From the moment that the SUV entered the market, it came to define everything that American auto culture was. And would become. Big, mighty beasts with ever more expanding space. And a dominating presence popped up all over the highways. Charging ahead with terrible fuel economy but unstoppable force. Since then, the SUV market has splintered into innumerable divisions and submarkets. With small, medium and large versions vying for the American consumer and their diverging needs. When it comes to the archetypal 3 row SUV, however, US car makers still reign supreme. With Ford, Chevy, Lincoln, and Cadillac rebranding themselves as luxury SUV makers even while their flagship models confront waning sales figures. However, German car maker Mercedes wipes the slate clean with their monster GLS. Its an SUV so full of features and appeal that it may just unseat everyone else as the king of the American highway.
What's the difference between the GL and the GLS?
Mercedes made the decision to configure a new naming system akin to their own Dewey Decimal filing, which turned the GL into the GLS with no immediately clear reason why. The newly named GLS has no relation to the S-class in the Mercedes fleet, other than the association that Mercedes hoped the addition of the letter would create in car buyers minds. They consider the GLS to be the S-level of SUV's, and to writ gave it a comprehensive overhaul last year. This year not much has changed apart from the 19-inch wheel design to the GLS 450, but that's alright, considering the mods they made for 2017. Last year saw an automatic stop/start system come standard on all GLS trims and an updated COMAND system with touchpad along with new ambient lighting and trim colors; a three-spoke steering wheel, and available Nappa leather interior.
What kind of engine options are available?
Bigger is better where the GLS is concerned, and the engine options are proof positive of that ethos. There are three different powertrains available, and they are all nimble and maneuverable, giving the driver the sense that they're in control of a much smaller vehicle. For more basic (if such a word can be applied) trims, the GLS 350d comes equipped with a 3.0ltr V6 turbodiesel that churns out 255 horsepower and 455 lb-ft of torque, while the GLS 450 has a twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 engine that delivers 362 hp and 369 lb-ft. If higher trims (and higher power) is your thing, the GLS 550 comes with a 4.7-liter twin turbo V8 which cranks out a wicked 449 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque, and like the other two, come paired to a nine-speed automatic. The massive GLS 63 has a 5.5-liter twin turbo V8 that will leave you gobsmacked with 577 hp and 561 lb-ft of torque, and its massive size is handled by a seven-speed automatic. If that doesn't give Chevy a run for its money, what will?
How does it perform on the roads?
The thing about a car that measures nearly 20 feet from end to end and is nearly 8 feet high is that it shouldn't feel easy to drive, and certainly not easy to maneuver. And yet, the GLS is just that, against all logic. All versions of the 2018 GLS come standard with all-wheel drive, and a set of drive modes control the car's adaptive suspension, steering, and drivetrain. Each mode enables the GLS to adapt surprisingly well to road conditions, with the Sport mode giving it extra nimbleness and the Slippery mode gives way more traction on smooth roads. For the most part, the GLS drives like it's a much smaller car, and the standard air suspension holds up under most circumstances. It's a smooth driving vehicle with just enough cabin noise to remind you who's really in charge, but still maintains the air of luxury to make you feel good about your life choices.
Has the exterior changed much?
If it's possible to say this about a car model that has so recently invaded the market, the GLS feels like a throwback with its unapologetically boxy frame and a large nose. After all, this is a monster of a vehicle measuring nearly 20 feet from end to end and weighing an absolutely massive 2,500 kg, so the only option is to embrace its substantial girth and go with it. The changes made in 2017 carry over to the newest model, so the wider grille and more aggressive looking fenders give it a muscular look that matches its size perfectly without feeling exaggerated (again, if such an idea applies in this context). The GLS (and the GL before it) have always been designed to project less subtle flash than most luxury SUVs, and they've kept that aesthetic for 2018. It's the kind of car that wows you with its dimensions and then tricks you into believing that it's low tech, a nifty move that makes the GLS feel powerful yet still accessible. Too much tech and it would feel like a spaceship, not enough and it would feel like a bloated minivan. Instead, Mercedes gives it just enough of a classic look to make it feel timeless because that's what true luxury is, after all.
Is the interior cabin as spacious as ever?
There isn't a family, a curling team or a school of whales that would ever claim the GLS doesn't have enough room in the cabin for them. There are three rows of adult-sized seating, and each row is spacious and every bit as luxurious as the next, no small feat in a modern SUV. Front driver and passenger seats have heating, cooling, and multiple adjustment positions and can be upgraded with massaging functions that offer four options for the strenuousness of the workout. A full sized male can easily fit into the third-row seat, and the second row folds and slides out of the way to give them access. With all rows in use, there are 16 cubic feet of cargo space but with the third row down that number jumps up to almost 50 cubic feet. Clear all the seating out of the back, and you're looking at almost 94 cubic feet of cargo space, more than most Manhattan apartments.
Does a safety package come standard?
The GLS has some brilliant standard safety features that complement the unlikely user-friendliness and intuitive core of what is a great car. Its got the full suite of airbags and advanced traction control modes as well as programmed compensation for crosswinds that, regardless of the heft of the vehicle, can be a distraction for the driver. It also includes standard Bluetooth and a rearview camera as well as forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking. One of the best additions to the safety package is an Attention Alert System which displays a coffee cup on the gauge cluster if the car senses that the driver is dozing at the wheel. Of course, there are tons of optional safety features available including automatic high beams, parking sensors and assist, as well as a blind spot monitor and lane departure warning. There's little the GLS can't do, except of course to park in a compact car spot in a parking lot. But with this car, you won't even mind.