2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS India review, test drive

    Mercedes’ latest flagship SUV aims to blend S-class prestige with 7-seat practicality.

    Published on Jul 03, 2020 07:19:00 PM


    Model : GLS
    We Like
    • Space
    • Refinement
    • Road Presence
    We Don't Like
    • Ride can get unsettled
    • Size in city confines
    • Third row space

    What is it? 

    When they rebranded the previous gen ‘X166’ GL-class to be called the GLS halfway through its life cycle, the idea was to cement its place in the range as the ‘S-class of SUVs’. However, as it was just a facelift based on older architecture, it wasn’t quite up to the task. However, with the new ‘X167’ GLS’s, there’s a greater chance of the big SUV reaching the limousine’s high bar. That’s because this one was designed from the get-go to be more of a luxury item and a closer relation to its sedan counterpart. Just how does it achieve that, though? Read on.


    The GLS isn’t just big, it is a mountain of an SUV. It’s a full 77mm longer than the old car, 60mm of which has gone into the wheelbase, and it’s 22mm wider as well. At full off-road height on its air suspension, the top of the bonnet lines up with my chest. 21-inch wheels look just the right size, not comically large as they might have a few generations ago, and their attractive five-spoke design is a marked improvement on Merc’s typically meek wheel choices. Moreover, there are the tyres – the 275-section set at the front are wide, but at the rear you’ll find a pair of 315/40 R21s, which are the kind of numbers you’d have previously only read on a Lamborghini’s tyres. It adds tremendously to the road presence.

    Massive 21-inch, 315-section rear tyres only add to its tank-like presence.
    Its girth alone makes it easily identifiable as a GLS, but this is an altogether softer and rounder take on the formula. No more sharp creases defining the flanks, this one is all curves. The headlamps are a lot smaller, the tail-lamps slimmer – each with Mercedes’ new LED signature. Incidentally, those adaptive LED headlamps are equipped with something called ‘Ultra Range High Beam’, which we’re told, is capable of lighting up the road 650 metres ahead. Another Merc SUV signature is the impractical, but incredibly blingy chrome skid plates at the front and rear, and there’s plenty more of the shiny stuff – on the tailgate, the bumpers and the window surrounds. 


    What is the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS interior like? 

    There are a lot of seven-seat SUVs on the market, but the GLS has always been one of a precious few in which an adult would willingly venture into the third row for a long journey. The middle row power folds (rather slowly) to let you through, and thereafter, it’s a pretty easy clamber into the third row. But, as the seat in front of me whirrs back into place, it starts to foul with my knees, which is unusual, as I distinctly remember the previous version’s third row being more spacious, with its own dedicated glass roof, which is now missing. But, that’s not to say you aren’t well catered to back here, because you are – with dedicated cupholders, two of this car’s 11 USB charging ports (Type-C, however, so carry your adapter) and even its own climate zone. The seats themselves are really well cushioned and positioned so that you’re not folded up like a deck chair in storage.

    Dash resembles a high-end home entertainment unit with its big screens and Burmester speakers. Quality is hard to fault.

    The reason for this lack of room is, in its bid to be more like an S-class, the new GLS has sacrificed third row space to offer even more in the middle row, including 100mm of powered fore-and-aft sliding, and right now, it’s set all the way back to full limousine mode. To accommodate seven, you will have to give up some legroom in the second row, but far from the point of being uncomfortable. It’s a compromise that makes sense, as most customers will only rarely use their GLS as a 7-seater, and for most of the time, a limo-like middle row for one passenger is what’s more important. The seat back also reclines by 30 degrees, but at full tilt, it’s not quite the lounge-like experience you’ll find in an S-class. The seats themselves, too, are a touch firmer than you’ll find in the limo, and you do sit a little knees-up because of the way the seat base is reclined. 

    Seat slides by 100mm for superb legroom; eats into third row though.

    Still, once you’re snugly in place, you’ll have little reason to complain. The pillows on the headrests return, and if you need a truly absurd amount of legroom, the front passenger seat can be sent forward from behind. Yes, the middle row is a bench so you could get a third passenger in here, but they’ll have to put their feet astride the extended centre console between the front seats. In full limo mode, you’ll want to flip down the centre armrest, which reveals cupholders, a wireless charging pad and a removable tablet controller. You could use this as a regular Android tablet, but it’s also a controller for things like the 64-colour ambient lighting, climate control, media and radio. But, as I fiddle around with it, I realise that’s about it – it won’t let you view or operate the navigation, adjust the seats or open the sun blinds or panoramic sunroof. You will probably get a bit more stuff to play with if you add on the optional rear entertainment screens. 

