Previously the GL, now the GLS, we drive the diesel version of Mercedes' large SUV. Does it do enough to worry the class best?

What is it?

The Mercedes-Benz GLS is a facelifted version of the second-generation GL that has been on sale in the UK since 2012. First revealed at the Los Angeles show, it is planned to reach UK showrooms in March 2016, with prices starting at £69,100 for the entry-level GLS 350 d 4Matic driven here and rising to £102,330 for the range-topping GLS 63 4Matic.

The new GLS name aims to provide the big seven-seat SUV with some of the upmarket cachet already associated with the S-Class. It rounds out the renaming of Mercedes-Benz‘s SUV line-up, in which the GLK has become the GLC and the ML is now known as the Mercedes-Benz GLE. Key among the rivals for the new model is the recently introduced second-generation Audi Q7 and the three-year-old Range Rover.

Along with the new name, the GLS receives a series of subtle exterior styling changes, most prominent among them being a new grille featuring an oversized three-pointed star and twin-blade adornment. There’s also a new front bumper, altered headlight graphics, new tail-light lenses, a revised rear bumper and new wheels – those on the GLS 350 d being 18in in diameter and shod with 265/60 tyres.

The mild styling revisions continue inside, where the GLS adopts an upgraded dashboard featuring a free-standing 7in infotainment monitor, altered instrument graphics and a new multi-function steering wheel. As with the GL, the GLS comes with seven seats as standard.

Among the new connectivity features is the optional Comand Online system. It uses an 8in infotainment monitor and provides wireless LAN hotspot functionality via LTE networks when available. With this system, buyers receive a series of remote services for a period of three years, including a function that allows you to check on the status of the windows, doors, mileage, tyre pressures and other diagnostic data remotely. 

The standard engine line-up includes both carry-over and upgraded petrol and diesel units. Each provides improved fuel economy and reduced CO2 emissions due to the adoption of a new nine-speed automatic gearbox in place of the older seven-speed unit.

In selected markets buyers will be able to select between two petrol engines: a twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 developing 328bhp in the GLS 400 4Matic, and a twin-turbocharged 4.7-litre V8 in the GLS 500 4Matic that produces 20bhp more than before at 449bhp.  

In the UK, however, Mercedes-Benz is concentrating its sales efforts around the same turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 engine used by the GL 350 CDI. It continues to produce 255bhp in the GLS 350 d 4Matic.

The top engine is an AMG-produced, twin-turbocharged 5.5-litre V8 in the GLS 63 4Matic. It delivers 577bhp - 27bhp more than its predecessor - and 560lb ft, as it did before. Unlike the standard engines available with the new GLS, it continues to be mated to an updated version of AMG’s seven-speed, Speedshift automatic gearbox.

Buyers can specify the GLS with an upgraded Dynamic Select system that offers up to six driving programs including Comfort, Slippery, Sport, Individual, Off-road and, in models equipped with the off-road package, Off-Road Plus.

This last mode activates the low-range gearing and centre differential, as well raising the ride height to provide 306mm of ground clearance, along with a fording depth of 600mm.

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What's it like?

The GLS’s spacious cabin boasts all the features expected of a £70,000 SUV. However, claims that the successor to the GL offers similar levels of interior luxury as the S-Class are quickly dissolved. 

While the general quality is well up to par, you can’t help but notice the parts bin sourcing of many of the dashboard controls. There is precious little individuality about the interior styling.

The centre console looks cheap for an offering at this end of the market, with an old-fashioned matt black plastic fascia and abundance of buttons. The upper section, including the free-standing monitor, is essentially the same as that used by the smaller Mercedes-Benz GLE.

The air conditioning controls can also be found in any number of cheaper offerings, including the Beijing Auto BJ90 – a Chinese built SUV based on the same underpinnings as the GLS. Ironically, there are more dashboard items shared between the Viano commercial van and the S-Class than there are here.

Accommodation in the front is generous, with the broad seats offering firm support, a wide range of electronic adjustment and a commanding view of the road. Space in the back is fine, although entering the third row of seats requires a good deal of gymnastic dexterity before you’re fully comfortable.  

With three rows of seats there is a limited 295 litres of luggage space, extending to 680 litres in two-row format and a copious 2300 litres with just the front seats in place, eclipsing the ultimate load capacities offered by the Audi Q7 (1990 litres) and Range Rover (2230 litres).

