The Mercedes-Benz S Class sedan is a benchmark of the luxury car market, so it’s no surprise that the German automaker refers to the GLS as the S Class of SUVs. In America’s SUV-heavy market, the GLS actually outsells the S Class, making the GLS an ultra-important vehicle for Mercedes-Benz as luxury buyers continue to eschew sedans in favor of SUVs. When re-creating the GLS for 2020, designers and engineers paid a lot of attention to ensure it continues to offer both the luxury and refinement of the S Class sedan with the utility and off-road capabilities of an SUV.
The flagship of the Mercedes-Benz SUV lineup, the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS is offered in two versions: the GLS 450 4MATIC, powered by a new turbocharged 3.0-liter inline 6-cylinder engine with EQ Boost; and the GLS 580 4MATIC, powered by a new biturbo 4.0-liter V8 engine with EQ Boost. Standard equipment includes all-wheel drive; 7-passenger seating; Mercedes-Benz User Experience with voice control, known as MBUX; a 12.3-inch digital instrument display; a 12.3-inch touchscreen multimedia display; navigation; a Burmester surround sound system; and 19-inch wheels.
The GLS 580 4MATIC offers additional standard equipment including 5-zone climate control, active multicontour front seats with massage, and 21-inch wheels. Optional on the GLS 580 is 4MATIC variable-torque on-demand all-wheel drive with low range for increased off-road capability.
The 2020 GLS offers two new engines, both electrified with EQ Boost, which is a new Integrated Starter Generator that can add up to 21 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque for short periods of time when needed. The GLS 450 4MATIC is powered by a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline 6-cylinder with EQ Boost — a new engine for the GLS that produces 362 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque from 1600 to 4000 rpm. A biturbo 4.0-liter V8 engine with EQ Boost that produces 483 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque from 1600 to 4000 rpm also is a new engine for Mercedes-Benz, and the GLS 580 4MATIC will be the first model offered with this power unit. Both GLS engines are combined with a 9-speed 9G-TRONIC transmission and standard 4MATIC all-wheel drive.
In addition to providing more power for acceleration when needed, the Integrated Starter Generator also provides high-efficiency energy recuperation to power the 48-volt onboard electrical system. The ISG of the 2020 GLS also eliminates the need for an auxiliary drive belt on the front of the engine, and the 48-volt system provides power to the water pump, power steering and air-conditioning compressor.
The 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS comes equipped with enhanced AIRMATIC air suspension with Adaptive Damping System Plus. Complex sensor systems and algorithms adapt the damping to road conditions and driving situations based on a drive mode selected by the driver.
Optional for both GLS 450 and GLS 580 is E-ACTIVE BODY CONTROL, a sophisticated suspension system that individually adjusts spring rate and damping for each wheel. The CURVE function is also part of E-ABC, which adjusts the suspension to lean the GLS into a corner like a motorcycle, which reduces lateral force. When equipped with the optional stereo multi-purpose camera, the camera continuously scans the road ahead and the suspension will respond in advance to changes in the road surface such as dips and rises to improve ride quality.
Up front, the 2020 GLS features a bold upright grille, power domes in the hood and a distinctive LED headlight design with 112 LEDs per headlight. The daytime running lights include three LED segments. At the rear, the strong shoulder lines extend to the two-piece LED taillights with a three-dimensional look. The 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS is larger and more spacious than its predecessor, with an overall length of 205 inches and a 123.4-inch wheelbase that is 2.4 inches longer than the previous model. Despite its size, the GLS is quite aerodynamic (note the large rear spoiler) with a low drag coefficient of 0.32 that reduces fuel consumption and wind noise.
The 2020 GLS receives the widescreen dashboard design with the 12.3-inch instrument display and the 12.3-inch multimedia display under a single screen. The MBUX technology can be controlled by voice, touchscreen, touchpad and touch control buttons on the steering wheel. The wide, raised center console includes integrated grab handles on each side.
The standard GLS seating arrangement is seven seats in three rows, with a second-row 60/40 split bench with a 40/20/40 backrest and two individual third-row seats. New for 2020 are optional second-row individual seats with armrests. The Executive Rear Seat Package adds a large foldable center console with 7-inch MBUX tablet in the second row, wireless charging and comfort head restraints. The Executive Rear Seat Package Plus adds heated and ventilated multicontour seats for the second row. Third-row heated seats are available and the optional 5-zone climate control adds third-row vents in the roof.
