Hulking three-row SUVs are a product of America, a huge shiny mirror that reflects all of our excesses and immodesties. Several classic big utes—the Cadillac Escalade and the Lincoln Navigator among them—are, fittingly, produced by Detroit carmakers. But foreign companies have been studying the art of the luxury hauler, and the Mercedes-Benz GLS-class proves that those efforts are paying off. The 2019 Mercedes-Benz GLS-class is a stylish, spacious, and dynamically sound take on a family SUV. It may not have as much cargo space as a GMC Yukon XL, but there’s no denying the touch of glamour that a three-pointed star brings to a vehicle. The GLS-class feels much smaller than its size on the road; it’s surprisingly quick and nimble, and, unlike many others in the class, it isn’t onerous to park. Those are the qualities that helped the GLS claim another 10Best Trucks and SUVs award, and since it’s virtually unchanged for 2019, it remains at the top of the class. An all-new GLS-class will hit the market before the end of the year as a 2020 model.
What’s New for 2019?
The 2019 GLS-class receives a new limited-production Grand Edition model. Its interior upgrades include ambient lighting, leather dashboard, special wood trim, and premium Porcelain/Expresso Brown leather upholstery with stitched surfaces. The exterior adds unique badging, adaptive LED headlights, and either standard 20-inch wheels (GLS450) or 21-inchers (GLS550).
Pricing and Which One to Buy
- GLS450 4Matic: $71,145
- GLS550 4Matic: $96,745
The entry-level GLS450 should provide plenty of capability for most drivers, and it avoids the $25,600 premium that stepping up to the more powerful GLS550 incurs. The GLS450 comes standard with a rather barren interior that does not befit the model’s $71,145 base price, but careful additions can increase the GLS450’s luxury quotient without seriously inflating the price. Standard features include: an eight-speaker audio system with 8.0-inch display, heated front seats, and chrome and aluminum interior trim. Heated and cooled front cupholders are too good to pass up. Looking to stand out a bit more? Then you might be interested in the Appearance package, which adds illuminated running boards along with 20-inch wheels.
Engine, Transmission, Performance, and Towing
Likes: Standard all-wheel drive, two powerful and competent powertrains, engaging driving dynamics. Dislikes: Tows less than main rivals.
The base engine found in the GLS450 is a purring and muscular 362-hp twin-turbo 3.0-liter V-6, while a stout 449-hp twin-turbo 4.7-liter V-8 powers the GLS550. Both engines pair with standard all-wheel drive and a nine-speed automatic transmission, which is optimized for highway cruising. The nine-speed shifts smoothly and rarely stumbles, but the twin-turbo 3.0-liter V-6 is the real star—in our testing, it was as quick as the competition’s V-8s. While the GLS can tow up to 7500 pounds, that’s less than rivals such as the Escalade that can handle up to 8500 pounds.
Thanks in part to its standard air suspension, the GLS-class rides like the luxury cruiser it is. Bumps and pavement imperfections melt away in the standard Comfort setting; the available adaptive shocks stiffen the pillowy ride when Sport mode is selected. The GLS isn’t designed for hard cornering, so drivers will notice body roll when pushing it hard, but for everyday driving, it delivers the coddling ride we expect from a Mercedes. Steering is accurate and keeps this big ute tracking straight on the highway, but there’s almost no feedback from the road, and reaction to inputs is somewhat lazy. Stopping the GLS-class in its tracks is no mean feat, given that it tips the scales at more than 5300 pounds. When you first apply the pedal, there is sponginess to the feel of the pedal, but push through that and it feels firm and reassuring.
Safety and Driver-Assistance Features
The GLS-class has not been fully crash-tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Mercedes-Benz’s outstanding driver-assistance technology is available on all models, but most features are optional extras. Even blind-spot monitoring, which is finding its way into much more affordable vehicles as a standard feature, is optional in the base GLS. Key safety features include:
- Available forward-collision warning and automated emergency braking
- Available lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist
- Available self-parking assist
Interior, Infotainment, and Cargo
Likes: Cushy cockpit, myriad luxury options, more third-row legroom than main rivals. Dislikes: Not quite as flashy as an S-class, desirable features cost extra, limited luggage capacity behind third row.
Certain interior features that should be standard at this price point are extra-cost options, such as leather seats, a power-adjustable front-passenger’s seat, ventilated seats, and three-zone climate control. Others, including heated and cooled front cupholders, are welcome extras that add innovative touches to the cabin. The first- and second-row seats are very comfortable, and even the third row is roomy enough for adults. Power-folding second-row seats are optional and make access to the third row easy.
Don’t let the 12-button number pad fool you: The GLS-class can be outfitted with the latest version of Mercedes’ COMAND infotainment system. It’s mostly a successful application, although the touchpad can impede access to the rotary dial. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are available but cost extra. All Mercedes owners have remote access to their vehicles via a smartphone app, which can remotely start a paired vehicle and either begin heating or cooling the cabin.
Easy cargo loading and a wealth of space in an elegant package make the GLS-class an excellent choice for those who want to transport their cargo in style. However, if maximum storage capacity in a luxury cruiser is a high priority for you, there are other SUVs that can carry even more. Depending on which seats are deployed, the GLS’s cargo area is either cavernous or cramped. With all three rows in use, we could only squeeze three carry-on bags into the luggage compartment. With the second and third rows folded, we stuffed 34 carry-ons behind the front seats.