an additional Sport+ mode that replaces the Off-Road. You can get an optional Off Road Package that gives you an additional Off-Road+ setting, a low range transfer case and a locking center differential, should you ever decide to take your GLS (and your 7 passengers) cruising around the Sahara. (For jungles or mud, it will ford 2 feet of water.) In each of the Dynamic drive settings, throttle response, gearing, and ride change with the mode.

On a snowy mountain road in Austria, we toggled between Sport mode and Slippery mode to get a feel for the system. When slip is detected, the systems kick in to help get the SUV back under the driver’s control with little input from the driver. For those who haven’t driven in tricky road conditions, the systems are good enough to be confidence inspiring—even if that confidence only gets you down your driveway.

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On narrow roads around Innsbruck, Austria, the GLS tends to feel oversized and nose heavy, but an optional “active curve system” does help stabilize it. We drove it down some of the roads used in the recent James Bond movie, Spectre, and while the body roll is noticeable, the active anti-roll bars on the front and rear axle definitely make a difference in handling. Driving the full-size SUV, during sunset, on damp roads, with heavy switchbacks and traffic, is not totally comfortable, but it can be done and the GLS handles it ably. Should you so require it, the new GLS is also rated to tow up to 7,500 lbs.

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A large part of the GL-cum-GLS refresh has been tackled in the looks department. The GLS gets more chrome and more optional appearance packages both inside and out. New ‘chrome-look’ roof rails, underbody, and trim give the previously blocky SUV a more svelte look. The optional Sport exterior, only available on the GLS550, gives the large SUV a meaner stance with 21-inch AMG style wheels, and if you want to really go all the way, there’s the AMG and Night lines—both looks include different bumpers, running boards, and wheel arch flare colors as well as wheels .

Whether you’re hauling kids or kindling, the 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLS is comfortable and roomy for anyone who needs the space. It’s a fine SUV for those looking for something from a luxury carmaker with the interior amenities that make it feel like a large luxury sedan. The downside? You’re going to have to wait to get your hands on it: the U.S. market won’t see it until March of 2016, and pricing has yet to be announced.

Top image is by Abigail Bassett. Images 2-3 are courtesy Mercedes-Benz. Image 4 is by Abigail Bassett. Image 5 is courtesy Mercedes-Benz