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The Mercedes-Benz GLS SUV, a three-row flagship, was until last year known as simply the GL, but the S was added to its name to raise its stature, make it sound more like the S-Class sedans, because Mercedes-Benz considers it to be the S-Class of SUVs.
We think it’s close, but not quite. Not even with 2017 changes to styling, cabin, infotainment, and powertrain, a new 9-speed automatic transmission intended to boost the fuel mileage a bit.
We drove the new GLS in the Austrian Alps, where we found it to be relatively nimble in the tight curves, despite its size, nearly 17 feet long. Its ride is smooth on standard air suspension, and it handles like a much smaller vehicle.
There are four models, three of them with 4MATIC all-wheel drive, each with a different engine: one diesel, one V6 and two V8s, all turbocharged. They are the GLS 350d 4MATIC, GLS 450 4MATIC, GLS 550 4MATIC, and the AMG GLS63 uber-performance sports SUV.
The GLS 350d uses a 3.0-liter V6 turbodiesel making 255 horsepower and 455 pound-feet of torque. The GLS 450 uses a twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 making 362 hp and 369 lb-ft. The GLS 550 uses a 4.7-liter twin-turbo V8 making 449 horsepower and 516 pound-feet; it’s the tow master of the line, if not the class. And if you want to give six young soccer players a real thrill, pack them into the 577-horsepower AMG GLS 63, and hammer the throttle so they can feel 561 pound-feet of torque under their butts, and hear the howl of its 5.5-liter twin-turbo V8.
There is an available offroad package that raises the ground clearance from 8.5 to 12.0 inches. So it can look brutal: way big and way high.
The GLS offers room in all three rows, a rare thing with any SUV; in fact, two six-footers can fit in the third-row seat, with adequate headroom and legroom, although it will take some agility to get back there. The 50/50 third row folds on each side with the push of a power button, and when the second row is also folded (manual or power), there’s almost as much cargo space as a Cadillac Escalade with long wheelbase.
The GLS350d, with its diesel engine, gets the best mileage of the models, EPA-rated at 22 miles per gallon Combined city and highway. The GLS450 with its V6 gets 17/22/19 mpg City/Highway/Combined. The GLS550 with its V8 is rated 14/18/16 mpg, and the AMG GLS63 gets just 14 miles per gallon Combined, but what do you expect with 577 humongous horsepower?
The government and insurance industry haven’t crash-tested the GLS-Class because of its low volume, but there’s little doubt that it won’t come out ahead in a crash with another vehicle, or maybe even a brick wall. Standard safety equipment includes six airbags in front, side curtain airbags extending to the third row, and the Collision Prevention Assist Plus program, that warns the driver of a possible crash with an object ahead, and applies the brakes if the driver doesn’t respond quickly enough.