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2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS
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Mercedes is calling the GLS the S-Class of SUVs. Its engineers wanted to capture the S-Class’ ethos, combining luxury, technology, and design in a quiet, comfortable and refined package. With the GLS’ new all-wheel-drive system and off-road package, it’s all of that in a go-anywhere package. The Alabama-built GLS debuted just over a decade ago as the GL-Class, sitting atop the ever-growing Mercedes-Benz SUV lineup. Mercedes had already nailed the GLS’ basic formula over two generations, so the automaker focused on refining it further with two new, more powerful, and more efficient engines. A new all-wheel-drive system draws some influence from the tried-and-true G-Wagen. It’s also loaded with the latest driver assistance features and the trick E-Active Body Control air suspension that debuted on last year’s GLE-Class. The interior design itself hews closely to the current Mercedes corporate look, in particular, the new GLE class – handsome, clean and typically German, though the ultra-wide instrument cluster/infotainment screen isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea. The materials are both pretty to look at and a pleasure to touch, with leather, wood, and metal covering nearly every surface save for the headliner. Even the shifter and turn signal stocks have received some attention, so it doesn’t look like a parts-bin special inside. But more importantly, the highly adjustable seats with optional massage functions keep bodies from becoming too fatigued after hundreds of miles between stops. If you’ve been in any recent Mercedes product, it will all be immediately familiar, but no less impressive for it. Mercedes new MBUX infotainment system is a huge improvement over the previous system, so we’re glad it’s making its way into more and more models. The interface is cleaner than before, and we like that there are several ways to interact with the system: a new center console touchpad, as well as a voice command. In our experience, the voice commands work better than BMW’s. The augmented reality navigation directions are particularly impressive. It debuted with MBUX in the new 2019 Mercedes-Benz A-Class. It overlays addresses and arrows over what the camera is showing in the center screen. It helps show exactly where you’re at as opposed to a small arrow on a map. That said, the infotainment as a whole isn’t quite as handsome or straightforward as what you find in recent BMW and Audi products. The controls on the steering wheel are small, and the multitude of buttons means you have to take your eyes off the road for simple tasks, like setting the adaptive cruise control or switching menus in the digital instrument cluster. The GLS has two new (and rather complex) engines, a 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-six making 362 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque and a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 making 483 horsepower and 518 pound-feet of torque. Both are paired with a 48-volt mild-hybrid system Mercedes calls EQ Boost, increasing fuel efficiency and performance. Both systems work the same way. A small electric motor is placed between the engine and transmission and performs a variety of tasks, from smoothing out shifts to mitigating turbo lag by supplying a bit of low-end power while exhaust gasses spool the turbos. It even powers the accessories, meaning these engines are beltless. That makes them more compact, but it also means there’s less parasitic loss from accessories such as the A/C compressor. This is the first time the system is available with a V8 engine, but expect the powertrain to expand to much of Mercedes’ lineup over the next few years. All GLS models send power to all four wheels through a nine-speed automatic transmission. It’s smooth and unobtrusive like any good automatic should be, and it’s right there with ZF’s seemingly ubiquitous 8HP 8-speed automatic in terms of refinement. The new four-wheel-drive system is far more noteworthy. The old GLS’ system had a fixed 50:50 front-to-rear torque split, but the new model is fully variable, sending 100-percent of the power to the rear wheels in most situations and up to 50-percent of the power to the front when needed. It should help improve traction in all situations, but on loose surfaces like sand, gravel or dirt, it’s pretty damn easy to induce oversteer to help the rear of the 17-foot-long SUV rotate like a vehicle half its size. It’s amazing just how nimble the GLS feels, especially off road or on tight switchbacks. The turning radius is extremely tight, making it feel and drive like a much shorter and narrower vehicle. While no GLS owner is actually going to be doing any serious off-roading, the GLS is plenty capable, especially with the new off-road package. The package includes a real, legitimate low range for better crawling and an enhanced Off-Road+ mode that adjusts things like throttle response, suspension and transmission tuning. The GLS also includes hill-descent control and adjustable ride height. All told, the GLS is similar to the Range Rover in that it’s far more capable than it really needs to be. The new engines and four-wheel-drive system are great, but the single most impressive thing about the 2020 GLS is the ride. The standard air suspension offers a smooth and isolating ride for such a big SUV, but the optional E-Active Body Control is something really special. It’s a complicated system (if you haven’t gathered it by now, most of what makes the GLS good is complicated), but the basic premise is that a camera reads the road ahead and pre-loads the suspension for any imperfections. Unlike some reactive systems, this knows what’s coming up ahead, smoothing out imperfections and potholes like they aren’t even there. We expected it to work well on the pavement, but the way it seemingly flattens out a dirt road is truly transformative. While it’s mainly responsible for improving ride, E-Active Body Control can help you get unstuck in mud or sand. It looks a bit goofy bouncing up and down like an Impala in a ’90s music video, but it works.