The longer wheelbase of the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS adds 3.4 inches of additional second-row legroom when the second-row seats are adjusted all the way to the rear. All second-and third-row seats can be folded with the touch of a single button or folded individually. The third row has a power easy-entry function that folds and moves the second-row seats forward for easy access to the aft seats.
A slick new car wash function instantly prepares the 2020 GLS for entry into an automatic car wash with the push of a single button. The car wash function folds in the exterior mirrors; closes the windows and sunroof; controls rain sensor information so the wipers remain off; switches the climate control to air recirculation mode; and activates the front camera image. The settings are automatically deactivated upon exiting the car wash once the GLS’s speed rises above 12 mph.
The 2020 GLS offers the range of Mercedes-Benz driver assistance functions including standard blind-spot assist, active brake assist, attention assist, active parking assist with surround view and the Mercedes PRE-SAFE system. Available driver assistance includes active distance assist DISTRONIC, active stop-and-go assist, active steering assist, active speed limit assist, route-based speed adaptation, active brake assist with cross-traffic function, evasive steer assist, active blind-spot assist, active lane-keep assist and car-to-X communication.
The first on-road impressions of the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS 450 4MATIC is that it is quiet, comfortable and smooth — and that impression never goes away. In Sport mode the acceleration is more aggressive, the suspension tightens up and steering effort increases slightly, but it’s still quiet, comfortable and smooth. The GLS 450 would be a great vehicle for a long road trip. And as cliché as it sounds, the GLS does not feel as big as it is from behind the wheel — nimble and responsive, it is easy and fun to drive.
The turbocharged 3.0-liter EQ Boost in the 2020 GLS is excellent: plenty of low-end torque and power available whenever needed. The ISG makes start-stop nearly seamless; the system gives the vehicle a push from the electric motor to start the vehicle moving as it simultaneously starts the engine. The biturbo 4.0-liter in the GLS 580 is very powerful and would be the preferred choice for towing; the GLS 450 is plenty of power for most drivers. According to Mercedes-Benz estimates, the GLS 580 will accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 5.2 seconds, but the GLS 450 is right behind at 5.9 seconds.
The standard AIRMATIC air suspension offers a nice, well-controlled ride in all modes. Comfort mode allows more suspension travel; we prefer Sport mode, which is more firm — yet not harsh — and still comfortable. The E-ABC is a very sophisticated suspension system; again, we prefer the Sport mode to the CURVE function. In Sport there is very little body roll, but a driver still feels the normal weight transfer to the outside tires when entering a corner. In CURVE mode, the E-ABC anticipates corners and adjusts to counteract the lateral force. Drivers who have been on the road for many years might find that CURVE mode requires an adjustment period. We prefer the feedback of cornering forces, but some drivers might like the video game sensation of cornering without feeling it.
During a press drive, attending auto journalists tackled some aggressive off-road trails with ruts, a water crossing and narrow rocky trails in the GLS 580 with the Off-Road Package that includes the Torque-on-Demand 4MATIC system with reduction gear. Although few of these vehicles will see more than a snow-covered driveway to a ski cabin, the GLS 580 is capable of impressive off-road performance.
The 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS is scheduled to arrive in U.S. dealership before the end of 2019. Starting price for the GLS 450 4MATIC is $73,200, with the GLS 580 4MATIC starting at $97,800 — both not including a $995 destination and delivery charge.
The 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS is a comfortable, quiet, capable luxury car in an SUV package, with off-road capability to boot. It drives well and the standard GLS 450 engine does its job. For those who plan to tow, the extra power from the biturbo 4.0-liter V8 is a good idea, but it’s not needed for everyday use. The price of entry is high and can easily go past the $100,000 mark with options, but if you’re looking for a full-size luxury SUV, the 2020 GLS is an impressive choice.
Pros: Quiet, comfortable luxury; great engines; off-road capability.
Cons: Can get very expensive with optional equipment.
Bottom Line: Mercedes knows luxury, and this GLS is their most luxurious SUV.