Car Reviews SUV of the Year

Review: The 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS Needs to Work on its (E-)ABCs

A two-time SUV of the Year winner returns as a 2020 finalist

A two-time SUV of the Year winner returns as a 2020 finalist

Pros:

  • Great handling
  • Two powerful engines
  • Opulent interior

Cons:

  • E-ABC still needs work
  • Infuriating infotainment system
  • Slow access to third row

A two-time SUV of the Year champion, the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS came back this year with more space, technology, and power. And when we say technology, we’re talking about hardware and software that can even help the suspension system.

Mercedes’ flagship SUV arrived with a fancy setup known as E-Active Body Control (E-ABC), which uses cameras to read the road ahead to adjust the spring and damping rates and provide a smoother ride with the help of a 48-volt system and individual hydraulic pumps. And with a new design language that’s setting the pace for Mercedes’ new SUVs, the GLS brings definite presence to the road.

Read about Car, SUV, and Truck of the Year contenders and finalists HERE.

For our tests, we sampled the two powertrains on offer: a 3.0-liter turbo inline-six and a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8. Both engines come with a nine-speed automatic and are mated to an electric motor that acts as a mild hybrid system to deliver a combined 362 hp for the six-cylinder and 483 hp for the V-8.

“Under full throttle, it accelerates purposefully, accompanied by great sound effects,” guest judge Johan de Nysschen said. “Disappointingly, gearshifts are very discernible when the performance potential of the engine is explored.”

The judges had positive comments about E-ABC’s effect on handling and body roll. “It handles beautifully, including the fantastic Curves mode, which keeps the body completely flat through corners,” executive editor Mark Rechtin said. “It’s almost otherworldly compared to the huge lean from other big vehicles

But after we left the Honda proving ground and drove on public streets, the suspension showed some of its weaknesses. When driving over broken pavement, some judges felt more vibrations in the cabin than in the Subaru Outback and were left wondering where the benefit and value resided in such a fancy suspension—a $6,500 USD option, at that.

More on Mercedes: If the GLS is too big, get our thoughts on the GLE SUV here.

“I’m shocked that both the Outback and Aviator rode nicer than the GLS,” features editor Christian Seabaugh said. “I shouldn’t be able to feel anything beneath me in the ‘S-Class of SUVs,’ yet the Mercedes still gets upset over high-frequency impacts.”

Design wise, the GLS continues to be recognized as the biggest Benz, but Mercedes was able to include modern lines without having to change its shape much. To guest judge Tom Gale, Mercedes’ designers did a great job showing an evolution of the iconic design: “Hats off to Mercedes for finding a way to advance its brand offering with recognizable Mercedes-Benz cues and still come off appearing fresh and new. I especially liked the soft surface without resorting to unnecessary lines, brightwork, or graphics. Everything fits—the package, stance, wheel design, and lamps.”

Inside, the usual Mercedes elegance shines with plush massaging leather seats and a stylish mix of leather, wood, and chrome. However, the MBUX infotainment system drew hectoring for its clumsy user interface, and the radial-finned climate control vents “look cool but don’t cool,” Detroit editor Alisa Priddle chided in the unfamiliar 110-degree desert heat.

There’s enough space for seven people, but the third row can feel a bit cramped. Although the second row can slide forward and back with the push of a button to help third-row access, its progress is glacial. Parents rushing to get their kids in the Merc when it’s raining will not be happy with this feature.

Overall, the GLS made a good impression on our judges, but it fell short on the value proposition. It was hard to see what you get for the money, and with a starting price of more than $75,000 USD for the GLS 450 (and nearly $125K USD as-tested for the GLS 580), Mercedes’ top SUV is quite expensive for what you get.

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS 450 4Matic 580 4Matic
Base Price/As tested $76,195/$98,420 $98,795/$124,255
Power (SAE net) 362 @ 5,500 rpm (gas), 21 (elec), 362 hp (comb) 483 hp @ 5,500 rpm plus 21 hp elec; 483 hp comb
Torque (SAE net) 369 @ 1,600 rpm (gas), 184 (elec); 369 lb-ft (comb) 516 lb-ft @ 1,600 rpm plus 184 lb-ft elec motor; 516 comb
Accel, 0-60 mph 5.8 sec 5.4 sec
Quarter-mile 14.3 sec @ 97.0 mph 14.0 sec @ 101.7 mph
Braking, 60-0 mph 113 ft 122 ft
Lateral Acceleration 0.87 g (avg) 0.83 g (avg)
MT Figure Eight 26.4 sec @ 0.70 g (avg) 26.8 sec @ 0.70 g (avg)
EPA City/Hwy/Comb 19/23/21 mpg Not yet tested