    Not as spacious as before and middle row needs to be moved ahead.

    If you are travelling with seven aboard, there’s a chance you’ll need place for their luggage, and with 355 litres of space with all seats up, a weekend’s worth of bags is no problem at all. There’s one button in the boot that lowers the air suspension for easier loading, and another that can power-fold the third and second rows to liberate an incredible 2,400 litres!

    What equipment and features will you find in the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS?

    So, the middle row clearly is the highlight of this SUV, but I’m told the new GLS has a lot of love for those sat up front too, and that’s before you even turn a wheel. The lounge seats may be in the back, but the home entertainment system is up front – I step in to be greeted by a tall, wide dashboard with a seamless glass panel housing two high-resolution 12.3-inch screens docked into it. These are, of course, the touchscreen infotainment system and the instrumentation screen, but the way it’s all put together really does look like the classy but high-tech unit that houses the 4K flatscreen in your den. It’s got the hi-fi to match, too, with a 13-speaker Burmester sound system, making itself known with its signature chrome speaker grilles peppered around the cabin. 

    Pano sunroof is welcome as ever, but no third-row glass like the old GLS.

    All of this is wrapped together in what we’ve now come to expect from Mercedes – expensive-feeling Artico faux leather, high-gloss wood grain and cool brushed metal switchgear. You don’t have to have this cream coloured upholstery if you think it’ll get too dirty too quickly – black and coffee brown are also available. The four circular AC vents in the centre of the dash have morphed into rectangular shapes for this rugged SUV, just as in the smaller GLE. In fact, apart from the use of polished rather than matte wood trim, the whole front cabin is identical to the GLE. 

    Digital instrument panel is wildly customisable; Touchscreen looks amazing and functions brilliantly.

    The list of gadgets and gizmos is comprehensive, and it all revolves around MBUX – the brand’s latest infotainment system, which is rather excellent. The touchscreen is beautiful to behold, crisp and fluid to use, and in case you don’t want to be distracted by using it on the move, there’s a touchpad between the seats and very intuitive controls on the steering wheel. It’s no surprise in this day and age that the GLS is a connected car with an onboard e-Sim, and that it has a partner app that lets you keep tabs on the car, start and pre-cool it, and even operate the windows and sunroof remotely. But the connectivity goes a bit further, with the AI-guided voice assistant that responds to ‘Hey Mercedes’, and then taps into the cloud to deliver a far wider range of responses and results than you expect. There are even cool features like seats that can guess your driving position based on just your height, and cabin lights that activate via motion sensors. After all this, the 360-degree cameras, 9 airbags and auto parking assistant feel a bit ordinary. But again, all of this is available in the GLE too, and perhaps heated and ventilated seats – front and rear – would have set the GLS apart as the more luxurious one.

    Rear tablet controller cool but surprisingly basic.

    What is the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS like to drive?

    Unlike the GLE, you won’t find a four-cylinder engine under the hood of the big GLS, but the two six-cylinder options are common to the two models. The 450 is a 3.0-litre straight-six turbo-petrol which makes 367hp and 500Nm, that’s paired to a 48v mild-hybrid system that adds another 22hp and 250Nm of electric boost under hard acceleration, while the 400d uses a 3.0-litre straight-six turbo-diesel with 330hp and 700Nm.  

    The 48V hybrid system on the petrol GLS 450 adds 22hp and 250Nm of e-boost under hard acceleration.

    As I prod the starter button in the 400d, the diesel engine fires up with a light murmur and then… it’s all but gone. I have to check the tachometer to make sure it’s actually turning over. The refinement is just incredible! It’s the new-generation OM656 diesel engine that we’ve also seen in the S 350d and G 350d, but as the name suggests, this 400d is more powerful, so at the first sign of an open road, my first instinct is to floor it. The explosive acceleration I expected doesn’t come. Instead what you get is, first a bit of hesitation as the 9-speed automatic shifts down to the right gear, and then a nice long-legged surge of torque with no let-up, and a muted straight-six growl to boot. That’s just as well for this luxurious, 2.5-tonne diesel behemoth. A quick glance down to the speedo reveals we’ve quietly slipped well into the triple digits, and a hard slam on the brakes tells me that perhaps they can feel a bit overwhelmed by all that speed and weight combined. 

