Mercedes GLS 350d review, test drive
11th May 2016 11:35 am
Mercedes-Benz’s largest SUV gets a new name, mildly revised styling, more features and a new nine-speed gearbox. But how different is it?
What is it?
The GLS name may be new, but this is essentially the facelifted version of the GL – Mercedes-Benz’s full- sized, seven-seat SUV. The new name is in line with Mercedes’ latest naming system for its SUVs. And you don’t have to look hard to tell that the styling, at least at the front, is also in keeping with the newer lot of Mercs with more curves and contours than before. Most notably, there’s a more rounded grille (replete with twin slats) as well as a gentler sweep to the now full LED (and adaptive) headlamps. A more stylized front bumper and shapely bonnet are other elements new to the GLS. Elsewhere, it’s the full LED tail-lamps and reprofiled rear bumper that distinguish the GLS from its predecessor. Small as the changes are, they do help wind back the clock on the big Merc.
And it is big. Over five metres long, the GLS is among the largest SUVs on sale in India. In fact, it’s longer, taller and wider than something like an Audi Q7 and this gives the GLS serious road presence.
What’s it like on the inside?
In a word, huge. The GLS’ large exterior translates into a massive cabin with genuine space for seven occupants. You can’t move the middle-row seats fore and aft as you can on other full size SUVs but even then, there’s lots of space to stretch out. The middle seats are also well bolstered and offer manual adjust for the backrest angle as well. There’s also plenty of head, shoulder and knee room in the rear-most row – the reasonably comfy seating position makes this section of the cabin perfectly habitable for two medium-sized adults for short stints. However, access to this area isn’t the most convenient and actually speaking, even those sitting in the first two rows will have to make full use of the footboard in the trek up to the high-set cabin. The front seats are comfy as before and the view out remains commanding as ever.
Mercedes has also tried to bring the GLS’ cabin up to speed, though it must be said, you don’t get the same sense of modernity as you would inside the latest Q7 or Volvo XC90. Quality levels are good as before, but again the newer crop of SUVs have taken things to the next level.
There’s a sportier three-spoke steering, the instruments get a more detailed digital info display and the top portion of the centre console has also been revised. An 8-inch screen takes pride of place on the dash now but like the other new Mercs, the display seems tacked on to the fascia rather than being an integral part of it. Still, the display does show everything in high-res clarity and what the GLS also gets is Merc’s latest COMAND Online infotainment system. The system lets you browse websites, tune into internet radio and use preset apps by connecting via a synced phone’s 3G/4G network. And there’s Apple CarPlay too. The infotainment system’s interface is slick and you can even enter inputs via a touchpad. A few more shortcuts would have helped ease of use though.
The centre screen is also the display for the GLS’ immensely useful 360-degree camera. Mercedes has also added three-colour and five-stage adjustable ambient lighting to the package. A panoramic sunroof, electric fold for the third row seats and cooled/heated cupholders are some of the other features onboard. Oh, and the GLS also gets a dial for Dynamic Select that lets you choose between five driving modes – Comfort, Sport, Slippery, Off-Road and Individual – each with its own powertrain, steering and suspension setup.
What’s it like to drive?
The GLS will be available in 350 d guise which means it comes with Merc’s lovely 3.0-litre, V6 diesel engine. Power and torque figures (258hp and 620Nm) remain unchanged from before, but the engine now comes mated to Mercedes’ new nine-speed 9G-Tronic gearbox in place of the GL’s older 7G-Tronic unit. The shorter initial ratios have helped improve performance by a bit. The GLS’ 8.2 second 0-100kph time makes it 0.7 seconds quicker than the GL to the ton. It’s also quicker than the older version in kickdown acceleration from 20-80kph and 40-100kph. But if you get into the numbers, you’ll find a Q7 is faster just about everywhere.
Not that you’ll ever feel a lack of power. There’s strong pulling power at all speeds and performance is impressive for what is a 2.4-tonne SUV. You always have the option to switch to Sport mode or set the engine to Sport in the ‘Individual’ driving mode to get the most of the engine. Wish the gearbox allowed more aggressive manual downshifts via the paddles though. Anyway, quick as the GLS can be, it actually feels at its best when you adopt a relaxed driving style, especially with the engine-gearbox set to Comfort. The electronics keep the transmission in the highest possible ratio and correspondingly, engine at the lowest revs. What this equates to is minimal engine noise and a relaxing driving experience.
The GLS also rides reasonably well. The stock 20-inch tyres make light work of big potholes and the suspension goes about its business quietly. But there’s no getting around the air suspension’s firmness at low speeds. You can feel surface imperfections more than you would even in Merc’s smaller GLE. Comfort does work well for city use but at faster speeds you’d find the GLS far better tied down with the suspension in Sport mode. Sport also adds a bit more weight to the steering, but don’t expect the hulking GLS to change character at the touch of a button, or more aptly, the turn of the Dynamic Select dial. It’s a big, huge SUV that wants to be driven like a big, huge SUV. If you want a sharp handling seven- seater, this ain’t it. For average driving in town, you’d be happy enough in Comfort mode where the steering too is light and surprisingly easy to twirl.
Slippery mode primes the electronics and other systems for scenarios such as ice while Off-road raises the ride height. There’s hill descent control too.
Should I buy one?
If you are in the market for a full-size luxury SUV with seating for seven, the GLS, that costs Rs 80.38 lakh (ex-showroom, Pune) is sure to be on your list of probables. It does, after all, offer all that you’d want. It’s got presence, it’s got a massive cabin, it’s got plenty of features and it’s even got a strong diesel engine. Unfortunately, at the same time, there’s no escaping that the GLS is a facelift of a four-year-old SUV. Rivals like the Audi Q7 and Volvo XC90 feel half a generation ahead and this, we feel, is something that will play against the new GLS. But if you must have a seven-seat SUV with the three-pointed star on the grille, the GLS will give you more than enough to be happy about.