Ride quality from the GLS 450’s standard AIRMATIC four corner air suspension is sublime.
Despite numerous entries in the flagship luxury sedan segment, Mercedes-Benz’s S-Class has remained deserving of its pedestal, throughout the years. However, current buying habits have the market shifting in favour of crossovers, which means every manufacturer needs to put their investment dollars into these behemoths of varying sizes. The GLS-Class, the flagship of Mercedes-Benz’s crossover lineup, has been completely redesigned for the 2020 model year. It’s available in a few configurations, but to get a taste of what many buyers will experience, we borrowed a 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS 450 4MATIC for a week’s worth of testing.
The new GLS is a bit too conservative-looking, which is seemingly a trend in the European luxury segment. Save for the Range Rover (reviewed here), all large SUVs are becoming more and more bland and similar. The GLS is fairly handsome from most angles, but the rear profile is a bit awkward. While a current S-Class still has supreme presence on the roads of Toronto, the GLS 450, even with these 21-inch wheels on meaty 315-width tires, just kind of blends into the plethora of premium crossovers at Yonge and Eglinton on any given weekday.
Sitting at the entry point into the GLS lineup, the “450” badge signifies a very interesting powertrain. Lying under the hood is a 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine, one that’s turbocharged and paired to a mild hybrid system. Also seen in vehicles bearing the “53” badge with some soft tuning from AMG, this combination pushes 362 horsepower and 369 lb-ft. of torque. The engine pulls with decent force, and the six-second sprint to 100km/h is remarkably good for a 5,600-pound full-sized SUV.
The keen will observe that the numbers put the GLS 450 right in line with BMW’s X7 xDrive40i (reviewed here), which is an extremely close competitor that’s also powered by a straight-six. Both of these new faces offer decent performance, but where the BMW focuses on being at least a little bit sporty, the Mercedes goes in the direction of smoothness and manages to deliver one of the most serene drives on the road today. This is definitely the S-Class of the SUV world, as cliché and expected as that statement may be. It’s not as thirsty as you’d think either – we averaged 12.6L/100km in combined driving over about 600km traveled.
Ride quality from the GLS 450’s standard AIRMATIC four corner air suspension is sublime, without any awkward slop to it. The system is constantly analyzing movements, driving style and road conditions to ensure it remains as responsive as possible, and the active damping is extremely well sorted. While the previous GLS was soft to a point of causing queasiness in some occupants, this one is cushier and more sofa-like than the X7 without any compromise. A switch on the dashboard can toggle ride height if the system needs to be overridden. The Dynamic Select system adjusts the engine, transmission, and air suspension for the desired environment.
Another area in which the GLS 450 handily trumps the X7 is in quietness. While the BMW’s engine makes its direct injection heard, the GLS operates in complete silence. In fact, on my first drive with it, I had to triple-check that the engine was on before setting off, as it was completely inaudible even with the window down. At idle, a quick tap of the gas to raise the RPMs on the tachometer is the only real way to hear that there’s an engine operating ahead of the cabin. At speed, it’s equally quiet and the sound deadening is sensational. Acceleration is met with the smooth and rewarding sound of a straight-six, but even in Sport modes, it’s not enough for the cabin to be considered anything short of silent.
Mercedes-Benz’s current crop of vehicles, regardless of price point, is winning the interior game across the market. Whether it’s the CLA 250 or this top-dog GLS, cabin materials are some of the best available today. The gorgeous open-pore wood on the dashboard matches well with the upscale leather, and the interior is designed thoughtfully with both form and function in mind. The seats are very comfortable, with adjustable seat kinetics, and while the third row is fairly tight, it’s usable for kids. Occupants in the front two rows will remain and coddled thanks to an increase in the wheelbase, though the lack of massaging seats at this price point is disappointing.
Infotainment is controlled using the latest version of MBUX, a new halo product that’s rapidly making its way across Mercedes-Benz’s model line. The system has a nifty voice assistant that wakes up with the command “Hey Mercedes” and can perform a multitude of tasks. There are also two large screens, with the central infotainment one being a touchscreen that’s quick to respond and great to look at. An ongoing concern with MBUX is its lack of user-friendliness, requiring too many inputs to perform simple tasks, causing drivers to take their attention off the road more than necessary.
The GLS 450 is $93,500 to start, but we wish you all the best in finding one priced anywhere close to that. Most vehicles sitting in dealer inventory will be ordered with the Premium Package at $5,100 which adds soft-close doors, four-zone climate control, Burmester audio, ventilated front seats, and a 360-degree camera. Our test vehicle was also equipped with a $2,400 Sport Package and a $3,000 Intelligent Drive Package, the latter of which is just about mandatory for anyone wanting to get the most out of their flagship Mercedes. Add another $1,990 for textured black leather and we get our as-tested price of $105,990. Comparing apples to apples, the loaded GLS 450 comes in about $6,000 cheaper than the last six-cylinder X7 we tested.
Whether in a vacuum or contextually within its segment, the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS 450 4MATIC is an absolute gem. As buyers in this class are often just brand loyalists or want the “latest and greatest”, it actually is a shame that the new GLS won’t be as appreciated by the typical buying demographic as it is by those who really value driving dynamics. The price point and size puts it right against the wide-mouthed BMW X7 and a smidge below the Range Rover, and its incredible body control surpasses all rivals with ease. Regardless of whether or not buyers will care, this new flagship from the Germans is a clear winner.