    Though it disguises it well, the pace is all there, with 0-100kph coming up in a scant 7.48 seconds according to our testing gear – incredible considering the mass at work! The 20-80kph and 40-100kph times of 4.75sec and 6.22sec respectively are also impressive, but I feel they could’ve been better still if the gearbox was a little quicker to react.

    2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS acceleration figures
    GLS 450GLS 400d
    20-80kph (in kickdown)4.35s4.75s
    40-100kph (in kickdown)5.33s6.22s

    If the diesel version is refined, the 450 petrol is silent as a tomb. Pressing the start button and leaving it at idle doesn’t make a sound, and even on the move you can barely tell it’s switched on, until you extend it past about 3,000rpm, and what you get then is a sound that’s more pleasing than the one in the diesel. And if you thought the diesel was quick – this one’s even quicker. The e-boost from the mild hybrid system is really well calibrated, engaging and disengaging imperceptibly, masking any semblance of turbo lag and allowing you to launch the big SUV to 100kph in just 7.15sec. There’s no interruption in the flow of power, and it will pull quite strongly until it’s time for the next gear. Mind you, this version of the 9-speed auto can also get caught out easily by a sudden kick-down on the accelerator. You won’t miss the lack of a Sport mode in the 400d, but in this petrol version you just might. It is certainly the sprightlier and more exciting powertrain of the two.

    On a big motorway, the GLS excels, being unassumingly quick, quiet, relaxed and fairly stable. It doesn’t feel completely tied down and the laws of physics make me acutely aware of this car’s height and weight. As I turn off towards smaller, rural roads, carefully plotting it through my first toll booth, I’m a little concerned. At first, I’m constantly aware of its size, but the easy steering soon gives me the confidence to steer the big SUV through traffic. If you live in a city like Mumbai where space of any sort is at a premium, however, you will have to be prepared for how big the GLS is. You’ll need a bigger than average parking spot that’s easy to drive into, not venture onto streets that are too narrow, and keep an eye out for other vehicles that are all now smaller than yours. And even though U-turns don’t feel too difficult thanks to the light steering, they will require a lot of space because of the 12.52m turning circle diameter.  

    It rides flat and true on a smooth highway, but can get unsettled over bumps.

    As the monsoon’s finest potholes get bigger and sharper, those big wheels and tyres do make themselves felt, and the car does rock around quite a bit on its soft air suspension. As things smoothen out and the roads improve, so does the ride, with that typically plush feeling you get from air springs forming a giant cushion under the car.

    It’s no surprise that this 2.5-tonne, 5.2m-long SUV is not one for fast cornering.

    Hard cornering? In such a big SUV, why bother? As you’d expect, it rolls a lot and there’s simply too much mass to move around at speed; it’s much more enjoyable at a less frantic pace. Interestingly, like in the GLE, they’ve removed the ‘Sport’ mode altogether, so while the suspension can be raised for off-roading, it doesn’t lower or firm up when you want to drive quickly. Overseas, you do get active anti-roll bars as part of the e-Active Body Control package, which greatly improves things, but that’s not on offer in India. The steering actually surprises with a good amount of feedback and weight at speed, but it’s best to enjoy that at a slower pace. 

    Should you buy a 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS?

    Okay so perhaps the GLS isn’t quite as luxurious as an S-class limousine, but then how could it be? The simple fact is the sheer size and practicality requirements of an SUV – huge mass, big wheels, tall ride height, folding seats – make it harder to excel as a luxury car. But then, and at Rs 99.90 lakh (ex-showroom), it also costs about Rs 38 lakh less than the S-class. Perhaps then it’s best to call it what it is – the flagship Mercedes-Benz SUV, as this is a role it plays to the T. It’s got the look and the road presence, which is half the battle won here in India, and there is a remarkable amount of room to stretch out; perfect for the chauffeur driven. It’s equipped with a pair of strong engines and an all-conquering, go-anywhere ability, and with proper, comfortable room for seven, your family will want to make trips to the farmhouse every weekend. If you want one Mercedes that can do it all, the GLS is it.


    Also see:

    2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS video review

    Tech Specs

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