Mercedes-Benz’s V6 diesel engine may be getting on in years, but it provides the GLS350d with sprightly off-the-line acceleration, a satisfyingly flexible delivery and, in combination with a new nine-speed automatic gearbox, effortless cruising properties.  

With a new in-line six-cylinder oil-burner under development and planned for introduction in 2016, there has been no effort to extend the output of the decade-old 3.0-litre unit beyond that of the older GL 350 CDI. It also continues to generate the same amount of shove, with 457lb ft of torque available from as little as 1600rpm.

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In Comfort mode, the engine is terrifically refined. There is clearly a lot of soundproofing concentrated within the body structure to quell noise, but the muted qualities help to make the GLS terrifically relaxing to drive over longer distances.

Up the tempo by turning the rotary drive mode selector on the centre console to Sport and the engine becomes a little more audible but no less refined.  The new gearbox plays a part in improving overall performance and refinement levels by bringing two extra ratios, the tallest of which is a wildly overdriven 0.60:1.

Yet despite providing crisp and silken upshifts, it sometimes proves recalcitrant and less than smooth on downshifts. Traction is never in doubt owing to a standard 4Matic four-wheel drive system. Mercedes-Benz claims a 0-62mph time of 7.8sec. Given that it tips the scales at 2455kg, that’s pretty impressive. 

As is the combined cycle consumption, which is improved to a notable 37.2mpg, in the process lowering average CO2 emissions to 199g/km. With a standard 100-litre fuel tank, the theoretical range now extends to almost 900 miles. As before, the towing capacity is put at 3500kg.

The GLS delivers the same calm and reassuring dynamic qualities as the old GL. With ample spring travel and the latest iteration of Mercedes-Benz’s AirMatic air suspension, featuring improved adaptive damping control, it is composed and smooth riding, both around town and out on the open road.

Small bump absorption at low speeds is particularly impressive. It also resists float exceptionally well, remaining encouragingly stable over undulating roads. With an optional Active Curve System that employs hydraulic pumps on the roll bars, it also proves to be exceptionally fleet-footed for a car of such size, remaining uncannily flat and neutral during hard cornering.  

All this makes the new Mercedes-Benz an enjoyable drive in all weather conditions. It is easily placed on the road, offers fine visibility and its cabin is tremendously well isolated from uncompromising road surfaces. What the GLS lacks, though, is any real engagement and interaction.

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The steering is well weighted and loads up nicely as lateral forces build but fails to deliver the sort of communication and feedback of more sporting SUVs. Although, if you were expecting more interaction you’re likely better off focusing your attention more towards the GLE 350 d Coupé.

Should I buy one?

With a starting price of £69,100, the GLS 350 d is certainly not cheap. However, few SUVs manage to provide the same level of roominess and versatility or the ability to carry up to seven adults in such comfort.

It may not deliver the sort of uniqueness and upmarket cache as the £74,950 Range Rover TDV6 3.0, but it offers impressive performance and outstanding economy for such a large SUV. The various changes brought to the new model make it a more competitive proposition than the old GL, even though the mechanical fundamentals remain the same.  

Mercedes-Benz GLS 350 d

Location Austria; On sale March 2016; Price £69,100; Engine V6, 2987cc, diesel; Power 255bhp at 3400rpm; Torque 457lb ft at 1600-2400rpm; 0-62mph 7.8sec; Top speed 138mph; Gearbox 9-spd automatic; Kerb weight 2455kg; Economy 37.2mpg (combined); CO2 and tax band 199g/km, 37%

Join the debate

Add a comment…
nick644uk66 7 December 2015

2011 C class interior

Who wants to pay 70K plus for an interior based on one of the cheapest cars in the range from the previous C class model. Should have the current S class interior, especially the digital display and comfy seats. The new GLS in 2018/19is the one to go for. I love the current exterior design however and the interior space with the two rear seats. Boot space could be improved with all 7 seats up though, compared to the Volvo.
xxxx 7 December 2015


"The upper section, including the free-standing monitor" by free standing you mean blue-tacked on.
abkq 3 December 2015

Remember the R class? It didn

Remember the R class? It didn't sell, did it? If this GLS sells well, one can only assume that there are plenty of families of seven out there enjoying adventure weekends offroad ...