Stuck in the sand? The E-Active Body Control can help
The 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS made its debut at the New York auto show just a couple of weeks ago, and we recently got a taste of its off-road capabilities. We traveled to Big Dune, Nevada, about 100 miles (160 km) northwest of Las Vegas, to get inside a couple of early preproduction V-8 GLS 580s and experience the new tech. We’ll take a deeper dive into the GLS at a later date, but this time we got to experience how the E-Active Body Control (EABC) works over soft and bumpy surfaces. Although more than 95 percent of owners will never take their GLS to the dunes like we did, it was cool to experience the new technology.
EABC is an optional suspension system that uses a combination of air springs and electro-hydraulic dampers with the help of a 48-volt system. Each damper gets its own hydraulic pump, so each wheel can be pushed or pulled independently using pressured oil. The result is a peaceful ride. Whether you’re on the trails or the dunes, EABC absorbs each rut before you notice vibrations inside the cabin. My first ride at Big Dune was in a GLS with the standard air suspension and 21-inch wheels. When I switched into a GLS with EABC and 22-inch wheels, body motion was well controlled at all times. Tire pressure was lowered to 17 psi on each wheel to allow for better traction on the sand, but no other setting was altered. Seeing how the system sops up bumps in person is sensational; you can get a peek at it in the video above. The GLS’ polished ride also makes the cabin feel tranquil, and with the addition of comfortable seats and an upscale cabin, there’s no denying this is the S-Class of SUVs.
Don’t get me wrong: The standard air suspension also performs very well. Once you get to experience the EABC-equipped GLS, though, you don’t want to get out of it. To make things even more impressive, EABC uses a front-mounted camera that scans the terrain ahead and adjusts the damping of each wheel before you drive over a rut, bump, or any other kind of undulation. It’s too early to know how much EABC will cost, but we know it won’t be cheap.
During my ride, Andreas Zygan, Mercedes-Benz’s development chief for SUVs, told me that the brand wanted to make the new GLS not only safer and more spacious but also more capable. “The car is taking care of the driver,” he said, as he easily drifted on the sand to showcase the SUV’s capabilities. “The current GLS cannot do this.” Earlier, he explained how owners want to know what their car is capable of even if they’ll never do something like drifting on sand dunes. With the standard transfer case, the nine-speed transmission can send all available torque to the front or rear axle.
In the event the GLS gets stuck in the sand, EABC can get you out in seconds. With the GLS in reverse, simply activate Free Driving Assist and wait for the SUV to start bouncing on its air springs. When the bouncing becomes moderate, simply give it a touch of gas, and the GLS will be out of the jam. We tried this a couple of times, and it took us less than 10 seconds to free the SUV. You can also use the feature on snow and other soft surfaces, and the bouncing sensation will make you laugh.
There will be a lot more to talk about the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS when we get a sample for a proper First Drive. For now, we can only say the cabin is quite spacious, cargo room has improved, and technology is more advanced. Until then, enjoy the video above to see EABC in action.