The 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class arrives on the full-size luxury SUV scene and dominates it straight away. Not only does it embody the traditional Mercedes-Benz values of luxury, ingenious engineering and painstaking attention to detail, it also brings fresh technology into the engine bay, chassis and infotainment system.
A mild hybrid system optimizes power delivery and fuel efficiency, an optional hydro-pneumatic suspension adds uncanny levels of control and ride quality, and a new generation of infotainment system comes on board as well.
The infotainment system, called the Mercedes-Benz User Experience and more frequently shortened to MBUX, has a Siri-like digital assistant that understands commands given in natural speech, such as “take me to the nearest coffee shop.” The optional navigation system with augment video takes images from a forward-facing camera and then superimposes directions and other relevant information.
A well-built cabin of fine materials and exquisite design is another GLS-Class strength, and there’s generous space for up to seven occupants in its three rows of seating. Third-row legroom is an ample 34.6 inches.
The GLS seats six to seven people, depending on the package.
Keeping all those occupants safe and well are many standard safety features, while some of the options include things like moving a seat more into the cabin and further away from a point of imminent side impact. The thing about driver aids from Mercedes-Benz, like the adaptive cruise control, is that they really work well out there in the real world.
For a financially comfortable family that wants to be supremely cosseted and well-protected on the road, as well as in wilder environments, the 2020 GLS-Class is an inspired choice.
What’s new for 2020?
The GLS-Class SUV is all-new for this year.
What we like
- Outstanding drivetrains
- Sumptuous interior
- Gadgets galore
- Adult-friendly third row
- Excellent highway manners
What we don’t
After much careful deliberation … nothing
$76,945 to $99,795
Both GLS-Class models have Mercedes-Benz’s all-wheel-drive system, 4Matic, as standard, and both have a 9-speed automatic transmission with shift paddles mounted beneath the steering wheel to use whenever the driver wants.
The other thing they have in common is the company’s EQ Boost innovation. It’s essentially an electric motor smoothing out the stop/restart function that saves fuel while the vehicle is idling and allows a “coasting” function on long downhill stretches. It’s powered by a lithium-ion battery (no plugging in required) and is part of a 48-volt system that can also power the optional hydro-pneumatic active suspension.
The GLS 450 has a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6 producing 362 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates fuel consumption at 19 miles per gallon in the city, 23 mpg on the highway and 21 mpg in combined driving.
The GLS 580 packs a twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V8 generating 483 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque. Fuel consumption is 16 mpg city/21 mpg hwy/18 mpg combined.
Standard features and options
The 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class is a full-size luxury SUV with three rows of seating. There are two versions.
The GLS 450 4Matic SUV ($76,945) has an adaptive air suspension, 19-in alloy wheels, keyless entry/ignition, remote start, intelligent LED headlights with ultrawide high beams, LED daytime running lights and taillights, forward collision mitigation with automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection, blind spot monitoring with exit warning, a self-parking feature for parallel and perpendicular spaces, front/rear parking sensors, a 360-degree camera system, a trailer stability feature, a powered tilt/slide sunroof, rain-sensing wipers, self-dimming rearview and driver’s-side mirrors, heated/power-adjustable front seats with memory settings, a 12.3-in digital driver information display, simulated leather upholstery, a Nappa leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel, dual-zone automatic climate control, power-folding third-row seats with 50/50 split, a power-adjustable steering column, a powered tailgate, a 115-volt outlet, multicolored ambient LED cabin lighting, a 12.3-in infotainment touchscreen, navigation, Bluetooth phone/audio, nine USB-C ports, Apple AAPL, -1.15% CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone integration, wireless charging up front, satellite/HD radio, a 13-speaker/590-watt Burmester surround-sound system, and a 2-way, in-car communication system.
A convenience package for the GLS 450 brings ventilated front seats, quad-zone automatic climate control and powered second-row side-window sunshades.
The GLS 580 4Matic SUV ($99,795) brings illuminated running boards, 21-in AMG-design alloy wheels, AMG cosmetic additions, soft-closing doors, automatic high beams, a gesture-controlled tailgate, heated/ventilated/multi-contour/massaging front seats, leather upholstery, and 5-zone automatic climate control.
