In the realm of full-size luxury SUVs, the Mercedes-Benz GL-Class has always stood apart. Introduced for 2002 and with the second generation debuting for the 2013 model year, the GL – which has been given a mid-cycle refresh and renamed GLS for 2017 – is the sole German entry in the segment. Audi’s Q7 is probably the nearest European rival, but it’s officially classed as a mid-size vehicle and doesn’t offer the third-row comfort of the big Benz. BMW’s X5 and Porsche’s Cayenne? Not even close.
No, if you want a competing luxury SUV that offers space on par with its opulence, you need to look to the Japanese (Infiniti QX80 and Lexus LX570), the Americans (Cadillac Escalade and Lincoln Navigator), or the British (Land Rover Range Rover).
The name change from GL to GLS reflects a simplification of Mercedes-Benz’s SUV naming convention, which now echo the company’s car-naming convention except with “GL” added on. So, the GLK becomes the GLC (being the SUV equivalent to the C-Class sedan), the ML-Class becomes the GLE (being equivalent to the E-Class) and the GL becomes the GLS (being equivalent to the range-topping S-Class sedan). Don’t mind the G-Class, which is imposing enough that it doesn’t need any extra letters.
The GLS’s refresh for 2017 encompasses a number of changes including styling updates, an updated interior, a new transmission, retuned ride dynamics, and new tech features.
The exterior styling updates include a good-looking new grille, new front fascia, new LED headlights, and revised taillights. Inside, there’s a redesigned dashboard, a handsome new three-spoke steering wheel, a bigger infotainment screen, and a new infotainment touchpad controller. Overall the changes are quite subtle, but then why mess with success?
The new 9G-Tronic transmission, as the name implies, now has nine speeds instead of seven, with shorter ratios in the first seven gears (giving improved responsiveness) and taller ratios in the top two gears (giving improved highway efficiency). On the road, I found it to be well-matched to the GLS 450’s 3.0L V6 bi-turbo gasoline-powered engine. In manual shift mode, the transmission features rev-matched downshifts and lightning-quick shift responses that put some so-called sports sedans to shame, and on the highway it’s geared such that the engine turns only 1,300 rpm at 100 km/h. Final drive is via Mercedes-Benz’s 4Matic permanent all-wheel drive system, which I wasn’t able to test in the sunny, dry conditions prevalent when I had GLS 450, but which has enough electronic wizardry to give the big rig reassuring surefootedness in slippery winter conditions (just as one example of the GLS 450’s electronic wizardry, there’s a standard-fitted crosswind assist system that discreetly corrects the vehicle’s steering line when a strong gust of wind is encountered).
See also: 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class First Drive
The engine in the GLS 450 is the smallest gas engine in the GLS lineup; however, it still packs plenty of punch, churning out 362 hp at 5,250 rpm and 369 lb-ft of torque way down low at 1,800 rpm – good enough to propel the 2,420 kg (5,335 lb) SUV from 0–100 km/h in a respectably quick 6.6 seconds, with a muted but satisfying bellow at wide-open throttle. If that’s not really fast enough for you there’s always the 449 hp V8-powered GLS 550 (0–100 km/h in 5.6 seconds) or the entirely bonkers 577 hp Mercedes-AMG GLS 63 (0–100 km/h in a mere 4.6 seconds, which should be plenty quick enough to wake the kids up with a fright). Those who prefer a more fuel-efficient diesel-powered ride will have to sit under the wait-a-bit tree for a while, however, as the revised (and slightly more powerful) 3.0L diesel hasn’t yet cleared the EPA’s stringent post-Dieselgate scrutiny.