Tuesday, November 28, 2023
First Reviews 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS First Drive Review: A Very Well-Off Family Hauler

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS First Drive Review: A Very Well-Off Family Hauler

We got the chance to take the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS on some of Utah’s most picturesque roads and ever-changing terrain. Here’s our take on this grand and stylish people transporter.

Salt Lake City, UT – Supreme. Sport. Swanky. Sumptuous. Superfastandsexy (I made that one up), anything S at Mercedes-Benz is awesome. Unsurprisingly, the manufacturer is putting a lot of effort to remind us that S rhymes with “nothing but the best”, and that the GLS is the S-Class of SUVs.

In its segment, the Mercedes-Benz GLS is hardly superable. It means to provide discerning drivers and families solutions to a growing list of needs and demands that go beyond transportation. Sitting in the same segment as the BMW X7, Cadillac Escalade and the Infiniti QX80, it rivals other upper-class suburb bosses that try to pair it all in a rich and palatial package.

In Canada, the GLS is offered in two models: the GLS 450 4MATIC and the GLS 580 4MATIC. The first one being powered by an inline turbo six, while the second one gets its – generous – motivation from a twin-turbo V8. The kicker: both engines get 48-volt mild hybrid technology called EQ Boost, providing more power torque on demand when needed – but only over short periods of time.

The V6 under the hood of the GLS 450 4MATIC gets 362 horsepower (plus 21 horses with the electrical boost) and 369 lb-ft of torque (plus an extra 184 lb-ft of torque).

The 4.0-Liter V8 in the GLS 580 4MATIC gets 483 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque from the piston action alone. Throw in the EQ Boost and get a transient-but-whopping 504 horsepower and 700 lb-ft of torque.

Both herds are shepherded by the same gearbox, a nine-speed 9G-TRONIC automatic transmission, which expedites to the standard 4MATIC all-wheel drive system.

Trick suspension and chassis

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS | Photo: Louis-Philippe Dube

On the chassis side, engineers went all out on the GLS, giving it a better standard AIRMATIC pneumatic suspension on both variants. But the optional E-Active Body Control is where things get stellar – and even a little weird in some instances.  This feature includes a camera that scans the road ahead and pre-loads the suspension to compensate for any imperfections and dips.  It also has a CURVE mode, which elevates the sinuous road experience up a few notches – we’ll talk about that later.

The weird part is the rocking mode and individual wheel actuation. In rocking mode (only available in the Off-Road drive mode) the GLS can get itself out of a sand dune thanks to a fast raising and lowering movement of the suspension level, kind of like one of those “lowriders” at car shows, only classier and with a purpose. The Individual wheel actuation can adjust the ride height at each wheel individually via the touchscreen, again, just like a lowrider – but with surgical precision.

A cabin filled with plush comforts and intriguing gizmos

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS | Photo: Louis-Philippe Dube

Entering the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS is an immersion of subtle luxury, overwhelming technology and overall clean German feel. Horizontally laid out, the dashboard is ergonomic, easy to use, with an upper section dominated by the MBUX’s intuitive touchscreen. This system provides anything from simple and usual necessities such as media and navigation, all the way to changing the cabin scent or requesting help to physically get into a carwash using the “carwash mode”.

Use the commands on the screen, tactile pad in center console or steering wheel to scroll through the functions. If the road requires your full attention – or you’re feeling a bit lazy -, just say “Hey Mercedes” followed by your demand and let the MBUX system execute your wishes.

Physically, the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS gets almost 80 mm more in terms of passenger room. In the cabin, all seats get their own personal climate system with available 3rd-row heated seats. There’s also a bidirectional communication system with the 3rd row, helping the driver or front passenger sort out disputes like which spoiled child gets the last USB port back there.

To haul all family-related cargo, 355 liters are available behind this 3rd row. But you can push the “ALL” button to fold all seats and get a total of 2400 Liters of space.

On the road

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS | Photo: Louis-Philippe Dube

Acceleration-wise, the GLS 450 4MATIC offers adequate power, but it’s little timid if you’re looking for more than day to day driving. On the flipside, the GLS 580 grants sheer riveting power. Plunge the accelerator pedal and let the GLS propel you into orbit.

The standard air suspension offers a relatively smooth and agile ride for a big SUV of this kind, but the real “no compromise” deal comes with the optional E-Active Body Control. Instead of managing bumps by reaction, the E-Active Body Control anticipates and plans to avoid disturbing occupants. For a more spirited experience, the CURVE mode that comes with it lets you literally carve into the roads’ curves, kind of like when you’re skiing and letting your whole body dig into the slope. It is very fun for the driver, but a little bit unusual for the passenger.

It’s a North American fact, if you’re buying an SUV with a price tag that roams around 6 digits, you demand advanced off-road capabilities, even if you will never EVER use them. It’s just the way it is.

And the 2020 GLS off-road mode comes with all kinds of it. The luxurious and stylish truck proved itself surprisingly agile on the off-road course Mercedes-Benz had chosen for us, which was carved by nature and ATVs and filled with large rocks (boulders in some instances), knee-deep water ponds and daunting inclinations. The MBUX even includes an off-road scoring mode, designed to judge you and attribute points according to your performance while you navigate the trail.


2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS | Photo: Louis-Philippe Dube

The rocking mode might only serve to get you out of a sand trap at the country club golf course after a one-time, shameful mishap. Maybe the massaging and air freshener functions will stay idle for the entirety of your GLS’s useful life. What remains, however, is that the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS needs to offer it all, without any compromise, because it sits in the top part of a select club of big luxury SUVs who end up in the hands of an ever-demanding class of drivers. And this one does it beautifully.

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS Photo Gallery

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS | Photo: Louis-Philippe Dube

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS | Photo: Louis-Philippe Dube

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS | Photo: Louis-Philippe Dube

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Louis-Philippe Dubé
Louis-Philippe Dubé has been contributing at MotorIllustrated.com for over a year, and for the NetMedia360 network for nearly three years now. His passion for everything automotive comes from a career as a mechanic, but also from the family vehicle collection that includes a 996 Porsche Turbo and a 2004 Ford GT. We've been bugging him to drive the GT, but he hasn't responded. Send L-P an email


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