Many of the GLS 580’s standard features are available for the GLS 450 as options, such as the massaging/multi-contour front seats, soft-closing doors, leather upholstery, and larger alloy wheels. The GLS 580 is the only version that can have 23-in wheels, however.
Both models can be fitted with E-Active Body Control, powered by the 48-volt system. It reads the road ahead and adjusts settings to suit it, adopts a more composed attitude around corners and can even rock the vehicle out of a sand trap. At $6,500, it’s expensive, but it’s a remarkable piece of equipment.
A Driver Assistance Package Plus brings partial self-driving through adaptive cruise control with stop/go and active lane-keeping. It also includes evasive steering assistance, active blind spot monitoring, automatic cross-traffic braking, and route-based speed adaptation.
Other options include a heated steering wheel along with heated armrests in rows one and two, a cabin air-purification system, a leather-covered dashboard, heated/ventilated/massaging/multi-contour second-row seats, second-row side airbags, second-row wireless charging, Wi-Fi, navigation with augmented video, a head-up display, a rear-seat entertainment system and an even more powerful Burmester audio array that includes ceiling-mounted speakers for a fully immersive sound.
The 2020 GLS-Class seats seven in standard form, or six when the optional captain’s chairs are in the second row. This is a new choice for the GLS.
A quick shout-out to a new standard feature: carwash mode. It raises the suspension so the wheel wells can get a good soak, makes sure all the windows and the sunroof are closed, halts the wipers’ rain-sensing function, and uses the forward-facing camera to help the driver or valet steer into the soapy environment. Brilliant.
Luggage space behind the third seating row is 17.4 cu ft. With the second and third rows folded down, maximum cargo space is 84.7 cu ft. Both versions can tow up to 7,700 pounds.
The 2020 GLS-Class hasn’t been crash tested yet by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). That shouldn’t be a problem, since many luxury vehicles are never put through these processes but often come with innovative safety features.
Crosswind Assist, 11 airbags and driver-fatigue monitoring are standard, along with automatic emergency braking and blind spot monitoring. If the new GLS-Class had any issues, safety wouldn’t be one of them.
Behind the wheel
Perhaps the last thing a large and luxurious 3-row SUV might be able to offer is an enjoyable drive. Yet the 2020 GLS-Class does just that. The standard adaptive air suspension makes a major contribution to comfort as well as precision.
Both engines are also endowed with substantial muscle, while the steering provides a welcome amount of feel. The whole thing feels much smaller on the move than it really is.
You might like: The Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class: Entry-level luxury with more power
Not a whistle of wind noise nor a rumble of road drone makes it into the cabin. That’s quite a feat for a shape that values practicality far above aerodynamics.
Other cars to consider
2020 BMW X7 – The X7 is now the biggest SUV made by BMW and is similar to the GLS. There isn’t quite as much third-row space, though.
2020 Cadillac Escalade — The new Escalade is relatively affordable and comes with a plush, well-appointed cabin.
2020 Infiniti QX80 — Based on the capable Nissan Patrol SUV produced for overseas markets, the QX80 is a legitimate off-roader with a luxurious interior and a distinctive exterior.
2020 Land Rover Range Rover — The Range Rover has a gorgeous interior and great off-road talents, and it’s perfectly comfortable on-road. It has no third-row seating, however.
2020 Lexus LX 570 — This one is old under the skin, but it’s luxurious, spacious, capable and built to a lofty standard. The vehicle seats up to eight.
2020 Lincoln Navigator — The Navigator is massive, even for a full-size SUV. It’s totally worth considering, which says a lot about how far Lincoln has come in the past few years.
Used Bentley Bentayga — It would probably still cost more than a brand-new GLS-Class, but SUVs with even higher levels of luxury are few.
Any buyers wanting something with more power and greater driver appeal will be interested to know that a 603-hp AMG GLS 63 is coming for 2021. Those seeking extreme luxury should be intrigued by a Mercedes-Maybach GLS also slated for next year.
Also see: 8 new luxury SUVs for under $50,000
For 2020, we’d say the GLS 580 is wonderful but bordering on extravagant, perhaps crossing that line completely. The GLS 450 has generous levels of standard equipment, and it’s a smarter call to spend extra on the Driver Assistance Package Plus before a bigger engine.
This story originally ran on Autotrader.com.